Mayors Get More Guidance

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By Engel Nawatiseb WINDHOEK The Mayor of Rehoboth, George Dax says many local authorities in the country failed to invite community participation during the drafting stages of their budgets. He stressed that budgeting should bring together community stakeholders and their elected representatives to craft policies and financial plans that meet the community’s specific needs. “This principal approach was ignored for a long time and needs to be applied as a matter of urgency so that we can set collective priorities before the approval of budgets.” Dax told New Era that the management course for mayors underway in Windhoek came at an “opportune” time when most local authorities are preparing their annual budgets. He stated that the technocrats usually dominate the budget preparation processes and prioritise activities that are “spoon fed” to councillors who do not find ample time to scrutinize set priorities. A Municipal Finance Consultant, Justus Mika however advised mayors to continuously explore and implement social accountability mechanisms that enhance increased civic participation in service delivery. He added that participatory planning and budgeting are key tools for enforcing social accountability, ensuring poverty reduction and increased development. “List all sectors of urban economy and call for representatives from such organizations to come forward to a meeting but always take care to include the marginalized by scanning for representatives of informal organizations such as street vendors, youths and women’s groups. The exercise calls for profiling interest groups spatially, thematically and sectorally like commerce, industry, NGOs, government departments and such like.” He said the intention was to get local ownership, commitment and buying-in into local authority decision-making processes although the major challenges rest with the marginalised groups. Many cities have tended to use broad stakeholder groups to select a representative “working group” that deals with the detailed preparation of the Local authority budget. “Whichever way, the local authority needs to formalize commitment to this process and in some cases, memoranda of understanding have been signed by stakeholder representatives setting out the ground rules for participation including processes, outreach methods and budget cycles,” said Mika. He pointed out that pro-poor budgeting should equally be acknowledged because the poor do not often use established channels to air grievances. Consequently, they get structurally excluded from participating in decisions that affect them, resulting in their (poor) needs being left out of the local authority budgets. He added that local authorities often want to think for the poor instead of engaging them because they are mostly difficult to reach. “Mayors need to constantly look out for information on the poor by having studies carried out on subsistence living, informal trading, child-headed households, orphans, industrial bases, unemployment figures, demography of area, illiteracy levels and economic methods to access people that cannot buy newspapers or have access to other media. He advised mayors to exercise close monitoring and evaluation of budgets because local government budgets are not events but continuous consultative processes. Stated Mika: “Participation requires involvement of the community in planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation because once stakeholders have been involved in the planning phase as in the strategic planning process and budgets, they also need to monitor implementation of the budget.” He stressed that this required great care as uncontrolled monitoring may create serious confusion with councillors and individuals and community leaders. He urged mayors to familiarise themselves with computer use in order to manage council business because management information systems are the backbone of both the budget and accounting information of local authorities. Mika added that human minds tire very easily and are prone to mistakes given monotonous situations. “Computers on the other hand can perform repetitive tasks repeatedly, hence the need to arrange information systems in a logical and transparent manner such that staff do not disturb the systems and records. Mayors need standardized accounting and budgeting systems to enable them to cross check their town’s performance with that of other cities. Standards often cover formats of budget and accounting disclosure.”