By Malvern Mkudu
In his budget presentation, Minister of Finance and Economic Development Patrick Chinamasa mentioned the words “transparency” and “accountability” at least five times. He stressed the need to ensure transparency and accountability in different sectors of the economy.
It is an admission by the minister of the dysfunctional governance structure that will make even the most brilliant budget plans falter. The diagnosis of the problems was spot on, but whether he has the commitment and guts to address these issues remains an issue.
Chinamasa revealed that civil servants’ salaries where gobbling up 82 percent of government expenditure. Much of the government’s revenue is being spent on consumptive expenditure and very little is being used on capital projects.
The government is yet to audit its pay roll to ascertain its workforce. There have been reports of ghost workers and relatives of powerful politicians being paid by the government. Despite calls by the IMF to reduce its bloated workforce, the government has defiantly carried on making the IMF and World Bank edgy in providing funding for the country.
Secondly, the government allocated $50 000 for each legislator for the Constituency Development Fund. Minister Chinamasa already alluded that the fund had been discontinued because these funds were abused by MPs who continue to roam our streets freely.
Surprisingly, the fund has been reintroduced without necessary accountability systems being set up. The nation should therefore expect this money to end up in the legislators’ pockets. We will hear stories of how legislators bought chickens and other ridiculous things for their communities or commissioned the building of bridges, which will not be completed.
Minister Chinamasa bemoaned a tax stop order system that allows farmers supported by parastatals such as Cottco and GMB to embark onside marketing and prejudice the government of millions of dollars in the process.
This has been going on for a long time and is partly responsible for the demise of these parastatals and the viability challenges that these parastatals are experiencing.
Chinamasa’s claims that foreign investment is most welcome and that Zimbabwe offers excellent investment conditions, are insincere if not dishonest. These claims come at a time when state media has been accusing the Vice President Joice Mujuru of extorting and demanding 10 percent from foreign investors intending to start businesses in the country.
Zimbabwe sits at 157 out of 177 on the Corruption perception Index and many investors are jittery to invest in this country. The much needed Foreign Direct Investment that the minister banks on to fund part of this budget may not be forthcoming. Potential investors and donors have no confidence in policy certainty in the country.
Minister Chinamasa announced that ZINARA has been appointed agent for collecting Presumptive Tax on kombis and taxis (public transport operators). ZINARA is already collecting various other fees from motorists including increased toll fees but with very little development. The Highways remain dangerous and urban roads remain littered with potholes. This is likely to yield little as most of the revenue will end up paying inflated salaries and allowances for the top executives in these parastatals.
Government’s focus is seemingly centred on how they can collect more from citizens without addressing the reckless and inefficient manner they are using what has already been collected. The focus should not only be on efficiency in revenue collection but efficiency and transparency in the use of the collected revenue.
The minister announced that the tobacco levy will be re-introduced with effect from 01 January, 2015 and the Aids levy extended to mining firms as from 01 January 2015.All these levies are an attempt by the government to increase its revenue base.
But not much benefit will accrue to citizens from all these revenue collection maneuvers if there are no mechanisms to ensure that revenue leakages are plugged. The government always complains that it is not collecting enough from its citizens but has been reluctant to strengthen its accountability systems and improve transparency. In fact it has disregarded audit verdicts given by the auditor-generals department on numerous occasions.
What is clear is that the government is being let down by its weak accountability systems that allow corruption and fraud to flourish. It is no secret that this government has limited resources after many companies that provided the tax base closed down or are facing viability challenges. The government therefore needs to ensure efficiency in the allocation of the little that is collected.
Budgeting is not just a matter of allocating resources to different government departments and sectors. Strong oversight mechanisms must be in place to ensure that the provisions of the budget are being adhered to.
There have to be mechanism to ensure resources are not being abused. For example, no MP should access the CDF allocation without submitting a budget that outlines the projects they intend to carry out. Such expenditure must never be left to the whims and caprices of the individual legislators otherwise this initiative will be reduced to a payout to these legislators.
It’s about time that this government adopts and publicizes a handbook that guides officials’ expenditure. Government loses money on unaccounted allowances. South Africa for example has handbook that guide government employees expenditure which can be used to hold them
to account by both government and members of the public.
Alternatively, government officials and employees must be given credit cards to discourage handling of cash. Governments can easily trace expenditure on credit cards registered in its name and hold its
officials to account.
There is need to be performance appraisal to ensure that those tasked with the allocation of resources and budget implement are competent. We have had money being diverted from its intended purposes for other purposes.
Zimbabwe has a very small budget of US $4.1 billion. Some private companies realise more than that in profit. It is imperative that Zimbabwe optimizes utility from this small budget through accountable and transparent processes and measures.
It is encouraging that transparency and accountability were buzz words during Minister Chinamasa’s budget speech but it is now time to walk the talk by putting in place transparent and accountable systems in the implementation of this budget.
Malvern Mkudu writes in his personal capacity. You can contact him on firstname.lastname@example.org