Residents Confront City Council Over Atrocious Service Delivery
29 January 2021
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Holding local authorities accountable

By Posper Tiringindi

It has become increasingly necessary and important to ensure that local authorities are accountable to citizens because when citizens elect officials, they are delegating responsibility to them as their agents hence the elected councils have a duty to be downwardly accountable to citizens.

Accountability, put simply, means that the holder of responsibility must report to citizens on the use of public resources/funds and must be answerable for failing to meet their legal obligations. Holders of responsibility must be aware that there is a possibility of sanction if they do not fulfil their responsibilities.

From time immemorial citizens have been using traditional tools for accountability which include: elections, public demonstrations as well as advocacy campaigns. However, the traditional tools have their limitations in bringing accountability. In some instances, the tools are ineffective. For instances public demonstrations can be considered illegal by rule of law and victimisation of activists can result in failure to put checks and balances. Elections also have discrepancies as they take a long time to bring accountability, for instances elections are held after every 5 years, hence holding a public figure accountable once in 5 years can result in disastrous outcomes and running of local authorities.  Recalling of non-performing councillors has its own limitations as well as it often requires significant resources to hold elections. The other gap is when non-performing councillors are re-called from office, it is done by an individual, either party leader or minister and yet the correct position would be going back to the electorate and have referendum on whether they want councillor to leave office or not . The correct procedure is the matter must be dealt with at the referendum stage.

Lessons learnt- A case of Masvingo City Council

Four councillors, Cllr Godfrey Kurauone, Cllr Daniel Mberikunashe, Cllr Tarusenga Vhembo and Cllr Richard Musekiwa were re-called from office and there were no replacements. Worries are; when they were elected a lot money was spent to run elections and at last individual person with is own or her interest decided to re-call the four from office paralysing service delivery.

Lately, new tools for accountability were created and are proving to be more effective where there is political will by the local authorities to accept citizen participation in council processes. There is need for open governance to ensure broader participation by citizens and civil society in council programmes like formulation of strategic planning ,strategic review and  budgeting processes. Councils and municipalities have the obligation to enable citizens and civil society to participate not only at the phase of preparation of local programmes, but also in monitoring their implementation.

However, in order for citizens to participate in holding their local authorities accountable, they must have the necessary information to be able to participate.

Lessons learnt – A case of Masvingo City Council

An observation which was made and partly applauded was the creation of public relations and communications office. It is however regrettable or unfortunate that the officer is just a ceremonial position without authority to disseminate crucial information or influence change in favour of the citizens. More often than not the officer practice self-censorship as some issues become way above the office’s pay grades. Decisions remain with the helm resulting in the offices of public relations merely a gap filler. The city council’s grading system cripples potential and will power to perform. Lastly there is the issue of cyber bullying and gender-based violence by rogue elements in the society which has severely affected the operations of the office eg in Masvingo Residents Trust group on the 22nd of December 2020, we discovered some group members insulted the City of Masvingo Public relations Officer and we really apologised for such rogue elements. We need to dwell on peaceful engagements. There is need for empowerment of the office of public relations if harmony between the two parties has to be achieved.

There is slight improvement on information dissemination because of the introduction of the office of the Public Relations Officer since the role is merely a spokesperson or mouthpiece. The officer cannot challenge or question decisions made by management whether right or not. Therefore, A snap survey of most local authorities from urban to rural reveal that most citizens have no access to information from their various local authorities. The only way citizen participation can be achieved is only when there is communication between them and the local authorities. Imagining citizen participation without dialogue between the two parties is just far-fetched, since getting access to information is very difficult for the average citizen.

The politics and provision of service delivery in local authority cannot be understood without understanding the dynamics of political infighting and resultant implications for municipal service delivery.

Prosper Tiringindi