As the 2020 budget consultations beckon, calls for earnest citizen participation heightens
“Don’t tell me what you value, show me your budget and I’ll tell you what you value.” Joe Biden
Joe Biden’s remarks bears testimony to the importance of budgeting both at local and national level. The national budget is the anchor for any country’s developmental programmes, not only because it sets out how resources will be mobilised and allocated but because it is a crucial instrument that sets out the country’s developmental priorities. What therefore it means is that citizen participation through consultation meetings becomes very crucial in the national budget formulation process. The drafting stage of the budget ensures that citizens input their aspirations and their developmental preferences even at local level. Nevertheless, in the case of Zimbabwe, perennially, national budget consultations have been characterised by apathy due to the reasons mentioned below, and this is not favourable for a shared national development agenda.
Zimbabwe is characterised by poor economic governance exacerbated; poor and ineffective public finance management characterised and misplaced priorities on the side of public resources allocation both at local and national level. A national budget either promotes or negates sustainable national economic development due to a number of factors including the aspect of misplaced priorities. Poor public service delivery in the country is attributed to the question of misplaced priorities in terms of resource allocation by the government.
National budget is an instrument through which the government raise and allocate financial resources for the delivery of public services. It is an essential tool that when effectively formulated and implemented, facilitate socio-economic development and ensures the progressive realisation of fundamental social and economic rights as provided for in Chapter 4 of the Zimbabwean Constitution and as codified in the United Nations Convention on Social, Economic and Cultural Rights of which Zimbabwe is a signatory to.
Citizen Participation in National Budget Process is a Constitutional Right
Citizens in their different groups or as individuals have a responsibility to participate in the crafting of local and national budgets. The importance of citizen participation in economic governance like the budget making process is reinforced by Section 3(2) (a) of the Zimbabwean Constitution which states that the state must respect the people of Zimbabwe from whom the authority to govern is derived. In this context when citizens participate in formulating a budget at any level, they are re-emphasising the importance of the power they possess to determine the course through which local and national development takes.
Zimbabwe’s economic spectrum struggles with disturbing levels of citizen apathy when it comes to their participation in budget making processes. Be it at local or national level, citizens have generally expressed a lack of interest in budget making processes in the country. Part of the cause of apathy as to why citizens are not attending budget consultative meetings is because their views and aspirations are not captured in the final budget statement itself. Part of the apathy at local level comes from the fact that local authorities do not exercise transparency and accountability in terms of availing their accounting records for public scrutiny to ensure public trust.
A need for a different approach.
National budget consultative meetings are characterized by poor citizen participation and part of the apathy comes from the fact that if citizens do participate, their views are not incorporated in the final budget and subsequently this discourages future citizen engagements. It was noted that the public hearings are not done in earnest rather they are conducted in a “window dressing” manner for procedural processes. Zimbabwe’s existing Public Finance Management Act does not provide for a specific date as to when the national budget is supposed to be presented. This is problematic and flawed. Citizens need to participate in pre-budget consultative meetings that are not rushed but properly planned, popularised and conveniently done at places accessible to both the able and disabled in society.
Since the national budget concerns itself with income and wealth distribution as well as prescribing macroeconomic policies for the stabilisation and growth of the economy, it is essential for pre-budget consultative meetings to be organised in more inclusive and efficient manner. As a new way, youth, women, people with disabilities and other societal groups must from ward level have separate pre-budget consultative meetings that can go for two months or more prior to consultations. This will help citizens to take their time in inputting what they want to be captured in the national budget and making sure that the state’s priorities reflect the developmental aspirations of the ordinary citizen.
The present model of pre-budget meetings that just rushes through the process and does not cover each and every ward in the country is not democratic and is clearly inconsistent with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that speak of “leaving no one behind,” in the development process. There is no ample time to effectively conduct budget consultations as this process is always done as a last minute rush. This explains why citizens’ views are not adequately captured and incorporated in the final budget. That, Local authorities do not fully participate in the formulation of the Budget Strategy Paper and this compromises both local and national development.
The alternative and democratic budget making process that is inclusive and hinged on the principles of good budgeting is long overdue if Zimbabwe is to attain the upper middle income status by 2030. Best practices in budget making processes include mid-term fiscal planning, gender responsive budgeting, pro-poor budgeting that focuses on human development for instance ensuring that more funds are allocated to sectors which improve the socioeconomic outlook of citizens, inward looking industrialisation to facilitate productivity and job creation and a clear monitoring and evaluation framework comprehensive to an ordinary citizen.
That the Parliament of Zimbabwe is not adequately resourced to conduct nationwide budget consultation meetings, rather they, in many cases, conduct them in major towns and cities. Therefore, both the geographical and demographic coverage of the consultative meetings by the Parliament is not enough. This is regrettable and evident in the schedule for the upcoming 2020 national budget consultations.
These are some of the highlights of the deliberations made during the Public Finance Management Reform Indaba convened by the Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development (ZIMCODD) in Gweru and Mutare during the week ending 13 September 2019 with specific focus on citizen participation in national budget processes. The main objective of the interface was to interrogate the current national budgeting frameworks and proffer recommendations on how to enhance citizen participation.