Citizen participation, a vital cog for effective governance
Chapter 17 of the 2013 Zimbabwean Constitution is the bedrock of public finance management in the country as it lays the framework for protecting public funds. Nevertheless, despite the existence of constitutional guiding principles for public finance management (PFM), the current national and local budgeting and expenditure processes are a disapointment to the citizens as highlighted by the successive Auditor Generals' reports.
The PFM Reform Indaba held at Bulawayo Club on the 11th September 2019 focusing on unpacking the national budget process and was attended by city fathers, representatives from the civil society and residents’ associations saw vibrant discussions around why budgeting is ineffective in Zimbabwe. Bulawayo residents hold the view that rampant corruption in the country’s governing institutions from local to national level is the reason behind poor budgeting. They added that this has directly contributed to the deplorable state of public service delivery. Ineffective budgeting has also been attributed to poor governance and misappropriation of funds, lack of transparency and accountability at the Bulawayo City Council evidenced by failure by the city fathers to submit end of year financial reports as alluded to in the 2018 Auditor General’s Report findings. Bulawayo residents are concerned about the manner in which budget consultative meetings are conducted. They indicated that the consultative processes are rushed as there is no enough lead time for citizens to input their aspirations. As if that is not enough, the consultations are characterised by inaccessible venues by people with disabilities, long distance travelling against the backdrop of high transport costs affecting effective citizen participation.
Due to the above-mentioned shortcomings, citizens fail to inform and influence the national budget priorities both at local and national levels yet active citizen engagement and participation is key in responsive budgeting and economic governance. A representative from the Bulawayo Progressive Residents Association said the challenge with effective budgeting is that as citizens, “We have been programmed to politicise everything hence we cannot hold our local councils and central government to account. The predicament we find ourselves in as Zimbabweans is that the budgeting process has been heavily politicized. It is seen to speak to positions of power where those in power are using their power to determine who gets what and when. They are only looking at how they can retain power and that informs why more resources are allocated to other sectors such as security at the expense of developmental and social welfare issues.”
Disgruntled residents at the Indaba noted that through civil society interventions and other efforts, Bulawayo residents managed to attend budget consultations and presented their views and made submissions in terms of their priorities. However, after consultations , it is depressing to note that the central government totally ignores people’s submissions and allocate more resources to the security sector for instance, a sector which has nothing to do with improving the welfare of its people yet is the duty of the state to promote, protect and fulfil the social and economic rights of its citizens. Examples of priority areas which have been ignored from the past budget consultations include the Matabeleland Zambezi water project meant to eradicate water shortages bedeviling the city of Bulawayo.
Citizens need to participate in council meetings and other public meetings to influence budgets & development.
There is need for adoption of a people-centered approach to budgeting
In addition, there is need for adopting a result-based approach to budgeting where critical budget review is done to inform future allocations and distribution of resources as well as learning and improving on outcomes.
Depoliticization of the management of public finances is long overdue to ensure that all perpetrators of corruption regardless of one’s political affiliation are brought to book.
Depoliticize the judiciary system and restore confidence in Zimbabwe’s governance systems.
There is therefore an urgent need for stronger mechanisms to ensure effective fiscal transparency and the starting point would be effective and efficient budgetary systems for progressive realization of citizens’ social and economic rights in Zimbabwe.