EDITORIAL COMMENT: Minister must include public’s input in Budget

Minister Patrick Chinamasa

Minister Patrick Chinamasa

The Government yesterday finished the process of consulting various stakeholders, the first step in the budget formulation exercise.

The Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Budget and Finance went around the country, collecting contributions from the public and interested organisations on what projects they expect to be prioritised in the 2018 national budget.  This is an exceedingly important exercise, which must be conducted in terms of the law.

As we report elsewhere in this edition, those who attended the Victoria Falls event yesterday were unhappy that over the years, many of their suggestions are not included in the final document. They also complained that projects in Matabeleland region tend to get little attention. In that respect, they challenged the Finance and Economic Development Minister Patrick Chinamasa to prioritise capital projects, specifically the Gwayi-Shangani Dam, and infrastructure development and to consider coming up with ideas of growing the national cake without increasing taxes.

They also want more tourism revenue that is generated by Victoria Falls to be allocated to the town and the local community. The gathering appealed to Treasury to allocate a percentage from revenue generated from local resorts to a provincial purse to steer development.

“Victoria Falls is a tourism area with a lot of activities that bring foreign currency. Let’s have a certain percentage of game parks’ fees and Rainforest entry fees ploughed back to the community towards building a vocational training college as well as a tourism and hospitality college,” said a youth.

Victoria Falls Ward 11 Councillor Edmore Zhou said: “We are kindly asking for a piece of cake from Treasury from the money it gets from our local resource. We would be happy even if we get 5 percent of it so we can build schools and roads.”

Some called for the reintroduction of the Constituency Development Fund while others said the number of parliamentarians should be reduced to cut spending.

Yesterday’s meeting was the last lap of the process before all contributions can be collated and presented in a report.

“People are excited and that shows that budget consultation is no longer a talk show. We are happy that all demographics came and what’s coming out is the need for devolution of finances for development,” said Cde Terrence Mukupe who led the team in Victoria Falls.

The MPs who were in Victoria Falls were assigned to collect people’s views in Midlands, Masvingo, Matabeleland South, Bulawayo and Matabeleland North province while another team did the same in Manicaland, Mashonaland provinces and Harare.

Generally, the consultations went well with people turning up in decent numbers, but the one in Gweru a few days ago flopped after about two people turned up.

We are hopeful that the committee will come up with an accurate report of the contributions.  We are also hopeful that Minister Chinamasa would, as far as possible, include the input that comes from the public.

That will ensure that he comes up with a more people-centred budget that speaks to the needs of the public. They will, in turn take ownership of their budget for it is meant for them anyway.

We however appreciate the obvious fact that public consultations, while critical in the budget formulation process, sometimes do not yield contributions worthy of being included in the final statement. The minister will, yes, go through the suggestions, taking the most relevant ones.

Ultimately, he will have to perform a balancing act, considering people’s contributions and what his ministry sees as priorities and matching them with available resources. Given the resource constraints we are facing as a country, Minister Chinamasa has a tough task. The economy is not performing well and has little money yet there are so many competing needs.

However, we expect him to come up with a budget that continues on the path to economic revival and growth, that channels more resources into infrastructure, into manufacturing, into agriculture, into social services and less into consumption. We need more resources into the productive sectors of the economy so that the national cake grows. That will make it possible for us to then consume as much as we like.

The economic challenges are biting many, the worst affected being the vulnerable groups — the elderly, the sick, orphans and the unemployed.  Even in these trying times, we call for more government support for these groups of people, who cannot make ends meet on their own.  Their last hope is in their Government to provide them with food, shelter, healthcare, school fees and so on. Thus Minister Chinamasa needs to alleviate their suffering.

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