Residents boycott budget meetings


Permanent secretary in the Ministry of Local Government, George Mlilo

HARARE residents are boycotting council’s pre-budget consultation meetings in protest over the local authority’s deteriorating service delivery.
The 2016 pre-budget consultation meetings, whereby council gathers residents in its 46 wards to get their views on how best to approach the capital city’s myriad of problems, ended at the weekend.
They were characterised by apathy as disaffected residents chose to demonstrate their frustrations by distancing themselves from the meetings.
Facilitated by local councillors, the meetings are held every year in accordance with provisions of the Urban Councils Act, which requires urban local authorities to consult residents and other stakeholders whose views are supposed to be incorporated in the budget for the following year.
However, this year, they have attracted very small numbers unlike in the past and this week councillors confirmed the unusually low turnout, which has largely been attributed to lack of interest on the part of residents.
Harare has an estimated three million residents.
Interestingly, residents have boycotted the meetings despite the fact that their numerous associations have been rallying them to attend.
Some of the residents who spoke to the Financial Gazette said the boycott was a direct response to council’s failure to incorporate their views from previous meetings, over and above the fact that they no longer get any meaningful service from the local authority.
Already, the blame game is on, with city officials blaming the residents for not paying their dues to council, which it says was the single biggest reason why service delivery has been erratic.
City fathers also blame City of Harare management for failing to avail the 10 percent ward retention fee which is meant to spur development projects in the wards, as well as failing to give consultation notices on time.
Council sources this week said only six of the 46 wards in Harare have managed to access the fund this year. This, said some councillors, had the effect of putting off residents who were highly optimistic when the fund was rolled out.
Matters have been worsened by the fact that the council went for the better part of this year without a budget as the former minister of local government, public works and national housing, Ignatius Chombo, refused to sanction the budget, arguing that Harare should first restructure its obscene salary structure for its bosses. President Robert Mugabe only approved the budget in August after Chombo had been removed from that Ministry.
At law, the budget only becomes operational if the Minister approves it.
The city bosses are understood to be earning mega salaries, one good year after Cabinet directed that these should be cut.
George Mlilo, the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Local Government, recently said that Cabinet was likely to direct the bosses to return the money they have been getting outside the prescribed salary schedule.
Harare mayor, Bernard Manyenyeni, who is also councillor for Mt Pleasant, bemoaned the low figures recorded at the consultative meetings, but attributed the poor turnout to lack of adequate communication between council and its stakeholders.
“We gave people very short notices. The communication distribution was not the best. Our residents and ratepayers were caught unawares and therefore were not able to know the dates and venues for the meetings. I do not think there is an element of apathy or boycott because even the residents’ organisations encouraged them to attend,” said Manyenyeni.
He encouraged city officials to depart from the traditional communication methods and migrate to the use of modern technologies that have greater reach in calling for meetings and getting stakeholder input.
“We should not only rely on the traditional way of communicating and move onto modern forms. There should be feedback platforms on the council website and the city must also use modern social networking platforms like Facebook, Twitter and even WhatsApp to engage its stakeholders,” he said.
Acting town clerk, Josephine Ncube, said council already had other engagement facilities than traditional ones.
“We have got a standalone budget advisory committee, which our stakeholders can access throughout the year and give their input,” she said.
But Manyenyeni’s colleagues openly declared that they witnessed extreme apathy at meetings held in their wards with all the hallmarks on a boycott.
“Residents have openly told us they have lost interest in the pre-budget consultative process because they have given their input over the years and nothing has come out of it. They have completely lost interest in this thing,” said Samuel Garachani, councillor for ward 40, Dzivaresekwa.
Borrowdale Ward 18 councillor, Norman Markhum, said: “The people are clearly fed up with us. They think we have failed them because most of them no longer get any meaningful services from council. We have always said that we need to access the 10 percent retention fee to be able to fund projects at in our wards, but nothing has come out of it. They think we are lying and now we cannot convince such people who have been giving views that have not been heeded for a long time now to come to give their views yet again.”
Some councillors who did not want to be named said city officials only gave them fliers that publicised meetings in their wards on the night before the meetings.
Combined Harare Residents Association chairman, Simbarashe Moyo, agreed that efforts to rally their 30 000 members to the meetings was a flop.
“We have encouraged our members to attend but to no avail,” he said, adding: “Over the years, we have seen that our views are largely ignored. You go there and present your views, but the next thing is that all those views are ignored and the city takes a certain path that lacks the necessary consultations and engagements. It’s just one of those reasons why people sit back and say let them do what they want and we will see what happens.”
Spokesperson for the Harare Residents Trust, Esther Chimanikire, said they faced resistance from their members when they tried to encourage them to attend the meetings.
“Residents are saying until council makes moves to show at least some commitment to solve the issues that were raised a year or two ago, we won’t come for the meetings because to them, it seems as if council is holding these meetings as a mere procedure to fulfil the requirements of the law,” she said.
Council is already understood to be currently in the process of collating the views of the few stakeholders that gave their input and expects the proposed budget to be presented to the Minister of Local Government, Saviour Kasukuwere, by next month.