National budget tracking critical for legislators

THE best time to sensitise incoming legislators about important issues is when they have just been sworn-in, still beaming with excitement and newly-found confidence. Some key issues they need to be appraised on are budget tracking, monitoring and policy analysis.

BY TONDERAYI MATONHO

Parliamentarians taking their oath of office at Parliament recently

A recent budget tracking and monitoring meeting in Harare also heard that with numerous cases of abuse of State funds and public assets across almost all sectors of government still waiting to be addressed, there was also need to engage the lawmakers.

“We need to co-ordinate and organise ourselves as civil society organisations and it is critical to be coordinated,” Chengetai Kanyangu, an independent consultant said, setting the tone of the highly charged workshop proceedings.

“Understanding the budgeting and monitoring process is very important too, taking into account what happens, when and how during the process,” she explained, adding that establishing a strategic relationship with Parliament was essential.

Kanyangu said for civil society organisations (CSOs) to be effective in engaging in public finance issues, they needed to understand the process of the newly emerging social accountability approach, which promotes poverty reduction in communities and strengthening democratic processes which then demand accountability from government and even the private sector.

“For CSOs in Zimbabwe to be able to help, for example, the Energy and Power Development ministry, to lobby for better and renewable energy budgets, they need to understand the budget cycle, the Ministry’s expenditure priorities and its strategic plans,” Kanyangu said.

She explained that the National Budget is the proposal of revenues and expenditures a government expects for a given fiscal year that is often passed by the legislature, approved by the chief executive or President and presented by the Finance minister to the nation.

In addition, it also reflects a government’s social and economic priorities more than any other document. It translates policies and political commitments and goals into decisions on where funds should be spent and how they should be collected.

Wellington Madumira, programmes officer at ZERO and organisers of the workshop, noted that in such engagements, there is need to know and understand instruments that have to be put in place, especially knowledge management systems as these will help government officials, citizens and their legislators to become more accountable and transparent in resource use and management.

Zimbabwe Women Resource Centre and Network representative, Gamuchirayi Chipangura, said in light of the “massive abuse of State resources by government officials, there is need to continuously mobilise communities around budget planning periods”, and allowing citizens to participate in public hearings that should also be attended by legislators and councillors.

Policy experts have noted that the combination of budget tracking and public participation in the budget process has the potential to improve transparency, foster public accountability of government agencies and contribute to appropriate use of public funds in Zimbabwe.

“Analysing closely, for example, the Energy and Power Development ministry’s 2017 budget, there is a special case whereby the HIV and Aids issue is treated as a priority over energy-related programmes. In fact, it (the Ministry) has continued to receive budgetary increases over the past three to four years,” Kanyangu.

Delegates also discussed cases of resource abuse and corruption from government including the $15 billion Chiadzwa diamonds saga of 2016 and Wicknell Chivhayo’s controversial energy power plant in Gwanda where $5 million was allegedly sunk and has not been accounted for.

“It is high time we loved our country. For individuals involved in self-serving corruption practices, the past two decades have shown the accumulation of money itself by a few is pointless unless the money is invested in and supports public institutions that can improve society in general,” said development consultant, Tapiwa Gomo.

“It is pointless to acquire an expensive luxury car when there are no roads to use it. There is a chance to invest those funds acquired via corrupt practices and allow individuals to have an impact on the wider community.

They can hire others or invest their loot back into the economy. That way they would put the country first as well.”

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