Biti’s budget – a recipe for political failure

Bias in the budgetary allocations towards Zanu (PF) ministries makes it less likely that SADC conditions for free and fair elections will be met.

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

The massive bias of departmental budgetary allocations towards ministries controlled by ministers from President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu (PF) continues in Zimbabwe’s 2012 budget, passed by Parliament last week.

The bias makes further conflict within the immobilised three-party government throughout the next 12 months inevitable, further eroding the prospects of achieving the conditions set down by SADC – and agreed by the mutually antagonistic three governing parties – for free and fair elections.

The budgetary distortions undermine the capacity of the service-delivery ministries, predominantly controlled by ministers from Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC. Ironically, they are contained in a budget presented to Parliament by MDC Finance Minister Tendai Biti.

Zanu’s civil service domination

The problem is massively compounded both by the wish-list character of Zimbabwe’s budgetary process and the dominance of Mugabe loyalists in the upper ranks of the civil service. Harare’s Zanu (PF) civil service mandarins ensure that Zanu (PF) ministries receive significantly higher actual allocations than do ministries controlled by MDC Ministers.

Nor is it helped by the massive 63% of the budget going to a bloated, and generally under-performing, civil service – for 2012 public sector wages grab 63% of the $4-billion (R32-billion) budget.

In 2011, Zanu (PF) ministries consistently received more than 50% of their non-salary budget allocations. MDC Ministers had to make do with less than half their non-salary allocations – some as low as 22%.

The first of the problems is the continued appetite among Harare’s budgetary planners for heavy security sector, and particularly military, spending. Objectively Zimbabwe faces no regional or international threat – despite Zanu (PF)’s attempts to portray former Rhodesians (backed by demonic Western governments) as a clear and present danger.

The reality is that those still surviving pose a threat only as far as their Zimmer frames can reach. In 2011, actual defence spending was greater than health and education combined. In 2012, with a 58% in defence’s budget allocation, senior civil servants can be counted on to ensure the gap widens.

ZRP’s budget boost

The same is true of the Zimbabwe Republic Police, also enjoying a massive budgetary boost. Zanu (PF) jealously guards control over the police, which fall under the Department of Home Affairs. MDC Co-Minister Theresa Makone has been physically prevented from playing any role with the police or immigration since her appointment. The commissioner general of police, Zanu (PF) hardliner Augustine Chihuri, will not allow her into his office, will not answer her mobile calls, and will not let her make any suggestions at any meetings he attends. She can make no headway with immigration matters either. She can do nothing whatsoever, nor make any contribution to the home affairs ministry.

MDC Deputy Justice Minister Obert Gutu is the only MDC Cabinent Minister to have spoken out on the obstacles placed in his way: writing for a Zimbabwe publication, he says he can play no role in the portfolio, sits at a desk without any documents to peruse, has no duties to perform, and has no possibility of performing any functions in the ministry.

Although the MDC controls Finance, it has been unable to redress this imbalance.

Civil service mandarins

The second – but arguably more pervasive – obstacle is that of the entrenched Zanu (PF) civil service mandarins. After opening the way for the “inclusive government” by signing the poorly drafted memorandum of understanding with the MDC in July 2008, Mugabe ensured he kept control of the civil service.

Once he had signed the Global Political Agreement (GPA) two months later, Mugabe immediately began making senior appointments in violation of the GPA, which requires all senior civil service jobs must be filled with Tsvangirai’s “consent”. Mugabe filled every vacancy he could: judges, permanent secretaries, provincial governors, army bosses, diplomats, the lot.

Tsvangirai protested loudly but did little else – hampered initially by antagonism from President Thabo Mbeki’s SADC-endorsed facilitation team, and subsequently by the delays imposed by the Mbeki team failure to provide any handover reports on the complex and byzantine Zimbabwean political process to President Jacob Zuma’s incoming team.

By the time the Pretoria team, with presidential International Affairs Adviser Lindiwe Zulu on point, had got its hands on the issues, Mugabe’s illegal and unilateral appointments had been entrenched for three years, and the MDC had other, more substantial, problems to address.

Undoing the damage

The key MDC delivery ministries, education and health, have nevertheless made visible progress in undoing the damage wrought by two decades of solo Zanu (PF) rule.

There are more than 7 000 state schools. More than 90% were closed, or abandoned, or open but without learning or teaching, when the inclusive government was sworn in to power.

The non-salary budget allocation of $66-million (of which $14,2-million was actually disbursed by Biti), was to be used for minimal school maintenance and rebuilds of a few of the most devastated schools, particularly ablution facilities, science equipment, and curriculum development.

