Make budget consultations relevant

Finance and Economic Development Minister Patrick Chinamasa is expected to present the National Budget  in a month’s time

Finance and Economic Development Minister Patrick Chinamasa is expected to present the National Budget in a month’s time

Lloyd Gumbo Mr Speaker Sir
FOR the whole of next week, at least 20 Members of Parliament will traverse the country to solicit views from citizens on how they want the country to spend its revenue next year, participatory budgeting. This is a Constitutional requirement and the authorities must make sure this is fulfilled no matter

how difficult things may be.

Ceteris paribus, all things being equal, participatory budgeting is a noble cause as it allows citizens to contribute to the development of the country as they are given an opportunity to spell out their priority areas.

But Mr Speaker Sir, imagine in a family set up where the father or mother of the house brings their family together at the end of every month and ask them to write down how they want the family to spend their income but never consider their input when it comes to final expenditures.

While initially, the family may religiously attend such meetings, chances are high that they will end up snubbing the gatherings if they realise that their input is never considered as the head of the house would have already drawn their own budget that carries the day.

These are the problems that our MPs will end up facing when they go out on these public consultations and if the views of the people are never captured in the National Budget statement.

Whether we like it or not, public consultations will end up irrelevant if the trend continues were they are summoned from their daily chores to attend a meeting were their input is just for cosmetic purposes.

Imagine for the five days that the MPs are going to be conducting these public consultations, the exercise will chew up not less than $25 000 on accommodation, allowances and travel expenses.

The clueless argument by some quarters will be that this is donor money, so the Government will not spend anything at all during these consultations.

But Mr Speaker Sir, if the public’s views are not that relevant to be included in the budget statement, why are we even wasting their precious time summoning them to a talk show whose relevance is just as far as making news and why are we spending donor money on irrelevant exercises?

In all fairness, while some people may think that the rural folk do not understand the intricate nature of budget processes, they actually know the things that they expect Government to prioritise, particularly issues around social services and infrastructural development.

So their views must find expression in the proposed budget because if they do not, MPs risk being snubbed the next time they embark on these consultations.

In fact, members of the public are not the only ones in this meaningless exercise as MPs also obliged to fulfil this Constitutional requirement, this time, at the expense of taxpayer’s money.

About 300 MPs, ministers and other senior Government officials will throng Victoria Falls at the beginning of next month for the pre-budget seminar.

MPs will be expected to give their views on the formulation of the budget, citing priorities that must be funded from the 2016 National Budget but that is just for academic purposes considering that as we speak, the proposed budget at the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development should be as good as done.

We are about a month or so away from the budget presentation and to think that the views that will come from the MPs the same month will be presented is taking optimism too far.

Mr Speaker Sir, if truth be told without fear or favour and if past experience is anything to go by, what will be happening in Victoria Falls is nothing but just an opportunity for MPs to visit the resort town to refresh at the expense of the State.

For instance, MPs accommodation alone will gobble at least $120 000. The accommodation expenses do not end there because ministers and other senior Government officials would also bank on the State for their stay, meaning the accommodation costs alone will be somewhere around $200 000 if all the other expenses such as transport, meals and allowances are factored in.

You see, Mr Speaker Sir, there is nothing wrong with the pre-budget seminar on paper because all things being equal, it allows people’s representatives to air their constituents’ view.

But it becomes an unbearable problem when such huge amounts are spent on an exercise that is meaningless.

For successive years, we have followed views that have come from MPs during these pre-budget seminars and comparing with what then is presented in the proposed budgets, it is clear that the Victoria Falls meetings are just talk shows and an opportunity to judge which MPs make meaningful contributions and those that say nothing in so many words.

Besides, everyone acknowledges that the country is facing crippling financial constraints yet our actions do not reflect the same.

Some MPs will be flying while others will drive about 900km courtesy of the State, further burdening an already albatrossed Treasury.

What makes the consultations further irrelevant is the fact that due to the prevailing economic challenges, the proposed National Budget will only be a minute fraction of the total needs that people may come up with.

Mr Speaker Sir, there is need to distinguish between what is ideal and what actually happens on the ground.

For instance, instead of ministries forwarding their requirements and expected expenditures to Treasury, it is actually Treasury that tells ministries what they will get.

Permanent secretaries and heads of department have made these revelations on several occasions before parliamentary portfolio committees during post-budget briefings, something that renders the Victoria Falls meetings irrelevant.

From the foregoing, it is important that views from the public and MPs during budget consultations are taken on board if the Constitutional requirement is to make sense. If people’s views are irrelevant then just abolish the exercise than spend huge sums of money on such consultations.

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