Budget literacy in communities

The HRT has embarked on budget literacy community awareness in order to sensitise residents on the need to participate in the budget process being led by the City of Harare. This will enhance the improvement of services within the various communities. The HRT has embarked on a structured programme in the 25 suburban structures within the various communities in the Greater Harare.

A budget is the most important policy document which puts a monetary value to services rendered. This budget literacy training is a strategic HRT lobby and advocacy tool being used to improve the capacity of residents to unpack budget language into useable knowledge on how to demand for better services, better rates within the reach of the residents’ and more importantly on setting the priorities as beneficiaries of council services.

The HRT’s major thrust is to lobby and advocate for participatory mechanisms to be entrenched in the process of project identification, priority listing, resource allocation, implementation and monitoring and evaluation of budget performance. This feat is achievable through active participation of the citizens, where residents participate in the budget process from the prioritisation stage through to the implementation, monitoring and evaluation stages.

The budget literacy program is consistent with the HRT Objective One of ‘empowering citizens to demand accountability from council leadership and service providers’ and comes in the wake of council’s failure to produce audited financial statements. Yet the City of Harare has continued to develop new budgets for successive years since 2009, a gap that creates fertile grounds for manipulation of reports and misuse of public funds. Grassroots participation remains a convenient platform for community development. Ultimately, the HRT involvement ensures residents’ involvement in decision making at all levels of public finance management within local authorities.

The trainings are being done to empower citizens to influence decisions on what projects to prioritise and how best to raise revenue for the provision of essential public services. The City of Harare cannot be allowed to continue to demand residents to pay for unexplained expenditure and income from 2009, yet they seldom provide satisfactory services. This scenario provides an opportune time for serious engagement among the residents, their representative organisations and the Harare City Council.

There is need to facilitate a tripartite engagement of the parties concerned in line with the HRT’s Objective Number 3 ‘To facilitate engagement among council officials, service providers and the citizenry to improve standards of living in Harare Metropolitan Province.’ This is the right time for residents and Harare City Council to genuinely engage in order to try and address the various service delivery challenges that are affecting the once Sunshine City of Harare.

2. Methodology: The initiative is being spearheaded by the HRT Director Mr Precious Shumba and the Women’s Initiative Facilitator Mrs Constance Shumba, the Lobby and Advocacy Officer, Ms Pretty Chabuda, Membership Officer Ms Regina Bakuri, and the Communications Officer, Mr Charles Mazorodze. The budget is unpacked, the budget making process and cycle are explained, the legal provisions of the Urban Councils’ Act (Chapter 29:15) related to budget formulation are shared and residents raise their expectations in the budget being formulated.

The previous year’s budget is reviewed with the HRT teams and the residents, checking on whether or not budget allocations were channelled towards set targets, and the general performance of each budget vote. Deviations are highlighted and alternatives are suggested for serious inclusion in the 2013 City Budget. This is a crucial element in development planning and active participation of the residents is an important element in strengthening the citizens’ voice in civic affairs.

3. Key Aspects for the Budgeting Process As raised by Communities:

a. Fixed water charges- Residents want council to remove this charge to all residents with title to their properties.

b. Burial Fees- A clear mechanism of graveyards maintenance and facilities has to be put in place.

c. Community Halls- Residents’ groupings and other community based organisations should not be made to pay exorbitant rates for the use of the community facilities.

d. Parking fees- residents want the City to look at options of increasing its investment in building new parkades, since there is limited space in the Central Business District. The high cost of parking space have resulted in clamped motorists choosing to pay bribes to Easy park officials or municipal police, depriving council of much needed revenue. The other option is to reduce the fees, and increase monitoring the streets.

e. Septic tanks- There are serious concerns from residents in areas where they have not received any service from the council. It is important for the council to ensure that it empties filled septic tanks than have senior council officials create their own companies and provide this service at exorbitant rates to residents.

f. Refuse collection- Most areas have indicated that they are not receiving regular refuse collection services from council. But low density areas get this service on regular basis. Residents expect consistency, sticking to released schedules and cooperation with residents. Money generated from refuse collection should go towards purchase of more refuse collection vehicles, maintenance and upgrading of current fleet, including purchase of equipment.

g. Market stalls- All market places have to be regularised, given that the majority of the so-called illegal vendors pay every month to the council, yet they have not been provided with ablution facilities. Currently most of the money goes into the pockets of identified party activists. A clearly defined system that is easy to implement has to be developed to ensure sustainable revenue generation from markets by the council.

h. Health services- The treatment of patients at council clinics leaves a lot to be desired, undermining the provision of health delivery to the wider citizenry.

i. Rates- Residents remain adamant that the City of Harare can offer residents an incentive to pay off their bills. The HRT has demanded that the council writes off all debt accumulated since February 2009 until December 2010, a period the council was totally incapacitated and the residents were in a state of economic, social and political despair.

4. How this is achieved: Community meetings will be held in at least 26 structures within the Harare. The expected attendance at each meeting will be at least 50 in order to rejuvenate civic energies and inculcate a deeper understanding in the manner local authorities’ budgets, especially by the City of Harare, are formulated and ultimately implemented. The budget literacy advocacy and lobby will address priority setting, legal provisions guiding budget formulation and adoption, citizens’ involvement and the expectations of the citizens in the 2013 City budget. There are intensive and widespread consultations ongoing within communities in order to prepare the residents ahead of the City’s own pre-budget consultation process, which is usually hurried, unpredictable and cosmetic in nature and content. Communities are being prepared to have an informed position to be tabled before council officials during the official pre-budget consultations.

5. Key Outcomes

• An active citizenry

• Entrenched accountability within Harare City Council

• A prudent budget reflecting the wishes and aspirations of the residents

• A harmonised relationship between the council and the residents

• Increased capacity of the residents to lobby and advocacy on service delivery issues.

The HRT will continually strive to transform the status quo in order to improve service delivery within Harare, and will ensure that the organisation keeps track of the issues transpiring at Town House and Rowan Martin at the City Treasury related to the 2013 budgeting process.

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