There were no textbooks available in most schools at the end of Zanu (PF)’s rule which ended when the inclusive government was sworn into power in February 2009. Western donors paid for a massive distribution of new textbooks in 2010 and 2011.

The health sector, slightly less damaged by Mugabe’s hyperinflation, and with more to play with – $48-million of a theoretical $132-million – has fared better. In the past month foreign donors have underwritten free healthcare for pregnant women and children under five.

CIO costs

The security ministries, by contrast, are able to draw down up to 83% of their already-significant allocations, as does Mugabe’s office, which in 2011 also actually received more than health and education combined. The $79-million he received does not include the massive cost of the Central Intelligence Organisation. The CIO is run directly from the presidency on a budget over which Parliament exercises no oversight.

His 2011 allocation finances the minimal costs for the Cabinet office, vehicles for 38 members of the Cabinet, and tip-offs for a vast network of informers, and Mugabe’s own huge travel costs for 2011 which ran to about half of the $45-million spent on travel by government officials.

Mugabe made eight trips to Singapore in 2011, was the only head of state at the UN’s youth summit in New York mid-year, attends each and every meeting to which he is invited or is available to him as head of state around the world and in the region, and usually travels with a contingent of between 30-60 officials, all drawing down handsome per diems from the Treasury (up to $1 500 a day). Mugabe himself takes $10 000 a day.

Another key Zanu (PF) controlled ministry is Justice. Its non-salary actuals for 2011 – $32-million – was higher than that for education. This ministry plays a key role in Zanu (PF)’s unremitting assault on the MDC, spending freely to generate criminal charges with no possibility of conviction. Hundreds of MDC-M’s officials and members are charged each year with a wide range of largely petty offences. None of the charges so far in 2011 have been successfully prosecuted.

It is also necessary for Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa to keep his crew of largely-incompetent and partisan judges of the higher courts satisfied, even though the Supreme Court in particular has set some kind of regional record for its failure to deliver judgments – some remain pending for more than three years.

A smaller-scale scandal is the amount spent by the prime minister’s office, excluding salaries. Tsvangirai’s office received $10,6-million for himself, and deputy prime ministers Thoko Khupe and Arthur Mutambara.

Travel by the three, particularly Mutambara, gobbled up a significant part of the 2011 budget. The PM office is a post-GPA cost centre, and therefore inherited no Zanu (PF) bureaucrats. This explains the far higher percentage of actual funding, compared to established ministries like health and education with their hordes of Zanu (PF) bureaucrats.

Disorganised PM

Despite the absence of Zanu (PF) mandarins, the PM’s office is among the most disorganised in Harare. Among its routine functions is a weekly Council of Ministers’ meeting, chaired by Tsvangirai. These meetings, formally recognised in the GPA and scheduled every Thursday, are intended to offset Mugabe’s Tuesday Cabinet meetings. Just eight have actually taken place this year. Tsvangirai’s own MDC ministers no longer bother to turn up on Tuesdays.

Biti runs a cash economy from tax collections and regularly a proportion of disbursements cannot be paid on demand. The Treasury is regularly short of cash and so regular drawdowns are sometimes partial, sometimes delayed.

He also inherited a clutch of Zanu (PF) bureaucrats. Observers say Biti is clearly nervous to delay or refuse claims from Zanu (PF) security ministers. MDC social ministers suffer in consequence, catching the short end of the pay-out stick.

In September at a small rally in Harare, Biti frankly acknowledged that participation of his ministry in the inclusive administration had shown him that implementation of policies depended on bureaucrats, and that the MDC had not understood the power of this Zanu (PF) bloc before entering the inclusive government.

Some failure to access revenue is caused by obstruction from Zanu (PF) bureaucrats, and some from chronic lack of capacity, particularly at provincial levels, to put in claims and adhere to processes.

Dramatic recovery

The health and education sectors in particular have made the most dramatic and visible recovery in the aftermath of the pre-2009 Zanu (PF) disaster. The public was anxious for these two sectors to recover quickly. They did, to a point.

Schools and clinics reopened. Both ministers have attracted significant donor support and Education Minister David Coltart, in particular, has injected enormous energy into not only getting the schools back, but has embarked on several key new policies – which he can’t get implemented through lack of access to allocated funds.

Education and Health’s battle to secure the funds allocated also appears to be part of a conscious Zanu (PF) election strategy: Zanu (PF) cannot afford to allow health and education to do well for the MDC. – Southern Africa Report

Post published in: News

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *