THIS month Zimbabwe’s Finance minister Tendai Biti will present the inclusive government’s last policy salvo in the form of the 2013 projected National Budget. It will, however, be presented without the air of finality I imply here. That’s probably because it is an electoral budget both in relation to what will be its key priorities as well as in the relevant minister trying to pitch for his party’s performance legitimacy in the negotiated government.
Report by Takura Zhangazha
The latter point is evidenced also by the promises prior to the presentation of the Budget of not only bonuses, but even pay increments for civil servants who are significant national opinion-makers in an election year. Moreso after the informal announcement by President Robert Mugabe that elections are scheduled for next March.
This fourth and final Budget of the inclusive government will not be the subject of much debate in a Parliament that is close to the end of its term of office and more worried about party primaries than national policies. Neither will it be strenuously argued over in Cabinet, when both the President and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai are hopeful they will be presenting a less negotiated Budget to a new Parliament in potentially less than six months. So it will be a highly-politicised Budget with limited little by way of long-term or firm policy directives, except perhaps for the issue of civil service bonuses, income tax thresholds and customs duty on foreign goods.
And these are issues that will concern more the ordinary citizen than our “end of tenure” political leaders. In fact, our politicians are so conscious of their time being up. It has been reported in the media that Members of Parliament are now asking for “exit packages“ or “pensions” because they fear that they will not come back or will not have resources to launch re-election bids and all of this somewhat conveniently before the Budget is presented. Cabinet too is not to be exempted from this now apparent affinity for profligacy when one looks at ministers’ propensity to travel for almost every conference abroad and other issues such as luxury vehicles in a country with inadequate and for the most part, dilapidated public transport.
So as it is, the 2013 National Budget might just be a case of “last orders at closing time” for leaders and parties in the inclusive government. From “pensions” through to the purchase of new vehicles for officials who have no more than six months left in office, these “last orders” will be many. What will be missing, once again, is a progressive policy imprint on the country’s economy not just for the year 2013, but for posterity. This has been the problem of all of the last three budgets that have been presented by the inclusive government to Parliament. They have not sought to provide a holistic and progressive framework that sets the country on a traceable economic recovery path. They have sought to “stabilise” the neo-
liberal framework that has informed the national economy since the years of Economic Structural Adjustment Programmes.
This means instead of using the economic crisis of the late 1990s as well as that of 2007 to change the World Bank sponsored (and for the large part, failed) frameworks of addressing the challenges of the national economy, the inclusive government has merely perpetuated them.
This has been done through reversion to the euphemistic public-private partnerships which have been more about ceremonies than real economic progress; the continued state disinvestment in its own public infrastructure and social services much to the detriment of the livelihoods of many; the unmitigated and elitist courting of extractive foreign direct investment and the outsourcing of key state responsibilities such as drought relief and healthcare provision to international organisations whose terms of reference and resources are not only limited, but can also be selective.
The parties in the inclusive government have, however, sought to blame each other for the incoherence of our national economy and their economic policies. These sort of accusations may come with the territory that has been the inclusive government, but are only symptomatic of the greater problem of the lack of a holistic understanding of the necessity of a progressive social democratic economy for Zimbabwe.
- Takura Zhangazha writes in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)