COVID-19 Restrictions Derail Budget Consultations In Mat South

The Matabeleland South community has over the years felt short-changed by the central government’s failure to adequately address concerns raised during budget consultations. This year’s venue was out of reach for the province’s majority, purportedly due to COVID-19 restrictions. For Gwanda residents, this is unacceptable.

In February, 2017, Gladys Moyo was among hundreds of residents who were marooned at Blanket mine in Gwanda, Matabeleland South when floods hit the area. Mtshabezi River Bridge was overflowing, blocking human and vehicular traffic from accessing Gwanda town. It is the only access bridge linking Gwanda town and Blanket Mine, Vumbachikwe, Freda mines and Wenlock Tribal Trust Land. In previous parliamentary budget consultations, residents of Gwanda expressed frustration over failure by the central government to construct a new bridge in the face of floods.

In 2018, the budget consultations had to end prematurely over the same as they demanded answers from the Budget, Finance and Economic Development (BFED) Parliamentary Portfolio Committee.

“We ordered the committee to go back to Harare and tell them that Gwanda needs the Mtshabezi River Bridge attended to and nothing else,” Moyo says.

“It is frustrating to learn that we will not get answers to our demands as I could not afford to travel to the venue of this year’s budget consultations,” Gladys Moyo, Gwanda resident.

In previous years, Gwanda budget consultations were held at a hotel within the central business district. In Beitbridge, the same consultations were held at a venue within the border town.

However this year, the 2021 budget consultations for Gwanda and Beitbridge were jointly held on Oct. 16 at Colleen Bawn with the BFED Parliamentary Portfolio Committee citing COVID-19 restrictions as the reason for not decentralising the meeting.Colleen Bawn is about 60 kilometres from Gwanda and 165 kilometres from Beitbridge, denying a majority of residents from the two neighboring towns and outlying areas a chance to have their voices heard. The pre-budget consultations are seen as an important exercise aimed at strengthening Parliament and citizens’ role in the formulation of the national budget. The BFED Committee is mandated by the Constitution to conduct public hearings to solicit citizens’ views on the national budget.

“The public hearings will at all times comply with the Ministry of Health and Child Care COVID-19 regulations as outlined in Statutory Instruments 99 and 110 regarding the observing of social distancing, sanitisation, temperature screening and wearing of facial masks,” reads a parliamentary public notice issued on Oct. 2, announcing the commencement of the 2021 budget consultations.

“Only 100 participants will be allowed at any one time; where more than 100 participants want to attend, they will only be allowed in groups that comply with the requirements.”

While noting the need to prevent COVID-19 spread and infection, residents of Gwanda and Beitbridge are unhappy with the government authorities for not making extra efforts to ensure that they contribute to the much important exercise which impacts on their livelihoods and development of their areas.

“We feel that the decision to not hold the consultation meetings at a centralised place is disadvantaging us to have an input that we feel is of great importance and help to our underdeveloped area,” says Jabulani Makhado, the deputy secretary for information for the Beitbridge Progressive Residents and Ratepayers Association (BPRRA). We demand that the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on finance conducts district based consultations to afford every person who wants to participate, a chance to do so.”

Gwanda Residents Association (GRA) spokesperson Bekezela Maduma argues that a one-size fits all approach does not work.

“The decision to go to Collen Bawn mine during the week and during working hours was poorly made. Everyone at Collen Bawn at that time will be at the work, that’s why they didn’t have anyone attending the consultations,” Maduma notes.

“As Gwanda we demand that the committee comes back to Gwanda and do a thorough job not what they did.  A proper budget consultation can be done even under COVID-19.”

BFED Parliamentary Portfolio Committee chairperson Felix Mhona has since apologised to the Gwanda and Beitbridge residents for the oversight in an interview with The Citizen Bulletin.

“It is a very genuine concern which we are taking on-board so that we do things better next time to allow every citizen to input into this process. We apologise for that oversight,” Mhona says.

The chairperson says they will try to have smaller teams in future to ensure wide coverage, while encouraging complainants to send their submissions via emails, written letters, WhatsApp and through telephone calls to Parliament.

“Unfortunately, we cannot repeat the process now,” says Mhona.

However, this suggestion has not gone down well with BPRRA.

“The issue of us being asked and told to write letters or reports as a way of submitting our contributions to the committee is not acceptable as there is no guarantee that whatever we will propose will be considered,” Makhadom says.

Source: The Citizen Bulletin

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