EVERY year during the pre-budget period thousands of dollars are spent flying Members of Parliament to resort areas like Victoria Falls to debate issues prioritised in the government’s financial expenditure plans for the following year.
BY VENERANDA LANGA
Although these pre-budget seminars are pivotal for legislators as they are capacitated to tackle budgetary issues in parliament, the stumbling block in implementation of the recommendations made during pre-budget consultations has been the Executive arm of government.
The 2017 national budget policy statement by Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa is near and last week MPs were gathered in Bulawayo to make pre-budget presentations.
What is now necessary is for the Executive to take recommendations by MPs and members of the public seriously.
In the past, the Executive had a domineering role over the legislature, and in most cases they threw away MPs’ recommendations.
This year’s budget theme is Domestic Resource Mobilisation and Utilisation and in order for Chinamasa to harness resources to grow the economy beyond the $4, 5 billion budget, there is need for government to consider the views of experts, MPs and ordinary people.
MDC-T chief whip in the National Assembly, Innocent Gonese said budgets were not cast in stone and, therefore, consultations prior to the budget were important to inform the minister on how to shape his fiscal policy statement.
“It is important to take into account suggestions by the people prior to the budget presentation by the Finance minister because with the current scenario where the majority in Parliament is Zanu PF, the legislature’s power to change certain things is constrained,” Gonese said.
He said failure to harness ample resources to finance the budget was caused by discord in government, and policy inconsistency resulting in the international community shunning the country.
In August, Chinamasa issued a mid-term policy review statement where he announced measures to cut down on the civil service wage bill, which gobbles 95% of the national budget.
His fiscal announcements were rubbished by Information minister Chris Mushowe, who said they were not agreed to by government.
Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga (MDC Proportional Representation MP) said she was not impressed by the dominance of the Executive, who had reduced national budgets into a mere procedural issue.
“Consultations for budget proposals are very helpful, but these have been turned into mere public relations exercises than genuine pre-budget consultations,” she said.
“The power for MPs to pass or not to pass the budget is provided for in the Constitution, however, the problem is that it is always the Executive that dominates issues in Parliament — whether it is crafting of Bills or budgetary issues.”
Misihairabwi-Mushonga said the Executive’s overbearing role over the legislature had reduced Parliament’s powers.
“The problem is that we have an Executive that has an overbearing role,” she added.
“Parliament has powers to refuse the budget; however, in my experience as an MP there was never any time that the budget was denied passage because the power dynamics have been that the ruling party will vote for its passage.”
A fortnight ago, Misihairabwi-Mushonga managed to stop debate to pass the mid-term fiscal review statement when she urged the Speaker to make a ruling on possible contempt of Parliament by Mushowe when he rubbished Chinamasa’s recommendations to cut the government wage bill.
“This is a big issue because we had a minister who brought in a mid-term fiscal review statement and it was later countermanded by government — and it has never happened in any country. In other words, this is an admission that there are serious differences in Cabinet in terms of the direction that the country has to go,” she said.
“For the first time, we also have a minister of Finance who is at variance with what government stands for and so how does that minister manage the budget process?
“For me, passing the budget is not about votes, it is about passing a pro-poor budget which looks at the needs of the citizens.”
On budget priorities in 2017, Misihairabwi-Mushonga said the issue of scrapping off duty on sanitary wear was pivotal.
“I have made a number of consultations with Chinamasa at a personal level on sanitary pads and he has agreed that we engage and see how it can be done and I hope by the time he presents his budget we will have a movement,” the outspoken Matabeleland South MP said.
She said the 2017 budget should improve access to maternal health as most women were affected by the price of blood, which has sky rocketed.
“The issue of feminisation of poverty must be solved because SI 64 affected women who are cross-border traders.
“Women are still buying second-hand underwear in the streets and we should make plans to ensure those basic commodities are available for women,” she said.
Chegutu West MP Dextor Nduna said MPs must be able to give input on how to mobilise resources and harness capital to grow the budget from $4,5 billion to $50 billion.
“This means cutting down on employment costs and tackling corruption,” he said.
“This can be eradicated by computerising revenue collection systems to avoid financial leakages.”
Senator representing people with disabilities Annah Shiri said Chinamasa needed to take into account empowerment of persons with disabilities in his 2017 fiscal policy statement so that they could venture into agriculture, manufacturing, tourism and other sectors.
“The biggest allocations of CDF [Community Development Fund] should be given to people with disabilities because it is the biggest constituency with 1,5 million people,” she said.
“People with disabilities must be supported with assistive devices and medical assistance.
“For example, people with the condition of albinism cannot afford sunscreen lotions and need budgetary support.”
Shiri said there was need to have a specific ministry for the disabled to clearly solve all those issues, adding they were so disadvantaged to the extent that they were excluded in terms of dissemination of information on bond notes in braille and sign language.
The business sector appeared before Parliament and they articulated their concerns on the budget. It is yet to be seen if the Executive will take them. Some of their recommendations included cutting salaries from that of President Robert Mugabe to the common man, as well as reducing the bloated Cabinet and Parliament.