HomeOpinion & AnalysisColumnistsCurbing consumption madness would reduce expenditure

Curbing consumption madness would reduce expenditure

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This week on Tuesday I attended a seminar for Members of Parliament to analyse the 2016 National Budget that was presented to the legislative assembly on November 26 2015.

I must say, I was generally satisfied with the level of analysis and debate, which makes me wonder why with all these brilliant ideas, Zimbabwe remains in the economic doldrums.

To set the ball rolling was the Speaker of the National Assembly Jacob Mudenda who challenged MPs not to allow political affiliation to compromise objective budget debate and also not to allow the Executive to fast-track the budget in Parliament without proper scrutiny. “Parliament must stand up and be counted,” he said. “Political affiliation should not and must never prevent us from critically looking at the budget, whose eyes and ears see nor hear any political tentacles. We are a solidly one anchored Parliament”.

I concur with the Speaker’s sentiments because the Constitution has empowered Parliament to oversee the use of public resources. Section 299 requires Parliament to monitor and oversee expenditure by the State and all commissions and institutions and agencies of government at every level, including statutory bodies, government-controlled entities, provincial and metropolitan councils and local authorities. This must be done to ensure that all revenue is accounted for, all expenditure has been properly incurred and that any limits and conditions on appropriations have been observed.

Parliament cannot effectively execute this constitutional mandate if the members pass the budget without proper scrutiny. In other words, how can one effectively monitor and oversee expenditure if one does not understand the content of that budget and its implications?

The Speaker went on to outline some of the measures required to address challenges bedevilling the Zimbabwean economy and improve the ease of doing business, which is central to the realisation of the budget theme of attracting foreign direct investment.

l There was need to prioritise deliberate reform initiatives that will ensure growth of the national cake, as well as the attraction of both domestic and foreign direct investment. These included:

l Urgent rationalisation of the Public Service to contain the wage bill;

l Accelerating the pursuance of Public Private Partnerships (PPP);

l Leveraging remittances from the Diaspora in a quid pro quo manner of guaranteed movements of those remittances in and outside Zimbabwe;

l Restructuring of parastatals and State-owned enterprises to make them profitable and

l Creating lines of credit for the private sector and providing support to SMEs through off-shore financing;

l Support social services by availing resources for education and health in partnership with the private sector;

l Prioritising rural development through ring-fencing resources to the Rural Electrification Programme, for A1 and A2 farmers, the District Development Fund (DDF) and Zinwa for rural water development;

l Speedy alignment of laws with the Constitution;

l Pursuing a mining model based on high value and high impact;

l Formalising the informal gold mining sector to curb illicit gold selling;

l Harmonising investment laws and creation of one-stop investment shop;

l Finalising the law on social dialogue, that is, the Tripartite Negotiating Forum to strengthen co-operation between labour, business and government and

l Taxation reform in order to expand the tax base and contribute to growing the national cake through domestic resource mobilisation.

members-of-parliament

I am confident that if all these measures outlined by the Speaker were to be implemented the country would quickly recover from the current economic crisis. The question, therefore, is why are all these brilliant ideas not being taken on board or taken on board in a half-hearted manner?

The answer lies in lack of political will to do so. A good example of lack of political will relates to civil service restructuring in order to cut the unsustainable civil service wage bill of over 90% of total expenditure or 25% of GDP. There are reports of some ministries that have continued to employ people in defiance of the civil service recruitment freeze. Then we also have some that continue to employ thousands of officers whose jobs are not recognised by the Public Service Commission.
Another example is the continued defiance by the bosses of public enterprises to cut their mega salaries to a maximum $6 000 per month as directed by government.

It has already been widely reported that the 2016 budget is highly consumptive in nature. A situation whereby out of the proposed $4 billion budget, recurrent expenditures wipes off $3,685bn is unheard of. This clearly shows that Zimbabwe is a highly-consumptive society. Evidence of a high propensity to consume is seen in the type of luxury vehicles that ministers and senior government officials drive. I cannot understand why ministers and senior officials drive around in the latest Range Rovers and Mercs (that cost a fortune to maintain) in a country with a paltry $4bn budget. This is unnecessary opulence and wastage that MPs must be interrogating.

The other issue that MPs must be interrogating is the frequent international travel by government officials which is blowing millions from the fiscus. I am disappointed that Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa did not touch on these important issues in his budget speech. Political will is needed to do away with this consumption madness in a country that is on its knees, economically.

Parliamentarians have a key role to play in the reduction of this huge appetite to consume. The legislators must insist that the country “eats what it kills”, as former Finance minister Tendai Biti used to say.

The MPs must put in place legislation to curb the scramble to consume in government circles if we are to reduce recurrent expenditure. Parliament is required by section 299 of the Constitution to enact a law that provide mechanisms for Parliament to monitor and oversee expenditure by government entities and agencies at every level. Parliament must, therefore, revisit the Public Finance Management Act to ensure adequate provisions are included to strengthen the participation of Parliament in the entire budget cycle from formulation, implementation of the budget and then audit. Strong parliamentary budget oversight supported by enabling legislation is one of the key solutions to stop the consumption madness and reduce recurrent expenditure, which is at the heart of our fiscal problems.

l John Makamure is the executive director of the Southern African Parliamentary Support Trust. Feedback: john.makamure@gmail.com

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