In a bid to engender participatory budgeting in Zimbabwe, the Portfolio Committee on Budget, Finance and Investment Promotion will this coming Monday commence country-wide public hearings to solicit citizen views on how the 2013 National Budget should be structured, its objectives and areas that should be prioritised in terms of Treasury funding.
Report by John Makamure
The hearings are set for Harare, Marondera, Mutare, Masvingo, Chiredzi, Beitbridge, Chinhoyi, Kwekwe, Gweru, Bulawayo, Gwanda, Lupane and Victoria Falls between the period October 15 to 20. The committee is empowered by the Public Finance Management Act to conduct these hearings. Section 28 (5) of the Act says “The minister may, through the appropriate portfolio committee of Parliament, seek the views of Parliament in the preparation and formulation of the annual budget, for which purpose the appropriate portfolio committee shall conduct public hearings to elicit the opinions of as many stakeholders in the National Budget as possible”.
These hearings are taking place at the same time that the Finance ministry is also conducting similar public consultations in order for citizens to meaningfully contribute towards the Budget formulation process.
The Ministry of Finance this week released to the public the Pre-Budget Strategy Paper for 2013. According to the ministry, the concept of a Pre-Budget Strategy Paper, introduced in 2011, seeks to facilitate debate on key fiscal and other macroeconomic policy issues and assist in building national consensus over some of the priorities that should be addressed through the Budget.
Although coming a bit late, the release of the Pre-Budget Strategy Paper should be taken seriously by civil society and other interest groups involved in budget advocacy. They should interrogate the Budget strategy and adequately prepare to participate in the forthcoming hearings.
It is only through informed public dialogue and engagement that public policies can be better shaped to address the needs of citizens. Shying away from such public forums is not the solution. This only serves to perpetuate an unresponsive and unaccountable governance system.
We also need unity of purpose among political parties if this Pre-Budget Strategy Paper is going to promote meaningful citizen input into the budget process. It is sad that the inclusive government has become dysfunctional, with polarisation becoming the order of the day. What we are most likely to see during pre-budget consultations is a ridiculous partisan approach to issues to the detriment of this noble consultative exercise.
We need sober debate that is informed by the reality on the ground in terms of what the economy is able to support. For example, merely demanding massive budgetary cash injections to sectors such as agriculture without proposing how the funds should be raised is a futile exercise. Such mere political grandstanding during budget consultations is not welcome if citizens are to play a role in shaping the future of their country.
The Pre-Budget Strategy Paper is projecting gross domestic product (GDP) growth in 2013 at 8,9% up from a projected5,6% in 2012. Growth is projected to average 6,7% for the period up to 2015. In my view, projected growth for 2013 is on the optimistic side given the looming elections that always create uncertainty among economic agents. During an election, politicians make irrational economic decisions which retard growth.
Our elections have in the past decade been associated with political violence, developments that have always had a negative effect on economic performance.
Failure to realise a growth rate of 8,9% means projected revenue inflows will not be realised, thereby worsening fiscal space and delivery of government programmes on the ground.
It is, therefore, up to participants at the forthcoming hearings to fully engage lawmakers and ministry officials on the issue of making realistic budget assumptions.
The problem of lack of transparency in diamond mining is most likely to persist in 2013 and beyond, thereby impacting on projected revenue inflows. As happened this year, the minister could be forced to further cut the budget that would have been approved by Parliament.
I would like to end by urging all civil society organisations, non-governmental organisations, interest groups and individual members of the public to participate in the hearings in order to promote a culture of public debate and free expression in Zimbabwe. Policymakers will only become accountable if we force them to do so.
- John Makamure is the executive director of the Southern African Parliamentary Support Trust writing in his personal capacity. Feedback: email@example.com