9 October 2017

Zimbabwe: Budget Accountability Necessary for Progress

opinion

There is no better way of ascertaining whether government's rhetoric matches its actions than examining how it raises and spends public money. Are funds being spent on the things the government said they would be?

Are these investments achieving the outcomes that were intended? In short, is government budget accountable?

Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa made significant changes to the budget statement in an effort to enhance budget accountability and improve policy engagement and accessibility to a wider audience.

The budget statement was streamlined and an annual budget review was introduced which is important. Of late, persistent budget overruns government, coupled with unbudgeted expenditures to some extent, have seen the government limiting some reports to the public.

Treasury used to publish fiscal numbers on a monthly basis which helped to track government spending and revenue, thereby allowing transparency, accountability and engagement on economic policy issues. But government seems to have stopped disseminating such reports despite assuring the public that they will remain available.

"Treasury will, however, continue to provide quarterly Treasury bulletins, capturing quarterly macro-economic and fiscal developments, in addition to the Consolidated Monthly Financial Statements published monthly in line with the Public Finance Management Act.

This should avail the public with necessary information on relevant economic developments, that way enhancing and supporting their decision-making processes, activities and engagement with government on overall economic policy issues.

All the documents, other policy reviews and updates will also be available to the public on the Treasury website: www.zimtreasury.gov.zw.

Similarly, as we build capacity, dissemination channels will be broadened to provide for budget publications available in some of our main languages," Chinamasa said in the 2017 budget presentation and the annual budget review.

Disseminating such reports to the public will go a long way in improving budget accountability and transparency and as such promote public participation and engagement with the government on economic policy issues.

It is important to note that the national budget and its spending patterns is receiving much public attention because of its implication on the welfare of the people and the impact it has on economic activity.

Government policies implemented through the budget direct the path and pace of economic activity and have a direct bearing on the welfare of the citizens.

As such, oversight of government spending by the public is very important. There are a number of emerging practices in different parts of the world which demonstrate how collaboration between and among different actors in the economy have driven greater government budget accountability.

In Tanzania, a local civil society organisation helped establish an education caucus in parliament, providing budget training to parliamentarians and improving how the education budget was formulated.

External audit agencies in South Korea and Chile recently invited citizens to point out problems in how public resources were being used, improving the targeting of their audits. While in the Philippines and Argentina, citizens participate in actual audit processes, enhancing audit quality and impact.

Such examples highlight the importance of public participation to promote budget accountability. However, it can only be achieved if the general public has full access to government budgetary information which is being disseminated sparingly in Zimbabwe.

Just having a budget without budget accountability is a huge scam which leads to misuse of resources and alarming deficit outturns. Evidence from the annual budget review where some government departments received more than tenfold of what was budgeted for points to lack of accountability.

Treasury therefore should timeously publish its documents. This is necessary especially in an election year as they help track whether government's rhetoric matches reality.

Kaduwo is an economist at Econometer Global Capital.

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