2012 budget: ambiguous change of gear

Zimbabwe’s proposed national budget for the year 2012 is now formally before the Parliament of Zimbabwe for approval. Its functional political premise, according to Finance Minister Biti, is the promotion of what the inclusive government calls a ‘democratic developmental state’. And this is the departure point for any analysis of the 2012 budget.

Minister of Finance Tendai Biti.
Minister of Finance Tendai Biti.

The DDS is described in the Medium Term Plan as that characterized by 10 definitive points: good governance, macro-economic stability, a diversified economy, maintenance of political stability, access to social services accelerated rural development, equal opportunities for all, development and utilization of modern science and technology, a vibrant culture, and sustainable natural resource management.

To measure the 2012 budget against these objectives of the MTP and the intentions of the inclusive government’s vision of DDS would be well and good were it not akin to the biblical accusation of ‘healer, heal thyself’. This is because the national budget is not there to massage the rather grandiose plans of a sitting government. Its primary purpose and function is to make pragmatic the priority needs of the country, in real time and for people-centred reasons.

What does it mean?

The current budget proposal is the second annual one to be proposed and most likely to be implemented as it is by the inclusive government. Its fundamental proclamation of seeking to work toward a DDS is not as obvious as it should be.

In fact, the question that arises immediately upon reading the priorities, is what does the government mean by this? Is it similar to the years of popular economic programmes such as ‘gutsaruzhinji’ or ‘gore revanhu’? Further still, where did the model of DDS emanate from? If it’s a borrowed concept, it would be most helpful for the government to inform the public from whence it was borrowed so we can all have a general idea as to how the national economy and our livelihoods will look by 2013.

This will also assist citizens to understand the extent to which the inclusive government is working on the budget on the basis of collective responsibility, and not on the basis of political competition over an expected election.

Left leaning

Regardless, the 2012 budget is different from the previous one. This is in respect to its theme which is very similar to that espoused by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions in one of their recent publications, that of a transformative economy. To be specific, the theme of the 2012 budget is ‘Enhancing a democratic sate anchored by a growing, and transforming, socially just economy’.

Unlike previous budgets under the inclusive government, this one gives the distinct impression of being left leaning, but is more firmly within the ambit of general recommendations that are to be found in nascent World Bank related documents as well as mainstream sustainable development knowledge systems.

Such themes are usually the stuff of ‘five year plus’ national plans, and, where the inclusive government has chosen this theme, it has not necessarily indicated how it can achieve these very broad objectives within 12 months. Moreover, this sort of narrative is more template than political-reality-driven. This is to say, while there was consultation on issues that members of the public would expect in a national budget, the final version suits more a pre-determined framework than the real expectations of the public.

It is the latter point that brings me to the pragmatic nature of the interventions proposed by the inclusive government. In the 2012 budget there are six very significant proposals to the everyday person. These are a proposed fund for jobs, a proposed fund for small to medium enterprises, another for vulnerable agricultural households, an intervention into the livelihoods of ‘rural women’ and a youth fund. The nature of the distribution of these funds is essentially left to the relevant line ministry. This in itself is a problem that must be mitigated directly, and in relation to the contested party politics of the inclusive government.

It would have been preferable that there be a much more evident, independent, well thought out and transparent distribution agency for these monetary resources. As it is for example, how the youth fund shall be distributed is a vague matter. The nature of the ‘creative projects/ideas is also unclear within the current framework. Unless it becomes clearer as to the standards and measurement of what sort of business/social/economic ideas the 2012 budget will fund, there is the risk of creating a seriously patron-client loan acquisition system between those in the inclusive government and their supporters.

This is also increasingly evident with the first such fund under the aegis of the inclusive government, that of the Constituency Development Fund, which at one time saw some members of parliament prioritizing the wrong matters because they had no central guideline as to how to utilize the resources.

Abrupt pulling out

A further point of concern with the 2012 budget is that of the ambiguity of public- private partnerships within the context of the delivery of social welfare needs of the country. Where it comes to health and education (tertiary included) the government is pledging money in partnerships with either private companies/banks, development banks and the donor community as to the implementation of these social welfare programmes. These are models that have been tried before and, depending on the profitability of the endeavour, generally end with the private component of the partnership pulling out, and doing so rather abruptly.

The same can be said for the international donors who are funding most components of our health services provision, who, when the global recession affects their funding, also scale down their operations, leaving our citizens at their most vulnerable (this is the current risk with the Global Fund on HIV/AIDS).

Skirting the issues

In order to mitigate these issues, the state should have at least indicated the minimum standards that it must meet to ensure key achievements in the provision of health services, education for all and water provision, wherein the engagement of the private sector or the international community would be an added benefit.

On the matter of industrial production, land, manufacturing and trade, the 2012 budget, skirts dealing directly with the issue of indigenization and its impact on the same. This is probably because of the disagreement on the policy in the inclusive government.

However, it must be noted that the same policy is now a political and economic reality. It is therefore imperative that the 2012 budget takes this matter directly into account, after all, some of the public-private partnerships under this policy are the ones that, by default, are funding the very much competed for Community Development Trusts.

Democratic processes

A penultimate point is that of the budget making provision for democratic processes around national healing, the constitutional referendum and constitutional commissions, but not factoring in the matter of elections. Essentially this points to three possibilities.

The first being that perhaps the elections budget is factored into the allocation for the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, secondly that the government does not want to fund its own country’s electoral processes and thirdly that there are no elections in 2012. It is the third point that is most likely to be true, mainly due to the political competition in the inclusive government and also due to a general disdain by government not to upset the apple cart of the inclusive government.

There are many other important areas of the budget that this short analysis cannot deal with now. It is, however, imperative that the inclusive government comes up with a clear plan of implementation of the 2012 budget for all of its ministries and their related parastatals. Failure to do so will lead to a budget that may be high sounding on paper, but completely vague and politicized in implementation. Simultaneously, civil society organizations must also take into account the fact that where the budget makes provisions for social welfare and social service delivery, it is the methodology of implementation that is now most important. – Takura Zhangazha, independent political and social commentator

Post published in: Politics

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