Although national budgets are approved in parliament in the Sadc region, lawmakers face challenges in effecting positive suggestions before they are approved due to failure by the Executive to give MPs adequate time to scrutinise and make changes on the budgets.
Seven chairmen of Sadc Parliamentary Portfolio Committees on Budget and Finance from Malawi, Swaziland, Angola, Mozambique, Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe, who are part of an Association of Parliamentary Budget Committees, recently met at a Harare hotel to discuss strategies on how they could strengthen their oversight roles over the Executive pertaining to national budgets.
Ralph Jooma, the chairman of the Portfolio Committee on Budget and Finance in the Malawi National Assembly told his counterparts that before his parliament approved any budget, they scrutinised it to check if it was in tandem with issues to do with poverty reduction.
“We consider if the budget is in line with pro-poor policies and if it is, we then consider it a good budget,” said Jooma. “We check if the collection of money through taxation is not to the detriment of the poor and that there is sustainable social development.”
Jooma said MPs in his country also considered if grants and loans were being used for poverty reduction, for example, law makers check to what extent the budget is supporting issues like primary education, health care and other social services.
“If it is water, we target that most of the resources should be channelled to rural water and in agriculture, we put most of the emphasis on helping poor farmers.
If it is an allocation towards roads we give large chunks to rural roads and not highways because we feel we have to get easy access to farms,” said Jooma.
He said when monitoring the implementation of the budget, parliament checked if the money was being used appropriately and that the funds were decentralised to districts.
However, Jooma said Malawian MPs faced challenges in that most MPs were intellectually incapacitated to scrutinise budgets and that the Malawian constitution did not protect parliamentarians when executing their duties.
He said the Malawian parliament did not also have specialist staff to guide MPs on how best to deal with national budgets.
Master Moiseraele Goya, chairman of the Budget and Finance committee in the Botswana Parliament said the budget process in his country started mid-year in June, with a financial Bill being submitted to parliament, which is then debated.
However, he said MPs received the budget after it had been presented to parliament, denying them sufficient time to scrutinise it.
“As an oversight function, the Finance minister should submit a pre-budget report to different portfolio committees for their examination, instead of MPs receiving the budget when it is actually tabled in parliament,” said Goya.
He said the supplementary estimates of expenditure were always presented just before the adjournment of parliament and this created a problem where MPs failed to effectively play their oversight function on the budget process.
“Every year our budgets come with a theme, but this year we said they should not do that because ministries never implemented these themes,” said Goya.
However, Eneas da Conceicao Comiche, chairman of the Mozambican budget committee said the legislature in his country played a more effective role in coining of national budgets.
“The electorate also comes into play in the planning process. The budget is based on the government five year plans, which should be in line with the manifesto of the political party that wins elections. Socio-economic plans that are approved by parliament are designed and the budget committee then reviews the plans,” said Comiche.
Unlike other Sadc countries, Comiche said the Mozambican Budget committee had two months to review budget proposals by the minister of Finance before the budget was presented in December.
Paddy Zhanda, the chairman of the Budget, Finance and Investment Promotion Portfolio Committee in Zimbabwe said as a committee they did consult with the public to give them a chance to air their views on what they would want included in the budget.
“Due to limited resources, we are only confined to consulting people in the main cities, which is not good enough because we also want to cover the opinions of the poor people and those at mining towns,” Zhanda said.
However, he said the Zimbabwean situation was different in that the whipping system was applicable to MPs in different political parties, with the exception of independent MPs.
“Ministers are senior people in political parties and parliament committees are occupied by junior members of political parties and it becomes difficult to put these senior (Executive) into scrutiny.
As parliament we feel we should be given enough time to put the Executive to account because we represent the marginalised,” said Zhanda.
He said the time MPs were given to scrutinise the budget was too little and in 2011 they were only given two weeks to scrutinise it.
The chairman of the budget committee in Angola, Dlogenes do Espirito Oliveira said under their new constitution, national budgets in Angola were passed in parliament.
He said MPs played a pivotal role in formulating the methodology to be followed when compiling their national budget.
“The Economic Planning minister defines the aims of the national budget, while the Finance minister elaborates it. All the committees of parliament have a major role to play in the formulation of the budget,” Oliveira said.
Marvick Khumalo, the chairman of the Budget Portfolio Committee of the Swaziland National Assembly said the finance committee was in charge of the budget in terms of its supervision and ensuring that the finances were well planned.
“The Finance minister comes to the committees to present short to medium term policy reviews and it is there that MPs discuss the concept of the budget before it is presented to parliament. Most of the suggestions MPs make are taken, and recently we removed a crucial aspect from the budget,” said Khumalo.
He said the Swaziland parliament had the capacity to fire ministers and recall funds that government had paid without authority from parliament.
However, he said they needed to strengthen the area of public consultations and capacitating MPs to understand budgetary processes.
Highvie Hamududu, the chairman of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Budget in the Zambian National Assembly said the issue of involvement of citizens in budget formulation in Zambia was a big challenge.
“When consultations are taking place, they are done with civil servants and not the general populace. There is also no provision for the involvement of people in budget formulation in our constitution,” Hamududu said.
He said while stakeholders were discussing the budget, the Finance minister will be in the process of presenting the budget to parliament.
“What we want is to bring reforms through a budget Act so that we can indicate how parliament can be seriously involved. There must be enough time for parliament to give government feedback on the budget,” Hamududu said.