Zimbabwe: Hwange Residents Petition HLB On Budget Consultation Process

17 November 2020

Residents in Hwange have threatened to reject the proposed 2021 budget set to be crafted by Hwange Local Board (HLB) if the ongoing consultations are not extensive and inclusive during the formulation and implementation cycle. The residents also want council to avail audited financial reports as part of enhancing transparency and accountability of ratepayers' money. These demands are contained in a position paper that was submitted to Council by Greater Whange Residents Trust last Thursday.

According to the paper which was produced following a study by the organisation, residents are calling for wider and inclusive involvement in the crafting and implementation of the 2021 budget arguing that they will not support the usual 'window dressing exercise'.

"This publication assesses the effectiveness and efficacy of the budget-making process conducted by the Hwange Local Board. The paper presents data gathered from public meetings, questionnaires, and community feedback meetings from November 2019 to October 2020. Budgeting is a key in the provision of service delivery and promotion of accountability in Local governance, with all Local authorities in Zimbabwe being required to adhere to these standards by terms of the Urban Councils Act (Chapter 29:15). The local government circular No. 3 of 2015 provides that the Budget estimates should be the result of extensive citizen consultation and participation process. The findings indicate that, there was limited consultation and involvement of stakeholders during the budget making process. There was evident absence of critical stakeholders in all the meeting conducted. 70 percent of the interviewed residents indicated that they did not participate in the budget-making process. Residents, in particular, indicated stated that they limited participation is as a result of poorly advertised meetings, continued politicisation of the process and citizen apathy which often leads to exclusion of residents input due to fears of the entire budgeting process being a non-inclusive and appears to be a rubber stamping exercise," read the paper in part.

The paper further suggests that the study points out that citizens generally feel sidelined in the formulation process arguing that HLB only comes to the budget consultation meetings having already drawn up their estimates effectively depriving residents of the opportunity to actively contribute to the developmental priorities and public service delivery.

Hwange has an estimated population of 55000 people with 14 wards, 7 of which are out of HLB jurisdiction, a situation that given rise to quasi-authorities running the town. The availability and quality of services is currently a cause of concern especially amongst residents and ratepayers, according to GWRT the top six service delivery priorities in the budget must be; water, health, rise in problem animals roaming the wards, road systems, refuse collection last but not least housing and sewage services. Residents are also demanding specific budget meetings targeting interest groups who include people living with disabilities, youth and women.

"The HLB has in the past demonstrated an inability to effectively communicate with stakeholders on meeting times stakeholders are often left to receive invitations to budget consultative meetings on the day of the meeting or if luck permits a day ahead of the proposed meeting. Arguably what is the biggest blow dealt to civic society by the Hwange local board budget making process is the councils indifference to the specific needs of various sects of the community just to mention a few we have People living with disabilities, the youth, senior citizens, women and the girl child. GWRT took particular note of the challenges the lack of holistic resident engagement has adversely impacted people living with disabilities."

Residents lamented the poor quality in management of the Hwange Local board finances arguing that the authority had failed to perform audit for the past 6 years, a development that claimed the scalp of two senior directors.

"Residents profess that it is common knowledge that the HLB has not been audited since 2015, a fact which residents agonize over as to the how the HLB conducts its financial monitoring and evaluation exercises to increase accountable and transparent public resource management. Residents also expressed that other possible reasons they do not attend meetings is the HLB has had 2 documented cases of financial impropriation with the other one thrown out of the courts for lack of enough evidence to warrant conviction but the trial magistrate pointed out to weak financial procedures at HLB. Furthermore, the former finance director was fired for failing to ensure that HLB is audited and resulted HLB to go for 6 years without being audited. Residents' question why they should participate and some even the payment of their bills if the revenue generated is only going to be embezzled."

They further accused HLB of failing to communicate with residents on service delivery leading to perceptions of mistrusts. When contacted for comment HLB chief executive officer, Ndumiso Mdlalose said he could not comment on the matter as he had not yet seen the position paper.

Source: Centre for Innovation and Technology (CITE)

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