Whose budget is it?

Zimbabwe's parliament has often been regarded as nothing but a rubber-stamping body. The refusal by members to approve the vote for the Ministry of National Affairs, Employment Creation and Cooperatives in August and their subsequent criticism of the vote for the Ministry of Local government, Rural and Urban Development as regards the salaries of governors must have come as a surprise to many. In reality though, some MPs have always been critical of some policies of the government especially the lack of consultations with MPs in formulating the budget. Here are excepts of a speech by Silobela MP, Stephen Vuma, who felt there was no need to contribute to the Finance Bill (the budget) because this was pointless. The text has been edited for clarity.

My comments are directed on the policy and methodology of the budget and budget formulation. I very much find myself a little bit worried, a little bit unable to contribute, because I find that - because of the policy that perhaps has been followed, which I believe is a system or decorum by the under-developed countries - ministers formulate figures and bring them to this house for an endorsement without actually involving Members of Parliament or the party in the budget formation. I find it very difficult for us as Members of Parliament to defend any budget figure because what we are only able to say is whether the figure is big or small, whether it is sufficient or insufficient, we do not know.

The policy and methodology used is not in conformity with the interests of the Members of Parliament. I say so because it does not consider the problems inherent in various constituencies that should be embodied in the budget. We will never succeed in the budget formulation unless and until Members of Parliament and the party structures are involved. We are not regarded as serious people, as constructors of the budget, but are regarded as endorsers of the budget.

The executive is always aloof. The people will always castigate Members of Parliament. Unfortunately Members of Parliament were also castigated by the Head of State. We are saying we have got the nation at heart. Our problem is to be understood. If our budget could be a billion having detailed information on development interests, that budget would not be too big for us to meet. But our budget is like somebody waiting for Jesus, when he is going to come, we do not know and we say some day he is going to come.

I have a serious quarrel on the methodology and formulation of our budget. I am quite aware that we live in an under-developed world. We believe that a minister or an executive in his office is like a prophet who will prophesy that there is a shortfall, and he looks up and concocts figures and those figures are brought to this house and they must be passed without any interrogation for the minister to defend the existence of those figures. We will never come out of that plight unless and until we are able to query how those figures (are reached) and debate them. We should discuss the necessity of that item. Then we will be seen to be moving towards development. Besides us debating a certain figure, we shall continue to pass these budgets which have no meaning, because no costing was done.

We have a Third World figure who is not in reality in touch with the problems of his own country which has perhaps lived in Heaven for many years and came down. Unfortunately he has the answer for us, for everyone. Yet the Members of Parliament must defend the budget which is highly abstract, highly unrealistic. When we criticise we are said to be talkative, unruly Members of Parliament.

When we went to war we fought as a team and when we are building we must build as a team. But if the executive thinks we are blind, it is unfortunate. We will say whatever they do is not ours. We must work as a team. It is the hard times we must conquer, the hard times that we must face and to face them we must recognise that we are a team. We are not rubber stampers.

Personally, I was going to move that this budget must be rejected. But alas, some of the votes have been passed by hook or crook. It is very unfortunate that it appears that the most serious person is somebody who is part of the executive. If I am not part of that I am not considered serious. My appeal to the executive is, please change your approach and change your style, involve the party, involve the legislature, then we will be together in defence of any policy that we make as a committee.

We were told that the government is reducing the structures of this country but we still have governors, resident ministers and we still have a lot of hodgepodge. It is very difficult to understand that yet I must defend that at all costs because I committed myself to a system which does not recognise my thinking and yet I recognise its existence.

I have to persuade my executive to consider the style of the formulation and construction of the budget. I know it will take us time but it is better late than never. If we can, let us go and rethink about our estimates.

The minister is not concerned and the secretary is also not concerned as long as his salary comes at the end of the month. He cannot be pushed by anybody. But the Member of Parliament is told he must be here whether he is sick or not. Whether he sleeps (in the house) is immaterial. He must be here.

I have to repeat myself by saying to the executive and the cabinet, please, the budget is a very serious instrument of development to which everybody must contribute meaningfully.

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