The Clogs Around Council Budgetary Processes

Budgetary processes have been marred with contention over the years, a crisis brought about by poor coordination between councils and their communities. In this explainer, Bokani Mudimba gives an overview of the budgetary process, using the case of Victoria Falls, we understand how the city and town budgetary planning meetings can be made more useful.

The third quarter of the year is a time for local authorities to start the annual process of crafting new budgets for the coming year. Procedurally, at law, local authority officials and councillors should go out to the residents and other stakeholders to consult them to come up with a budget.

Traditionally what has been happening is an almost flawed process whereby local authorities have been coming up with a plan and presenting it to residents for rubber stamping.

In instances where residents opposed the process, the local authority would proceed to send the proposed budget to the government for approval without considering people’s objections.

Ratepayers would fold hands and just pay or fail to pay bills and rates and wait for the next season’s process.

An observation from budget processes over the years has shown that local authorities have been riding on residents’ lack of understanding and ignorance of the budget process.

As a result, many local authorities’ budgets would be substandard according to Local Government and Public Works officials.

According to the law, council bills are based on an approved budget. Only about a third of the 92 rural and urban local authorities were reportedly able to meet the November deadline for submitting the budget last year. Most of the local authorities also had substandard budgets that did not show how they would raise money or showing sustainability.

All this is because councils reportedly don’t follow procedures in consulting residents.

In the case of Victoria Falls, the city fathers have been at loggerheads with residents and ratepayers over the budget process.

Residents accused the council of disregarding their views and objections while the council also claimed to be playing its part and ratepayers for not following procedure in objecting to the budget. As a result, the council’s 2021 budget remains contentious, at a time when crafting of the 2022 budget should start.

Residents successfully lobbied the Minister of Local Government July Moyo to force for a review of the budget and the supplementary budget is yet to be approved.

The contention currently has been on how the local authority is billing residents when its budget has not been approved.

Seeing the anomaly in local authorities, the Local Government Ministry has been conducting training workshops for councils to guide them on how the budget-making process is conducted.

The Victoria Falls City Council held its workshop recently which was facilitated by officials from the ministry.

What came out is a lack of proper communication between the council and stakeholders, concerns by residents of the disregard of their views by the council and probably shortcuts being done by the local authority in the budget-making process.

Stakeholder Views
“We need to go together. There has been limited information regarding the whole budget process and we need to improve the extent of public participation and the role of different players. Residents and stakeholders view has been that council has not been taking their views seriously,” says acting Mayor Kholwani Mangena.

The Mayor, Councillor Somvelo Dlamini acknowledges the need for the council to strengthen visibility and engagement with stakeholders who are sceptical about the process as they feel their views are looked down upon.

The managing director of a local travel agency, Yvonne Jandles says it seems the council does not read views sent by stakeholders.

“There is a lack of information which is why Ward 1 and 2 meetings were aborted because stakeholders demanded capital expenditures and council officials could not produce.”

The concern is that the council does not update stakeholders on the budget implementation. Chief financial advisor in the Ministry of Local Government Alpha Nhamo says a tariff should reflect the value of service and if rejected, a council is mandated to redo the process.

Nhamo says all stakeholders should seek to understand the budget-making process and local authorities need to contribute to the economic blueprint (National Development Strategy 1(NSD1) by making a financial statement that speaks to endowments.

“The Public Finance Management Act mandates the accounting officer to collect revenue and prevent irregular expenditure and this is done through proper implementation of the budget. The local authority must achieve value from delivering service,” he says.

The ministry’s principal administrator Anna Takaendesa says each ward should have a ward development committee that will coordinate meetings between residents and council adding that councils that impose budget on people risk facing resistance and trust loss.

For rapport between a local authority and its stakeholders, there is a need for capacity building in budget formulation, implementation and evaluation, automation of revenue systems, constant engagements and improvement of stakeholder engagements, information dissemination and public relations as well as responding to grievances.

Source: The Citizen Bulletin

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