Finance minister Tendai Biti on Wednesday defended his 2011 National Budget proposals, saying the demands being made by MPs for bigger votes were tantamount to fighting over crumbs.
He was reacting to Tuesday’s threats by MPs to derail the budget unless he revisited it with a view to revising the constituency development fund, salaries and increase various ministries’ votes.
Biti said the budget was an extension of the GPA and any attempts to stifle its passage were tantamount to violating the GPA.
“The budget is an extension of the GPA that you cannot think you can assault the budget without assaulting the GPA,” he said.
Biti said it was unfortunate that MPs were expecting huge chunks and politicising the budget which he said was just “a small cake”.
He said he was trying by all means to share a mere $2,7 billion among ministries in a country whose economy he described as “poor, sickly, third-world”.
He said the budget was not owned by the Minister of Finance, but a collective effort with Cabinet and as such it was not reasonable to try and politicise it. His job, he said, was just to present a summary of the political aspirations of the Executive arms of the state.
“The reason I am making this point is that it is not the Ministry of Finance budget, it is a budget made within the context of the GPA and in making this budget one surely must be alive to the foundation document that gave rise to the GPA,” said Biti.
“I say this so that you understand that whatever we do has ramifications with regard to relationships in the GPA.”
Biti almost angered MPs when he said the reports presented in Parliament on the budget by chairpersons of portfolio committees were written for them by permanent secretaries of ministries.
“Portfolio committees are not allocation committees and they are not spokespersons of government departments or permanent secretaries. Portfolio committees were created to have an oversight function on the Executive but 99% of their reports were written by permanent secretaries,” he said.
Irate MPs asked Biti to withdraw his comments and the Speaker of Parliament had to make a ruling and asked Biti to do so. He did.
“Everything is desperate in this country; we have collapsed schools and hospitals. All these things are a matter of life and death. How do we prioritise things when the economy was destroyed 11 years ago by self-induced destructive economic decisions?” he said.
He said MPs could not just come to the House and be argumentative. MPs finally passed the Finance Bill and the Appropriation 2011 Bill to do with the budget after clear signs that their political parties had whipped them into line and ordered them not to oppose the passage of the budget.