Bulawayo City Council 2020 Budget a Cruel War on the Poor

Bulawayo Progressive Residents Association (BPRA) is a community driven and membership based organization established in 2007 with a view of providing a non-partisan and issue-based platform for effective residents and stakeholder participation in local governance and service delivery issues. In line with its mandate, BPRA has been coordinating residents’ views and responses regarding the Bulawayo City Council 2020 budget which currently stands at ZW$1, 351, 058, 748. 00. While acknowledging the good will on the part of council to improve services in the context of a harsh economic environment, the 714 % budget increase has been viewed as an onslaught against the urban poor. Despite a temporary reprieve to delay the implementation of the supplementary budget, BPRA notes that the crafting of the 2020 budget was not guided by the broader macro-economic fundamentals in the country. Residents are already facing serious hardships as a result of the languishing economy, declining real wages and a run-away inflation coupled by drastic price increases. From the meetings done by BPRA to conduct a post-mortem of the budget, the following key concerns have emerged which we feel BCC needs to urgently look into.

While acknowledging that BCC is faced with challenges in meeting its service delivery mandate and finding it difficult to pay its workers on time due to financial constraints amid hyperinflation and high fuel shortages, the budget increase will have adverse effects on residents who are also faced with similar circumstances, particularly the urban poor who are going to be forced to pay more than they can afford. The high increase mean that residents will be forced to pay more than 50% of their earnings towards utility bills which directly violates the economic principles which recommends that utility bills should not cost more than 6% of ones earnings for them to be considered affordable. The new rates fall outside what ordinary civil servants earn and what residents are able to generate from informal trading. Residents will not be able to escape the poverty trap given the high cost of rates as they shall be left with no disposable incomes to pay on other needs after paying council. It is public knowledge that there are no functional industries in Bulawayo and most of residents were commissioned into street and market vending when these industries collapsed. These are the residents expected to sustain the ZW$ 1, 3 Billion budget.

BCC should have conducted adequate consultations on the affordability of the budget. The concern by residents is that the 714% budget increase did not have their consent. Residents by and large voiced their concerns over the increase but these were not taken on board. Budget consultations done last year seem to have been done in a rush and council had already arrived at a decision and consultations were mere window dressing attempts. This has been vindicated by the fact that during the consultations on the Credit Policy, council is sending junior employees who go on their own without anyone recording minutes and residents’ views. A meeting was recently aborted in Mpopoma after residents protested the decision by BCC to send a junior council employee with none to take minutes and record their grievances. Residents felt taken for granted by this gesture.

Given the rapid increase of health care costs, residents feel that the BCC budget is by and large a cruel health care war on the poor. The new rates in council run clinics will cause enormous harm to low-income families including children, people with disabilities, expecting mothers, senior citizens and low-wage working adults. It is important for council to understand the consequences of the rising health care cost. High health cost have been known for being an accelerator for poverty world over. As a result, low-income children, adults, expecting mothers will be taken to debt collectors and are set to lose their properties owing to the Credit Policy passed by BCC on the 5th of February 2020 which basically seeks to ensure that council recovers all debts by all means necessary. If implemented, this budget will certainly destroy the health care safety net for the urban poor.

With regards to the projected income for the 2020 budget we have also noticed that the Water and Rates and General Services Accounts constitute more than 80% of the ZWL 1.3 billion council’s 2020 budget. Such a stance to bill such percentage from the residents only is worrying especially in the context of a volatile economy where residents are struggling to make ends meet. Residents expected to see a more diversified revenue collection methodology from the council which would exert a lesser burden on residents. BCC should also put pressure on central government to get its share of the stipulated local government’s share from the national coffers.

In 2019 residents spoke against the continued funding of the Bulawayo City Football club which is draining the council’s coffers and bringing little to zero benefit for the residents. While grooming local talent is a noble idea, its timing is not strategic especially when council has suspended service delivery amid concerns of burst pipes, sewers, shortage of staff in council health facilities, amongst many other challenges. Against this foregoing BPRA is proposing the following: That BCC must reduce the affordability gap by setting aside the 300% increase that was meant for the supplementary budget. As such the current budget should be reduced to around ZW$900, 705, 832 for it to be affordable to residents; There is need for a cutback on the heath cost; There is need for BCC to urgently come up with alternative revenue sources; There is need to cut down on unnecessary expenditure and reduce overtime expenditures; There is need to implement the 70% /30% central government directive to ensure that service delivery gets top priority. There is no point for BCC to continue paying its workers when service delivery is suspended since the local authority exists for the purposes of providing services; BCC should retract the football team from its budget and look for sponsors to fund the team; Council needs to resume service delivery provision as a matter of urgency; There is need to effect a reduction on high costs of contracting out as most of the contractors have performed below expectation and draining the residents’ purse.

We do hope our views will be considered and would like to assure BCC that we open to a meeting to further discuss these submissions.

Source: Bulawayo Progressive Residents Association (BPRA)