The City of Harare started consulting residents and stakeholders last week to formulate the 2024 budget for the capital city.
But not before the municipality sprung another surprise for the residents after changing the format of the pre-budget consultations without informing residents.
Last week, Harare residents, institutional ratepayers and other stakeholders were suddenly ambushed with notices of budget meetings starting at Town House. The city started meeting with special interest groups such as the women, youth, business community, faith based organisations, the vulnerable and people living with disabilities as well as informal traders last week at Town House where the meetings where physical consultations.
As the week progressed the city officials then formed WhatsApp groups for residents to offer their suggestions in the crafting of the 2024 budget via the online platform.
The WhatsApp groups are not ward-based as was the previous case last year and going back to the Covid-19 lockdown years when physical meetings were restricted.
Residents were left wondering what happened to the ward-based consultations that the municipality used to hold until last year.
When residents sought explanations, council officials just said that was the format this year’s meetings will be using without any further clarifications.
In recent years, the consultations have been blighted by the lack of adequate information to residents as the Town House officials kept residents in the dark or provided the information at the eleventh hour leaving residents without enough time to study the documents in order to make useful input on the budget process.
A few years ago, Avondale residents resolved not to take part in the pre-budget meetings citing the fact that the city authorities always repeated the tactic of frustrating their participation by not availing all the requested information to help inform the consultations.
The pre-budget consultations are supposed to help the city and its stakeholders plan on the trajectory the city should be taking.
But over the years the pre-budget meetings have not been a consultation process but just a choreographed annual ritual meant to make the municipality appear as if it is fulfilling the local government laws on council budgets when it is not.
While there was an attempt to at least consult the residents via the ward-based meetings in the past, the process still lacked credibility.
And the new set-up is no doubt going to further erode any thin integrity that the consultation still had.
Residents have consistently argued that the City of Harare essentially manipulates and sabotages the pre-budget consultation process, in a way akin to cheating and abusing ratepayers citing the short notices the municipality always give in announcing the start of the pre-budget meetings.
Residents hope the new leadership at Town House (the mayor and deputy mayor) and their councillors will review these processes going forward to make them a legitimate affair which has the buy-in of residents and all stakeholders.