Outrage over budget debate delays

HARARE - Opposition MPs have accused President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu PF of contempt of Parliament, saying the ruling party prioritised its annual conference instead of the crucial debate of the State’s 2017 spending plan.

Speaking during a fiery debate on the $4 billion 2017 National Budget in Parliament on Tuesday, MDC chief whip, Innocent Gonese, said they were being forced to fast-track the important Finance and Appropriation Bills, with parliamentarians given insufficient time to think through the their implications, consult with the electorate and subject the Bills to proper scrutiny and debate.

After a budget has been presented to the House of Assembly, two money Bills have to be passed by Parliament — an Appropriation Bill, which gives legal force to the Estimates of Expenditure and a Finance Bill, which makes legal provision for changes in collection of revenue such as taxes, custom duties for the following year

“We were all aware that the last financial year was coming to an end and towards the end of last year, we had ample time to debate the budget.  We have said it before...that all political parties must know what the priorities for this country are,” Gonese said.

“If you schedule your party conferences towards the end of the year when we should be dealing with important matters which are affecting the nation, it means that we are losing the plot,” he said, adding that “this is something which has been happening time and again”.

“What we find objectionable from this side of the house... is a situation where we now have to rush through the process as a result of which, we are not going to be able to do justice to the matter and really apply our minds simply because we have run out of time,” Gonese said.

He said the MDC was unhappy with how the Finance minister, Patrick Chinamasa, was conducting his business on budget debates.

“I...and my colleagues feel very strongly that we must not continue having such a practice.  We should have given this ample time and in particular, we should have dealt with this business in December without rushing through it; then perhaps wind up the process at the beginning of the year.

“...we are now coming to the end of this month which is actually the time period or timeframe within which we should have passed the budget.”

MDC vice president, Elias Mudzuri, blasted the Executive.

“We could have been in Parliament earlier and done proper business to deal with these issues. This is not about a rally but about a country.  We know that it is difficult to get resources and we need to ensure that the minister has reasonable contributions from Members of Parliament,” Mudzuri said.

“Our difficulty is that when we stretch our days to the end, people get tired.  There is what they call incised meeting returns and at the end of the day, we will not have deliberated enough to ensure that we have a reasonable budget to run the country,” he said.

However, Zanu PF MP for Buhera South, Joseph Chinotimba, dismissed concerns by MDC MPs saying they still have ample time to debate the money bills.

“Whether or not we have delayed, the time to debate is there as nothing stops us from debating the Finance Bill.  Even if we had debated the Bill last month or last year, it is the same,” he said.

“We are saying, as proposed by the minister, let us debate today even if it means debating until tomorrow, it is fine so that the country moves on. This matter of pointing fingers is neither here nor there pertaining to the Finance Bill.  The fact that we went to Masvingo (for the annual Zanu PF conference) has nothing to do with this Bill.”

“I am saying; let us debate what has been tabled by the minister.  All those who are prepared to debate should do so because we have time” Chinotimba insisted.

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