Giving hostage to fortune

HARARE - With the year drawing closer to an end, local authorities have started engaging stakeholders to get their input through pre-budget consultations.

The exercise has taken off to a slow start in the capital city, which has a population of over two million.

According to reports, some of the meetings had to be postponed after attracting a paltry 20 people, if not much less.

The reasons cited for the low turnout at the meetings convened by the city fathers include poor pre-event publicity, which could have raised interest in the events, and the general lack of interest among residents.

Reports say residents feel strongly that the engagements were a mere window-dressing affair because, after everything has been said and done, their input is never taken up.

It is regrettable that residents feel that way because councils and the city fathers exist to serve their interests. Without them, no municipality exists because councils derive their relevance from serving residents using money collected in water charges, rates and other service fees.

For any budget process to be effective, it must be able to produce a budget that makes it possible for councils to address the needs of their residents whose interests converge when it comes to a safe and clean environment; safe drinking water that is readily available; street lights; an effective sewer system and prompt collection of refuse.

No one is better placed to understand these basic human needs than the consumer or user of these service — the resident.

Therefore, pre-budget consultations are a useful platform through which residents can submit their feedback, thoughts, observations, and suggestions on how they would want their councils to be run for incorporation in the forthcoming budget.

They also offer residents an opportunity to learn about the operations of their councils, debate extensively on how their towns and cities should be run and be able to influence the allocation of scarce resources.

Pre-budget consultations also present the city fathers with an opportunity to hear voices of marginalised groups who do not have the privilege to rub shoulders with them in the corridors of power, which is extremely important in strengthening corporate governance.

Against this background, the lack of participation becomes a source for serious concern.

The problem is two-way.

First, the city fathers have grown too big-headed and think they do not need anyone to tell them how they should do their job because they know it all.

To them, the consultations are an unnecessary inconvenience they must trouble themselves with to give the impression that they value their stakeholders and to fulfil that old tradition.

Residents are right in feeling let down by people they voted into office who have no time to consider their input in their policies and budgets. Rightly or wrongly, they are hitting back by boycotting the consultations.

Boycott, as a strategy, has worked in many jurisdictions but certainly it may take ages for it to work in Zimbabwe where the authorities have usurped the power of the majority.

The term boycott dates back to 1880 when Irish Home Rule leader Charles Stewart Parnell coined it to describe a version of ostracism that was used against a certain Captain Charles Cunningham Boycott by his Irish neighbours.

It became an effective tactic in the struggle of the Irish peasants against English landlords who enjoyed legal privileges.

In years that followed, boycotts became an effective means for making another do as you wish without calling in the State’s aid.

It is interesting that Harare residents have adopted boycotts as they are refusing to continue or to undertake their relationship with the city fathers in budget formulation.

Like any other strategy, boycott will not address every situation and it can fail. But the greatest strategic failure is to dismiss it out-of-hand.

So far, Zimbabwean authorities have proved to be impervious to boycotts. They don’t care. They are not bothered.

We have seen this with the MDC, which has been boycotting elections, demanding that the electoral playing field gets levelled, with no tangible outcome coming out of it.

By boycotting pre-budget consultations, residents could be giving the city fathers the blank cheque to do as they please.

Residents must never give up that easily. After all, they can use their vote to bring about the change they desire.

This business of boycotting is akin to giving hostage to fortune.

    Post a comment

    Readers are kindly requested to refrain from using abusive, vulgar, racist, tribalistic, sexist, discriminatory and hurtful language when posting their comments on the Daily News website.
    Those who transgress this civilised etiquette will be barred from contributing to our online discussions.
    - Editor

    Your email address will not be shared.