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Budget consultations: Answer to local authorities’ transparency

Participatory budgeting system, if correctly implemented, can be an effective deterrent to fraud and corrupt behavior in local authorities. Local government refers to the provision and maintenance of public services and infrastructure at local levels. This is achieved through the use of funds generated from local communities, in addition to royalties, loans and grants from central government and other sources. Local governance infers the establishment and participation of democratically-elected representative structures that identify with the needs and priorities of the grassroots. For this system to be deemed efficient and effective, transparency and accountability should play an integral part in decision-making processes in order to provide quality services. Of late, media outlets have been awash with reportage of acts of corruption and maladministration within the majority of local authorities. It is evident that the fundamental values of professionalism and ethics are not observed by local authorities. The epidemic nature of corruption and its manifestations in local authorities have been largely attributed to a number of shortcomings, which include factors such as political patronage, budget abuse, absence of adequate monitoring that has loopholes and opportunities for fraud and clandestine criminality. Politically-exposed persons have been cited as directly influencing council decisions for personal expediency and working under an illusion of invincibility because of such political connections. However, one of the most outstanding but less regarded factor, is the existence of a weak society that has resigned itself to the periphery of active citizen participation. An active citizenry is not only necessary for demanding services, but also serves as an important gatekeeper in questioning acts of financial abuse and stopping an unmitigated slide into autocracy. Budget consultations as part of participatory budgeting system is one standard that can promote local democracy and inculcate civic interest and participation in local governance. Involvement of stakeholders also promotes accountability and transparency in public finance management. Participatory budget consultations proffer an opportunity for stakeholders to formulate influence and evaluate council budgets. Here, stakeholders include the general public who have a direct or indirect dependency or benefit from council services. Such general public includes residents and ratepayers, businesses, churches, schools, clinics, traditional leaders and civil society organisations and other public institutions. Zimbabwe’s participatory budgeting system is a legislative creature established by the Urban Councils Act Chapter 29:15 of 1995. This then means that local authorities are guided and legally bound to follow and implement the dictates of this Act of Parliament. By virtue of “legislative sire”, the Legislature is bound to unwaveringly exercise diligent oversight on the implementation of such pieces of legislation. Section 288(i) of the Urban Councils Act implore