BY SILAS NKALA
BULAWAYO City Council (BCC) has launched a virtual 2021 budget consultation programme with residents through its WhatsApp platform as public gatherings remain banned under government’s COVID-19 containment measures.
The two-day virtual consultation meetings start tomorrow.
This was revealed in the latest council minutes and through a notice posted by the local authority’s public relations department last week.
Part of the minutes read: “The current situation worldwide regarding the COVID-19 pandemic has also affected the 2021 budget process. The World Health Organisation had set regulations and guidelines which sought to contain the pandemic.
“The government had adopted these guidelines and went on to introduce further measures in order to safeguard its citizens such as number of attendees limited to 50 in any gathering, all persons to wear a mask, sanitisation of hands for hygiene purposes, temperature testing, social distancing — creating distance between individuals so as to avoid spreading the disease and disinfection of venues.”
“This year council would present both the 2020 performance review and 2021 budget estimates at the same time. However, due to the limitation of numbers, it was proposed that four consultations be held as follows: Thereafter the town clerk (Christopher Dube) recalled that previously council had conducted meetings of the budget reviews and budget consultations separately. However, because of the abnormal situation, the meetings would be held on the same day in order to observe the COVID-19 protocol,” the minutes read in part
Councillors were urged to second two representatives from their wards with capacity to attend the meeting and give feedback to the residents. Council also resolved that the business community would be admitted into the venue on a first come first save basis and that special interest groups such as women, youths, informal traders would be limited to 50 people on a first come first save basis.
Bulawayo Progressive Residents Association chairman Ambrose Sibindi said use of WhatsApp platforms would compromise the level of participation.
“There are limitations in using WhatsApp in budget consultation because we have elders who do not even know how to use a phone and some young people who are not well-informed in the use of the WhatsApp platform. This may curtail them from expressing themselves during consultation,” Sibindi said.
“But in the circumstances due to the COVID-19 there is nothing we can do considering that the council is also under pressure from the government to submit their budget for 2021, it has to be done.”
The BCC’s 2020 budget was pegged at $2,8 billion, which was later supported by supplementary budgets due to inflationary pressures. Projections for the 2021 budget are yet to be made.