By Cosmas Sunguro Dated: 20/11/20
Mutare Rural District Council faces a challenge of improving the service delivery in Chiadzwa. Pic by Cossy
Budget Transparency in local governance remains a delicate and tricky game. In fact, it is synonymous with accusations of embezzlement of funds if valid explanations are not given. When it comes to figures, all has to be laid bare in a way that the “ordinary person” would understand it. It was that desire to bridge an information gap that led to the organization of a workshop on Local Budget Transparency Frameworks which was held in Mutare on 18 November 2020. For several times, the Communities and the leadership of Mutare Rural District Council could not find time to dialogue on what is happening in Mutare Rural District Council.
It was through the effort of the Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (ZELA) that it was made possible recently, a meeting inspired by Section 194(h) of constitution that encourages Transparency in terms of public administration. Mutare Rural District (MRDC) is divided into 36 wards or three in terms constituency allocation. It is endowed with diamonds and gold apart from other common resources associated with the eastern highlands. With all these abundant resources, development continue to elude the district. The revenue streams are said to be dwindling. The objectives of the Workshop attended by multi-stakeholders from selected areas were as follows;
- To come up with solutions to strengthen the local government budget transparency framework
- To improve stakeholder participation in budget formulations and implementation
- To improve disclosure of RDC revenue streams and expenditure
A budget Report presentation by the Treasurer of Mutare revealed that 2020 was affected by a myriad of challenges. The Covid 19 pandemic was chief among them. This also meant the participation of locals in budget consultations was very minimal as they resorted to hosting a maximum of 25 people per ward in 30 wards . So far six are outstanding . Women participation was affected due to restricted movement coupled with unpaid care work. It was highlighted that time of the consultations was supposed to be in consideration of women and the care work. One of the businessman from Zimunya who attended recommended that the council should come up with the initiative of a meeting. According to him, ” this was a first and life opportunity to mingle with councillors and higher authorities of council’.
Mr Malvern Mudiwa of Marange Development Trust ( MDT) and a businessman in Marange lambasted the council for ” not issuing shop licences thereby exposing traders to harassment and corruption. Ultimately, the council ended up being deprived revenue from shop licences”. In terms of collection rate, this year it was said to be at 30% of the targeted figures due to COVID-19. The capacity of ratepayers was compromised. According to Mr Farai Mutondoro of ZELA, information on budget must be timely. He said it was not enough to disclose but the information must be timeous. This in turn will assist in building trust. Disclosure was said to be another important tool as it acts as a necessary barometer of service delivery. It was said to be unfair if citizens could for example blame the mining companies for nonpayment before they know the company contributions. Accordingly, accountability was said to be in two parts namely downwards and upward accountability. According to Mr Sunguro of ZIDAWU ,”… budget literacy was pulling us backwards and inhibiting participation in budget tracking..”
Ms Fadzi Midzi of ZELA noted that politics could be an impediment to budget Transparency hence the need to sanitize ” our politics” for the betterment of our district.
Observation and Recommendations.
As members deliberated on budget issues, several nuggets were unveiled. These include the issue of access to Information. According to Section 62 (1) of the Constitution states that ” Every Zimbabwean citizen or permanent resident, including juristic persons and the Zimbabwean media, has the right of access to any information held by the State or by any institution or agency of government at every level, in so far as the information is required in the interests of public accountability”.
Communication is important including the feedback from duty bearers after executive meetings. The information has to be accessible easily. People are less likely to pay if they are not clear on how the resources are spent. Ms Fadzi commended MRDC for being open and ready to be subjected to analysis. The budget has to be in a simpler language for ordinary people. If need be the accounting jargon should be avoided. This also goes hand in glove with the modes of communication like whatsapp and bulk message for instance that can also be used to disseminate information. It was emphasised that budget knowledge has to be increased and should cascade especially downward. The issue of revenue collection was said to be a delicate one and as such the generality of people has to be fed with timely and accurate Information.
The issue of Devolution was said to be important to Communities. Section 264 (2) (a,b) stated that, “ the objectives of the devolution of governmental powers and responsibilities to provincial and metropolitan councils and local authorities are : (a) to give powers of local governance to the people and enhance their participation in the exercise of the powers of the State and in making decisions affecting them; (b) to promote democratic, effective, transparent, accountable and coherent government in Zimbabwe as a whole”.
Participation of other stakeholders like EMA needs not to be over emphasised. It was regarded as progressive to carry out campaigns with ZACC, Zimbabwe Republic Police, EMA and MRDC as a way of harnessing revenue collection. If need be, all loopholes must be plugged off in revenue collection.There is need to embrace technology and have online payment by council official. Apparently, Mr Farai said good governance means that the public have access to Information on their budgets, contracts, performance and provisions. And this also encourages ratepayers to engage on budget matters in a more informed, direct and constructive manner. Likewise, the council was encouraged to create an enabling environment for budget transparency and not forget to collect feedback. Lastly, for evaluation purposes there must be an independent monitoring mechanism.
Mutare Rural District is poised for development given the initiative they took to commit themselves to Transparency. It takes commitment and being honest to the work. Moreso being tolerant to divergent views of the communities. With devolution being implemented, we only hope for the better.