Budget strategy paper must be legislated for

via Budget strategy paper must be legislated for – NewsDay Zimbabwe November 20, 2015

In a significant positive development, the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development led by Patrick Chinamasa has published a 2016 Budget Strategy Paper ahead of presentation of the National Budget to Parliament next Thursday.

The Budget Strategy Paper outlines the macroeconomic framework and medium-term fiscal and economic priorities. Publishing the paper allows citizens to input into the formulation of the budget.

The Finance ministry is inviting public comments on the strategy paper, and will be conducting public consultation meetings to receive further input from stakeholders.

This is most welcome as it engenders participatory public policymaking as required under section 13 of the Constitution. This section compels the State and all institutions and agencies of government at every level to facilitate rapid and equitable development, and that measures to achieve this “must involve the people in the formulation and implementation of development plans and programmes that affect them”.

Participatory public policymaking allows national ownership of policies and programmes, and reduces difficulties in policy implementation. Strengthening civil society and the public’s ability to analyse budgets and participate effectively can play an integral role, not only in policies and service delivery, but also in constructing a more open and participatory democratic society.

However, the consultation process must be meaningful in nature for this to happen. It must not be about going through the motions or simply an academic exercise. Citizens must feel strongly that policymakers are making a serious attempt to take on board their recommendations.

I, therefore, would have expected the Budget Strategy Paper to be made public way before presentation of the budget to Parliament. Publishing the paper less than two weeks before budget day does not provide adequate time for citizens’ input to be factored into the budget.

I would like to believe that the consolidated draft budget has already been approved at the highest political level, thereby, diluting the impact of the public consultations on the Budget Strategy Paper.

Good practice for fiscal transparency is that the Budget Strategy Paper is published at least a month before tabling of the estimates of expenditure and revenue in Parliament. The other good practice is that the Budget Strategy Paper is legislated for in terms of the time that it is published and the process that it follows.

In South Africa, the Medium-Term Budget Policy Statement is provided for in section 6 of the Money Bills Amendment Procedure and Related Matters Act, 2009. It is submitted to Parliament at least three months prior to the introduction of the national budget. The Medium-Term Budget Policy Statement in South Africa must include the following: A revised fiscal framework for the present financial year and the proposed fiscal framework for the next three years; an explanation of the macro-economic and fiscal policy position, the macro-economic projections and the assumptions underpinning the fiscal framework; the spending priorities of national government for the next three years; the proposed division of revenue between the spheres of government and between arms of government within a sphere for the next three years; the proposed substantial adjustments to conditional grant allocations to provinces and local governments, if any; and a review of actual spending by each national department and each provincial government between April 1 and September 30 of the current fiscal year.

The statement is referred to the committees of finance and appropriations in the National Assembly and National Council of Provinces, who are required by the Act to consider it and report to their respective houses within 30 days. The committees have power to propose amendments to the fiscal framework.

In Kenya, the budget policy statement is submitted to Parliament for approval on February 28. The same happens at local government level, where the county fiscal strategy papers are approved by county assemblies.

The budget is only submitted to the Kenyan Parliament on April 30. The country’s financial year begins on July 1, thereby giving Parliament two months to debate and approve the budget. The whole formulation process and time frames are included in the fiscal act. This allows civil society and the public to know when to intervene in the budget process. This is why the Kenyan experience has been touted as a good practice that breeds transparency and credibility to the budget cycle.

Zimbabwe’s budget cycle is currently not transparent enough. You don’t know what is happening and at what time. We tend to leave public consultations to the last minute. The result is a budget process that is not people-centred.

Chinamasa should, therefore, seriously consider legislating for the budget cycle and budget strategy paper in the forthcoming amendments to the Public Finance Management Act. This will give meaning to his quest for participatory budgeting.

You have started well, comrade minister. Let us give impetus to this development through the necessary legal provisions.

l John Makamure is the executive director of the Southern African Parliamentary Support Trust.
Feedback: john.makamure@gmail.com