A budget office for parliamentarians is on the cards and will soon be established at the Parliament of Zimbabwe, Goromonzi North MP Paddy Zhanda said.
Zhanda, who is the chairman of the Budget and Finance Committee, told NewsDay that the office would capacitate MPs with knowledge of budgetary processes so as to engage in informed debate when passing Bills to do with the National Budget.
Parliament, as part of its legislative role, has to debate and pass Bills to do with the National Budget and most lawmakers without an economics or financial background have often found it challenging to give meaningful input whenever budget discussions took place in Parliament.
To solve such problems, Zhanda said, it was imperative to set up a budget office in Parliament with a fully-fledged secretariat to help MPs with information to do with budgetary processes as well as to facilitate training workshops for them on the subject.
“The issue of the setting-up of a budget office at the Parliament of Zimbabwe is progressing well,” said Zhanda.
“It would play an important role in helping us to unpack issues to do with the National Budget and also to give juice to budget processes.”
He said the budget office would not only be relevant to the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Budget and Finance, but would also furnish other committees with knowledge of financial and budgetary processes that they would then use when discussing the National Budget with the ministries they overshadowed.
“The budget office will work with and cover every committee of Parliament, and will provide an interface between Parliament and the Ministry of Finance,” said Zhanda.
Parliament as the legislature approves the budget presented by the Ministry of Finance through enacting the Finance Bill and the Appropriation Bill, which legitimise the National Budget.
“The budget process, which begins with consultations with stakeholders before it is approved by Parliament, is an important event in the Parliament sitting calendar and needs to be allocated a lot of time and meaningful debate,” said Zhanda.
He said its importance lay in the fact that it destined the future of the country’s economy for the whole year.
Southern Africa Parliamentary Support Trust executive director John Makamure last week said the role of Parliament in the budget process was so important that Parliament had authority to refuse to pass the budget.
“The National Budget is passed by Parliament through the Finance Bill and Appropriation Bill.
“By refusing to pass the budget because in their view it is flawed, MPs are simply exercising their independence,” said Makamure.
He continued: “The Executive should not expect Parliament to simply rubber-stamp its policies and legislation, otherwise it becomes a mockery of the whole constitutional doctrine of separation of powers.”
Makamure said financial and budget oversight was one of the key functions of Parliament and MPs must never compromise on that.
“If it means refusing to pass the budget until certain pertinent issues are corrected, then the MPs should be allowed to exercise this constitutional right without fear or favour,” said Makamure.
This week Parliament will resume sitting to consider two Bills, the Finance Bill and Appropriation Bill, to allow Finance minister Tendai Biti to disburse the money to different ministries.
However, Parliament has often been viewed as a rubber stamp. Makamure said lawmakers should fully utilise their legislative powers, offer constructive criticism on the budget and even push for changes on the budget if need be.