Source: Youth participation in budget processes must be improved | The Herald July 31, 2019
Beaven Dhliwayo Features Writer
As young people have gained increasing prominence on the international development agenda, so too has the issue of their participation in decision-making.
Globally, there is increasing recognition that young people not only have the right to decide how resources are allocated, but that they also have valuable knowledge and viewpoints to bring to governance processes.
In some African countries, those under 35 comprise up to 70 percent of the population, making them a constituency difficult to ignore.
Increasingly, governments, donors and civil society are recognising both the specific needs and vulnerabilities of youths as well as their huge potential to contribute positively to development.
For any country, budgets are extremely important as they act as instruments for implementing the provisions in the international, regional and national conventions, leading to achieving the promotion of the welfare of children.
Better outcomes in any sector, for instance, in education, health, water or rural development depend not just on allocations, but also on actual execution and proper use of those allocations.
The execution and proper use of budgeted funds can be improved through social accountability.
At a recent Social Economic Justice Activism Academy 2019 (SEJAA), organised by the Zimbabwe Coalition On Debt and Development (Zimcodd) participants learnt that citizens, including young citizens, can involve themselves in participatory budgeting, public expenditure tracking, monitoring public service delivery, lobbying and embarking on advocacy campaigns.
SEJA 2019 is the inaugural academy which was spearheaded by Zimcodd and other development partners to enhance activism skills for young Zimbabweans on fiscal transparency.
The training ran for under the theme, “Investing in People for Social and Economic Justice”.
Zimcodd executive director Janet Zhou encouraged youths not to be used as political agents during elections, but to be engaged as citizens, who can bring about social and economic justice in the whole chain of governance processes.
“As Zimcodd, our mandate is to build you as leaders of tomorrow who know that they have rights and also responsibilities.
“I hope this academy will move you from just being a voter. You must resist to be identified as a vote that political parties need. You are citizens, and this is why we should talk about issues.
“You are not just to be enticed to vote for a particular candidate, but actively participate in decision-making in between the elections because you will now know issues to talk about.
“You will know how to hold the duty bearer accountable on the day-to-day issues that affect you as an individual human being.
“The Constitution also gives you the right to act for justice on behalf of your community, on behalf of the next person,” she said.
She added that youths in activism should not be engaged in violent activities, but should equip themselves with data so that they engage the authorities in a more responsible manner, and surely their voices will be heard from an informed position.
Participants included young citizens from the media, civic society organisations, non-governmental organisations, university students, and young graduates, who are not yet employed, but have a keen interest in social economic justice.
Throughout the training, participants were encouraged to stay within the limits of the law when it comes to activism.
In other words, youths were told not to stray from the boundaries of what the Government has decided is legally permissible.
It also came out that poor investments in child welfare, protection and gender equity reflects the low priority many governments attach to these issues when it comes to budget planning and implementation.
The neglect of vulnerable children and youths — street urchins, orphans, migrant children, those trafficked and/or sexually abused — in the country’s policy and budgeting could become a thing of the past as young people gradually become part of planning and budgeting processes.
In developing countries, Zimbabwe included, the idea of budgeting at the national level was seen as very technical and remained in the domain of economists and financial experts. National budget processes were seen to have little to do with youths and children.
As more resources are channelled towards both tackling youth exclusion and disadvantage as well as towards harnessing young people’s potential as partners in growth, the role of young people in deciding and managing the allocation of resources has been brought into sharp relief.
Globally, there is increasing recognition that young people not only have a right to determine how resources are used, but that they bring unique and valuable experiences and viewpoints to the debate.
The issue of youth participation in governance was first given global exposure in Agenda 21, the declaration following the Rio Summit of 1991.
Since then, a number of international conferences have drawn attention to the issue’s importance and it has been highlighted in several prominent legal instruments, including the African Youth Charter, which obliges state parties to, among other things, “facilitate the creation or strengthening of platforms for youth participation in decision-making at local, national, regional and continental levels of governance” (African Youth Charter, 2006).
Making meaningful and effective youth participation in governance a reality requires the combined effort of local and national government, civil society and donors.
The academy came up with a number of key recommendations on how to improve the level and quality of youth participation in decision-making on both local and national governance levels.
Participatory governance involving all members of society is a new concept in Zimbabwe, a country where traditionally decision-making has often been the exclusive realm of a few male and older elites.
Changing such deeply-rooted societal norms and empowering all citizens — including traditionally excluded groups such as women, youths and the disabled — with the skills and knowledge to contribute to and challenge decisions and hold authorities to account cannot be achieved quickly or easily.
However, an important mechanism for ensuring civic participation becomes normalised in society is to promote the concept from the grassroots so that people build experience and knowledge of participatory governance from a young age and from the lowest level of community decision-making.
Structures such as school boards or school management committees, village development committees and student action groups — are all potential fora where citizens can be empowered to contribute at a local level to decision-making that has a direct effect on their lives and in doing so gain the experience and the confidence to contribute at other levels of governance.
There are many elements that can make participatory budgeting succeed or fail in a country.
Political will is needed for the implementation of a participatory budget.
The first is a clear political will by local authorities and other municipal decision-makers, and this is necessary to sustain the entire process up to national level.
The second is the presence and interest of civil society organisations and better still, of the citizenry in general.
This condition is decisive for the sustainability of the exercise.
Additionally, presence of a strategic plan is extremely important as it provides a shared vision and strategy for investment decisions.
Basic knowledge of budget and budgeting by key actors such as the public and the media among others can enhance youth participation in budget processes.
SEJAA is an initiative under the Strengthening Transparency and Accountability Programme (STAP) to build the activism skills of young Zimbabweans on fiscal transparency.
Developing the skills is envisaged to increase interest among young people to engage in public finance management (PFM) issues and create public opinion on key emerging PFM issues.
The activist academy churned out 40 champions of economic justice, advocates of transparency and accountability in PFM from private and public media houses, freelance journalists, bloggers, youth-led and youth-oriented civil society organisations, and aspiring university graduates and human rights (social and economic rights) defenders.
The activism academy will add on to the objective of strengthening citizen voice and participation in economic governance through improved economic literacy.