The City of Harare has recently held meetings with residents at ward level to discuss the 2015 Budget. This is a commendable process on the face of it as it purports to include citizens in the formulation of the budget.
The reality is somewhat different. ‘Consultations’ have been held for many years but as the attendance at the meetings is lamentable and as no firm proposals were made, it can hardly be claimed that the consultations are genuine or useful.
In some wards, fliers were not distributed to householders prior to the meeting and without a wider participation by residents the process seems fatally flawed.
In Wards 8 and 10 for example, less than 20 residents turned up, but no meaningful budgetary discussions were held – instead the participants took the opportunity to air grievances about pot holes, water, and other service delivery issues. Neither meeting produced documentation or firm proposals.
Interestingly, Ward 8 councillor Chris Mbanga revealed a proposal to retain 10 to 20% of the ward’s revenues within the ward to be spent by ‘an appointed committee’. With over 6,000 households plus an unknown number of commercial ratepayers, Ward 8 should be generating in excess of $500,000 a month in revenue from rates alone. However, only 35% of rates are being collected according to the Councillor, so the actual figure is much lower.
In Ward 10, it was also proposed that schools and council halls retain 10% of any income they generate from rentals. Sharon Magodyo, the community coordinator for Harare Residents Trust (HRT), said that the 10% retention will promote citizen participation and allow communities to plan and work on major issues that they need to be addressed in their wards, though expressed concern with how the money would be handled. “With the history of corruption that has been happening in the council, the committee set up to manage the money should exercise transparency and be held accountable for its actions,” said Magodyo.
Participatory budgeting (PB) was developed 25 years ago in Brazil and has spread to many parts of the world including Mozambique, Cameroon, and other African countries. It is an essential step in developing democratic local governance as it devolves real power to the ward level and encourages residents to take a greater interest in local government.
However, many of these schemes have seemingly become merely throwing a bone to communities to convince them that they are ‘participating’ while maintaining secrecy over expenditure at Town Hall. Some residents have called for full disclosure of all council expenditure including salaries of top council executives which have remained a mystery.
Efforts to obtain firmer details from councillors have been unsuccessful at the time of going to print but we encourage our readers to speak to their local councillor to find out the full story. Without detailed information both on the proposal itself as well as current ward revenues and expenditures, residents cannot make an informed decision on the idea. We look forward to an official statement soon as the 2015 Budget should be published this month.
For more information on PB, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Participatory_budgeting. We welcome your comments and feedback.