Africa Moyo Deputy News Editor
FINANCE and Economic Development Minister Professor Mthuli Ncube yesterday presented pro-people 2020 National Budget proposals, which contained safety nets for vulnerable people, including bonuses for civil servants, a better mass public transport system and an increase in the tax-free threshold to $2 000.
Presented under the theme, “Gearing for Higher Productivity, Growth and Job Creation”, the Budget has several worker-friendly measures including revising the tax-free bonus threshold from $1 000 to $5 000.
The bonus is based on gross salary.
Economic analysts and social commentators view a “people’s budget”as one that seeks to create a brighter future for all citizens, ensuring that every family struggling for survival has a fair opportunity to live well.
Investment in infrastructure, safety and prosperity for citizens is seen as crucial.
In an environment of rising prices, bonuses will boost disposable incomes for civil servants ahead of the festive season.
Prof Ncube said against the background of the inflationary environment, incomes will be reviewed constantly to ensure a decent living for citizens.
The tax-free threshold was raised from $700 to $2 000, implying that at current salaries of $1 023 for the lowest-paid civil servant, most of them will not be taxed.
Tax bands had been adjusted to begin at $2 001 and end at $50 000, above which the highest marginal tax rate of 40 percent will apply with effect from January 1, 2020.
He said Government remained committed to social dialogue and planned to put in motion the establishment of an independent secretariat to oversee the work of the Tripartite Negotiating Forum (TNF) as provided for in the TNF Act.
Through social dialogue, Government, business and labour will develop measures to address the socio-economic challenges confronting the country.
To protect vulnerable groups, the Government intended to extend targeted subsidies on the production of roller meal, cooking oil and the standard loaf of bread.
A reimbursement system would be implemented to extend the subsidy to the producers of roller meal, cooking oil and standard bread through tax set-off arrangements where possible, and voucher schemes.
Prof Ncube said the Government will continue subsidising the mass transport system and capacitating Zupco to provide an efficient public transport system.
Zupco will be capacitated to buy more reliable conventional buses to reduce the burden on urban and rural people.
In addition, the Government had ring-fenced the importation of 100 public service buses of a sitting capacity of at least 60 passengers, at a reduced customs duty rate of 5 percent to ease transport challenges.
To date, 51 buses have been imported and Prof Ncube proposed to extend the facility for 12 months beginning January next year to afford an opportunity to other bus operators to replenish their fleets.
An operator will be limited to five buses.
In terms of housing provision, Government was seeking to bridge the 1,3 million unit housing backlog within the context of urban renewal or regeneration under the National Housing Delivery Programme.
This involved the modernisation of old or dilapidated superstructures and attendant infrastructural services like sewer and water.
The National Human Settlements Policy being developed will guide operations in the housing sector including urban regeneration for projects such as Mbare in Harare, Sakubva in Mutare and Makokoba in Bulawayo, funded through the market.
“On its part, Government will avail land and support local authorities invest in servicing of the land by putting up required infrastructure such as roads, water and sewer lines and water reservoirs.
“This allows the middle class to invest in housing construction. For the less privileged, Government, through vehicles such as UDCORP and IDBZ, will support implementation of various housing projects countrywide.
“Furthermore, and given the fact that land is a finite resource, flats will be constructed in identified sites with existing off and on-site infrastructure such as Budiriro, Dombotombo in Marondera and Senondo in Gwanda,” said Prof Ncube.
Civil service accommodation and institutional accommodation will be given priority on a cost recovery mechanism.
Government will also scale up social protection interventions for vulnerable citizens at a time when over six million people required food aid in rural areas.
An additional 2,2 million in urban areas also need assistance, according to the Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee (ZimVAC) report.
Food insecure citizens will be supported up to March next year.
Labour constrained households which consist of persons with disabilities, the chronically ill, elderly and child headed households would be entitled to free food handouts among other interventions like assisted health care under the Assisted Medical Treatment Orders (AMTO) facility and cash transfers.
To avert starvation during the peak hunger period of January to March 2020, the Budget proposes to allocate $5,2 billion for purchase and importation of grain.
Non-labour constrained households shall participate in public works programmes to be undertaken in the communities.
Prof Ncube said resources were being mobilised to allow communities to undertake small income generating projects under the Sustainable Livelihoods programme.
The Harmonised Social Cash Transfer to vulnerable households was also being scaled up from the current 23 districts to 33 in an effort to cushion vulnerable communities, said Prof Ncube.
“Districts not yet targeted for Harmonised Social Cash Transfer will continue to be assisted under the traditionally means tested Public Assistance programme,” he said.
Under the Basic Education Assistance Module (BEAM), Government was currently assisting 415 000 children but this was being scaled up to cater for 1,2 million children.
Prof Ncube said children living under difficult circumstances continued to get assistance under the Children in Difficult Circumstances Fund, with those living in children institutions getting more support.
Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (Zimra) donations were being channelled towards those living under institutional care.
Government would continue to play its role in capitalising various institutions which support women, youth and medium and small scale enterprises (MSMEs) besides facilitating access to markets, workspace, trade promotion and capacity building, among other functions.
The 2020 Budget provides for capitalisation of institutions that support various MSMEs projects which include the Women Development Fund ($20 million); the Community Development Fund ($15 million); the Zimbabwe Women Microfinance Bank ($100 million); SMEDCO ($90 million); and Empowerbank ($50 million).
Prof Ncube said specific allocation in support of projects and programmes aimed at empowering women, including the completion of refurbishment of training centres, Jamaica Inn and Rodger Howman, construction of safe houses in all provinces in 2020 would be made.
Government would also restore basic water and sanitation services through maintenance, rehabilitation and upgrading of infrastructure, harnessing of water through construction of dams, weirs, borehole rehabilitation and drilling, and water and sanitation facilities in urban areas.
The 2020 Budget had since prioritised the following projects in a bid to provide water; the Gwayi Shangani dam ($400 million); Causeway Dam ($128 million); Chivhu Dam ($192 million); Kunzwi dam ($259 million); the Semwa Dam ($216 million); other dams ($205 million); water supply schemes ($113 million); and local authorities’ water and supply sanitation ($311 million).
Beginning next year, the Government would also provide sanitary wear for school going children to ensure the products were available to girls to enable them to attend their classes in comfort and dignity.
Prof Ncube said based on equity consideration, the proposal was to begin with rural primary and secondary learners from Grade Four to Upper Sixth form, and a provision of $200 million had been made.
An incentive had also been introduced to support employees who generated jobs for youths.