Mutare City Council commenced budget consultations meetings on Tuesday 02 November 2021 with the first meeting being held at Mutare Hall aka Queens Hall The local authority has set what is calls a Budget Committee which comprises of Council bureaucrats and selected members representing stakeholders or interest groups such as residents’ associations, business and informal traders. The budget meetings are expected to go on for two weeks as Council goes all out to meet and engage with residents in all the 19 wards in Mutare.
In rolling out the budget consultation meetings, it must be clearly stated that Council must not consider this as doing a favour to residents of the City. Section 13 (2) and (3) of the Constitution clearly state that in discharging of their various mandates, the state and its agencies always involve the people in the formulation and implementation of development plans such as budgeting. This means participation of residents in budgeting and other development initiatives being undertaken by the local authority should be taken as a right and not invitation. When citizens participate by right is more empowering than participation by invitation.
The current budget consultations are framed in the old fashioned “participation by invitation” model which seem to be pushing residents away instead of rallying them to the cause. It’s not only the framing of the budget consultations process that has been problematic but the communication regarding the process has been poor which has resulted in residents failing to attend the budgeting indabas going on in the wards. The schedule issued out by the City of Mutare had wrong venues and times for some of the meetings advertised while some of the meetings clashed. The local authority is also showing that they are not serious with the process as some of the venues such as Dodds (ward 9), and Nyamauru Bridge (ward 15), council did not provide even a tent and some chairs for use by the budget team. Some concerned residents had to run around and pitched a tent at Dodds and even brought some chairs for the team to use. Weather conditions have been unfriendly of late with extreme hot temperatures and rains being anticipated but the budget team never planned for these eventualities.
For example, in ward 9, Dangamvura, the schedule said the meeting will be at Dangamvura Primary School beginning at 9am yet the meeting was scheduled for 11am at Dodds place and not Dangamvura Primary School. The staff including the school head at Dangamvura Primary was not even aware that there was a meeting scheduled at the school which made it difficult for those who went to the venue since they could not be redirected to the correct venue. Due to poor communication meetings three meetings that were supposed to be conducted at Dangamvura Beit Hall for wards 6 and 7, Dodds for ward 9 failed to take off because of poor attendance on the 3rd of November. There were three elderly women at Dangamvura Beit hall and seven at Dodds in ward 9. On the 4th of November, another meeting scheduled at Moffat Hall for wards 1 and 10 also failed to take off as less 5 people turned up for the meeting. The other meeting slated for Sakubva ward3 at Blockyard was also postponed after clashing with the ward 1 meeting. The meetings that were held were also poorly attended with non-recording more than 30 people in attendance. The only meeting that was well attended was the one at Mutare Hall.
There is suspicion and rightly so among residents that the confusion being exhibited during the budget consultations by Council is deliberate and is meant to disenfranchise as many residents as possible from participating. Residents also fear that the local authority may be playing tricks with residents through misrepresenting figures. In their budget proposals, Council is proposing to raise rates by twenty percent in the 2020 budget. However, there is also an official document from the Finance Director titled “Mutate city 2021 supplementary budget report and 2022 budget proposal “which is recommending that Council implement a supplementary budget effective November which is proposing a 157 % increase to be facilitated through a Council resolution. This document is not subject of discussion during the budget consultations. Residents have a genuine fear that Council has a parallel budgeting process and the consultations could be a red herring.
Council through the budget committee must improve on their communication in order to enhance the budget process by availing all the necessary information on time so that residents can productively participate. This information should not just be about dates and venues for the meetings but the proposed budget must be availed to residents so that they analyse the budget before the meetings. They must adopt a multi-pronged media strategy where they use various media platforms such as radio, flyers, social media and even the old and tested method of word of mouth using church meetings and other gatherings or door to door because it is important. It’s better for residents to fail turn up because they have chosen to take that route rather than on the basis of bad faith on the part of Council. Even the positive and collaborative approach of the budget committee will be lost.