Take pre-budget meetings seriously

HARARE - Last Wednesday’s edition of our sister paper — the Daily News  — carried a story on a clash between a legislator and members of the public during a 2016 National Budget Consultative meeting.

It was reported that members of the public were not too happy with the limited time they were allowed to contribute at the consultative meeting.

Harare East legislator Terrence Mukupe threatened to kick out Zimbabwe Centre for Business Opportunities president Paddington Japajapa who was protesting against the short time they were being allocated.

The Finance and Economic Development parliamentary portfolio committee holds these meetings in fulfilment of Section 28 (5) of the Public Finance Management Act, which says “the minister may, through the appropriate portfolio committee of Parliament, seek the views of Parliament in the preparation and formulation of the annual budget, for which purpose the appropriate portfolio committee shall conduct public hearings to elicit the opinions of as many stakeholders in the national budget as possible”.

Besides, section 13 of the Constitution compels the State to involve the people in the formulation and implementation of development plans and programmes that affect them. In other words, the parliamentary portfolio committee will only be fulfilling a constitutional and statutory requirement.

The national budget is a phenomenon that affects every citizen of the country, therefore there is need to let citizens contribute their views on its formulation.

We feel this is not too much to ask for.

There is nothing personal in these meetings and discussions must be as frank and open as possible. If members of the portfolio committee try to stifle free contribution of ideas, then there is a big problem. This very important stakeholder constituency, the public, may be forced to boycott such meetings in the future because their views would not be considered worthy.

If politicians then want to take these as an extension of political rallies they usually preside over, then they are lost.

Once members of the public are afforded an opportunity to air their views on a particular subject, then they must be allowed to do so.

The consultative meetings, like the name suggests, are aimed at getting input from members of the public around the formulation of the national budget. These must be seen as distinct from political gatherings and rallies.

The parliamentary portfolio committee on Finance and Economic Development is expected to visit the length and breadth of the country to gather such views on the country’s spending plan for 2016.

The submissions by the public ensure that citizens play an active role in the formulation of the government’s income and expenditure plan.

It is these submissions that are expected to build up to the pre-budget seminar in Victoria Falls running from October 30 to November 3, and eventually, the National Budget at a later date.


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