MPs count for nothing

HARARE - As budget consultation meetings begin, we are left wondering if the decision to include ever squabbling MPs in the budget consultation process will not derail the process rather than make it more efficient and transparent.

We all know what has happened with the Constitution Select Committee where the “honourables” are included.

Three years down the line, we still have no new constitution.

The country’s MPs, better known for their demands for luxuries at the nation’s expense, seem to be adamant that they should have a say in the document before it is presented to Parliament and the nation.

According to the new measures, the Parliamentary Budget Committee will undertake its own pre-budget consultations which will run parallel to those organised by the Finance ministry.

The committee, as we all know, will demand allowances and accommodation for duplicating a process that the ministry is already embarking on. Why can’t the MPs do their job and move around their constituencies raising awareness on the process to the people who voted them into the august House.

In previous years, the minister of Finance and his office would consult various stakeholders before coming up with a draft that is presented to Cabinet for adoption. The Budget Committee justifies its inclusion on the basis that it wants to address complaints raised by the general populace on last year’s budget, which is alleged to have ignored their views.

Powered with the Public Management and Finance Act, the MPs claim they are seeking to critically analyse the budget and ensure that people’s views are integrated. Yet, we all saw what the same MPs did during the last budget when given a chance to block the proposals in Parliament and force changes.

The entire bunch — across political lines — were whipped into line by the executive, rendering them useless. And they want to make us believe they have suddenly found their teeth. Being election time, we cannot be blamed for thinking that the MPs are only doing this for the allowances.

Their views, however honest and credible, will be clouded by the political situation.

Like the constitution making process, we hope we will not find ourselves having a negotiated budget rather than one driven by inputs from stakeholders.

Still, Finance minister Tendai Biti has a job to do.

His last budget is already in trouble and it seems a tough ride ahead. He had revised downwards from an initial $4 billion to $3,4 billion after diamond taxes failed to perform in line with his $600 million target.

With growth targets having been slashed to 5,4 percent from 9,4 percent and with the International Monetary Fund forecasting a lower figure of 4 percent growth rate, one’s curiosity is aroused on what miracle Biti will have to come up with for this economy to get back on its feet.

Yet, he seems better placed to perform those miracles without the meddling of MPs who at the end of the day count for nothing when scrutiny is really needed.

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