Last week’s pre-Budget seminar retreat by Members of Parliament in Victoria Falls provided little input to the proposals as political party affiliation took centre stage at the expense of key national issues.
According to a statement from Parliament, the major objective of the seminar was to provide legislators a platform to review strategies to develop the economy in light of the current environment. Part of the statement reads:
“They (parliamentarians) will be expected to analyse the assumptions and priorities for the 2012 Budget with respect to issues such as agriculture, transport and energy, social welfare, provision of quality education and also review the ministries’ responses to the Budget review process.”
However, the two days of discussion on the proposed 2012 Budget, which Finance minister Tendai Biti has tentatively projected to hover around $3,5 billion, did little in terms of a review, but much on mudslinging with legislators seeking to protect their interests.
The pre-Budget seminar for parliamentarians has been an annual event since 2002. It is meant to gather various sentiments from legislators on the issues of National Budget since they represent the views of the people.
Finance minister Tendai Biti took much of the beating from legislators and Mines and Mining Development minister Obert Mpofu.
Zanu PF legislator for Zvimba East Patrick Zhuwao accused Biti of “telling blatant lies” about the state of agricultural funding throughout the world.
The exchequer had told parliamentarians that there was no country in the world that was funding the agriculture sector save for Zimbabwe, adding there was urgent need for a land audit to identify real farmers.
This angered Zhuwao who protested by briefly walking out of the venue saying, “I cannot just sit there and be lied to.”
Mpofu took a swipe at Biti for allocating his ministry meagre resources despite huge contributions made to the fiscus by the mining sector and amendments to the Finance Act, whose effect was to see mining firms submitting royalties directly to Treasury.
“We are in doubt whether the objectives of amending the Act are being met. We would be collecting more than what they (Treasury) are currently getting because right now there is cheating, which cannot happen when we are collecting, as miners cannot lie to us since we know what they get,” he said.
Mbizo MP Settlement Chikwinya also accused Biti for being absent on the latter part of the seminar saying Biti should have been present throughout so he could capture concerns by stakeholders and use them in Budget formulation.
However, Mpofu told parliamentarians plans are at an advanced stage to take De Beers International to court to force them to account for billions of dollars worth of minerals allegedly taken out of the country.
He said the government has documents to prove diamonds disguised as samples were shipped out of the country for close to 25 years.
Mpofu said mining firms such as Zimplats, Mimosa and Unki, robbed the government of more than $400 million in unpaid taxes in recent months and they continue shortchanging the government by banking their profits in offshore accounts.
In his address, Biti said during public consultations it was made clear uncontrolled government expenditure, reconstruction and rehabilitation of road infrastructure and continued instability in the price level including sustainable wage levels need to be addressed.
However, legislators were silent on what measure to implement to safeguard against unwarranted expenses and monitoring mechanisms to ensure smooth implementation of the Budget.
Zimbabwe Farmers Union first vice-president Abdul Nyathi said many farmers were now involved into contract farming due to failure to access loans adding contract farming is similar to slavery.
“Many farmers fall into contact farming as they cannot access loans because they don’t have collateral demanded by financial institutions,” he said.
Nyathi said there was discrimination in input distribution indicating some farmers are allocated higher amounts of fertilisers than others, but farming the same size of land.
He also called for a land audit to weed out multiple farm owners.
Digressing from budgetary issues, Mberengwa East MP Makhosini Hlongwane appealed to Zesa chief executive officer Josh Chifamba for a partial exemption for parliamentarians on paying bills claiming they could not afford the tariffs.
“Can MPs have an exemption, even a partial exemption from paying electricity? If that is not done, most of them might suffer the embarrassment of having their power disconnected,” said Hlongwane.
But Chifamba quickly dismissed the appeal saying the power utility does not have such a dispensation.
In line with Hlonganwe’s stance, Uzumba MP Simba Mudarikwa proposed Zesa debit money owed by the Grain Marketing Board to cover for unpaid farmers’ bills since both of them were State entities.
Legislators from Manicaland proposed communities in the eastern part of the country be allowed to individually import electricity from Mozambique.
Energy and Power Development deputy minister Hubert Nyanhongo said individuals could not be sanctioned to import power.