On Wednesday 14 October 2020, Women’s Institute for Leadership Development (WILD) facilitated a Civil Society Consensus Building Meeting on the local authority budget consultations in Gwanda. The meeting was attended by representatives from 10 Civil Society Organisations that operate in Gwanda.
Siduduzile Masilela a member of the Ward Advocacy Committee presented women’s views on the local authority budget consultation meetings. In her presentation, she highlighted that the biggest challenge in Gwanda is that the local authority seems to disregard the views submitted by citizens. Residents are concerned that the local authority does not implement what is agreed upon during the budget consultations. The budget consultation meetings seem to be window dressing exercises used to rubberstamp the local authorities’ plans without citizen input.
Presenting on the views of the youths, Constance Maseko from Community Youth Development Trust said the exclusion of citizens in the budget cycle is a major concern. She highlighted that the local authority does not avail information on council expenditure which makes it difficult for citizens to track and monitor the budget. This closes up channels for transparency and accountability in local governance leading to potential financial leakages.
Ntokozo Tshuma a representative from the Bulawayo Progressive Residents Association (BPRA) presented perspectives on the current budgeting process and desirable alternatives.
Speaking on the challenges that have been observed during the budget consultation meetings in other cities, Tshuma said the local authority needs to build the capacity of their respective communities to make meaningful contributions during the consultations so as to foster effective community participation.
Tshuma noted that the use of virtual meetings is a necessary innovation to counter the challenges presented by COVID-19, however, it has presented its own challenges. He said that virtual meetings can undermine transparency, public involvement, and inclusive public participation. The other challenge noted is that online platforms require residents to have data bundles whereas some residents cannot afford which then leads to poor attendance of the consultations.
Another challenge that was also noted was that the consultative sessions conducted presented two budgets for different periods, a supplementary budget, and the proposed 2021 budget. This presented challenges for residents as they were not given ample time to analyse the documents to enable them to submit constructive input.
Presenting on desirable alternatives in budget processes, Tshuma pointed out that one of the fundamental factors that affect the delivery of services in any city is the generated revenue. He said that local authorities are mainly keen on advocating for residents to pay rates and tariffs whereas they are not keen on updating residents on revenues raised and expenditures. This mismatch creates a lot of mistrust and allegations of financial misappropriation. Thus, in order to promote information symmetry between local authorities and residents on council finances, it is vital for local authorities to constantly update residents on budget performance reports.
In concluding his presentation, Tshuma presented on ideal budget processes. He pointed out that budgets should be gender-responsive and capture the needs and plight of local women and persons with disabilities with regards to service delivery. Tshuma noted that budgets should not imprison the ratepayer to abject poverty rather they should be affordable yet realistic to service delivery needs.
At the end of the meeting, a team of representatives was chosen and tasked to submit the Civil Society Organisations’ recommendations to the Gwanda Town Clerk, highlighting measures that can be adopted by the local authority in ensuring that budget processes are all-inclusive and promote good governance.
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