By Precious Shumba.
RESIDENTS across communities in Zimbabwe have mostly found themselves on the sharp receiving end of annual budgets by local authorities, whose influence in that respect supersedes that of residents and their elected representatives, the councillors.
Budget making is a critical process that requires the maximum participation of all stakeholders; among them residents, council officials, local authorities management, business, women, youths. Virtually, all groups of people who have vested interests in the final budget proposal should be consulted.
So precisely, what processes must budget formulation encompass? And what are the likely challenges that budgetary processes may encounter? What recommendations could be proffered to terminate some of the envisaged challenges and transform the way local authorities relate with the citizenry on budget formulation?
According to the Urban Councils Act (Chapter 2.15), the budget making process runs for a period of ten months. Awareness campaigns on budget making processes must start from February to April each year so that residents know what budget making is and how it affects their lives.
The first draft must be done in May and be published to residents in the first days of June. The final draft must involve input from residents, and this must be concluded in November when it is then submitted to the Ministry of Local Government, Public Works and National Housing for approval, and subsequent implementation by the local authority concerned. The time taken by local authorities to produce their annual budgets is important as it affords ratepayers, as rights holders, the opportunity to give their views and contribute towards producing a responsive budget.
Under generally acceptable budget making processes, concerned local authorities’ management departments present bids, which are then consolidated by the committee responsible for budget formulation.
In the case of Harare City Council (HCC), the budget is consolidated by the Finance and Development Committee, working in conjunction with the City Treasury Department.
Then in terms of the budget making guidelines provided by the Ministry of Local Government, Public Works and National Housing, the HCC has to conduct ward based consultative meetings. In these consultative meetings which should be chaired by respective Ward councillors, residents identify their priority issues. This is the part where contradictions have been most prevalent. City officials are reluctant to give residents actual income and expenditure breakdowns that show all revenue streams. They are only concerned with the listing of priority projects, under what they are calling the Results Based Management Framework.
Their argument is that residents list their priorities, while they, as the technocrats, go back to their offices and do all the costing of said priorities. It is, therefore, naive to expect that city officials will come up with reasonable costs of services.
It is to be accepted that city officials have created their small briefcase companies from where they request “standard three quotations”, all inflated, to give an impression that they are concerned with real service delivery.
Budget making in the City of Harare, like in most local authorities, has experienced many problems around process and content. Many Council managements are only keen to full fill legal requirements but are not connecting the same with content of the process. Their main focus is on producing a document that they believe captures their interests and not necessarily the residents aspirations.
Now that the City of Harare has announced a decentralised model where the 46 wards of Harare have been clustered into eight zones, where Chief Area Administrators head the zonal development committees, the expectation of residents was that these new developments would result in a decentralised budgeting approach determined by the citizenry, where zones will be budgeting for their areas and actually consolidating their revenues from household units, industrial and business properties.
However, the ongoing budget making processes have exposed the deceptive agenda of officials in the local authority who claim that they have decentralised the council system, yet on the other hand, they deny the district zones the right to make their own budget priorities.
Ideally, HCC has to go back to the people to show them the final proposed draft budget prior to it being tabled before the Finance and Development Committee, and subsequently before the Full Council where it is debated and adopted.
Sadly, this is not happening. With this scenario, it can be concluded that budget making processes in local authorities are cosmetic, deceptive and designed to simply full fill a legal requirement and tick the boxes for the officials.
Going forward, local authorities have to give life to the Constitution of Zimbabwe by fully implementing provisions of Chapter 14, which speaks to the issue of devolution of governmental powers to local communities. Once the citizens become more involved, local authorities will likely experience more revenue inflows. But with their current focus on revenue generation in order to pay off the current and outstanding salaries and allowances of senior council management and councillors, the City of Harare will unlikely get the best out of the 2018 budget.
In conclusion, local authorities should fully utilise provisions of the Constitution, Section 301 (3), which speaks to not less than five percent being allocated to local authorities from the national budget. They need to address this funding opportunity through the Parliament of Zimbabwe and their associations, which should be seen to be exerting plausible pressure on the Treasury to timeously release the funds allocated to local authorities in terms of the Constitution. The budget making processes in local authorities lacks seriousness when it comes to citizens participation, hence there is greater need for elected councillors to distance themselves from corrupt and manipulative managements of local authorities and side with the electorate.
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