There is a growing realisation that urbanisation has overstretched the ability and efforts of central governments to serve from the centre, giving rise to the search for a robust decentralisation policy that vests urban local government with some level of autonomy. However, efforts to capacitate urban councils through the process of decentralisation are futile if urban local government lacks the financial means to fulfil their responsibilities.
This article takes up the issue of financial autonomy of urban councils in Zimbabwe. The nature and extent of fiscal autonomy enjoyed by these councils is often contested. The article seeks to determine the extent to which the current system of decentralisation entrenches the financial autonomy of urban councils. Analysing the provisions pertaining to local government financing in the Urban Councils Act of 1996, it argues that the decentralisation of major functions in Zimbabwe has not been followed by sufficient decentralisation of fiscal powers. The 1996 Act does not guarantee the financial autonomy of urban councils. There is a need to develop robust and clearly defined constitutional and legal provisions to support the fiscal autonomy of urban local governments. An enabling environment for fiscal decentralisation should begin with constitutional or legal mandates for some minimum level of autonomy for urban local authorities. The constitution-making process currently underway in Zimbabwe provides an opportune platform to constitutionally entrench the fiscal powers of urban councils.