10 December 2009
FINANCE minister Tendai Biti's National Budget statement last week is the first since Zimbabwe's Independence in 1980 to be presented by a minister who does not owe political allegiance to Zanu PF. This Budget has been presented amidst the Sadc mediation on outstanding issues in the global political agreement (GPA). The Budget also specifies a time frame for its implementation (January-December 2010).
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This signifies both an air of permanence to the inclusive government or at least a guarantee that the government will last until 2011. The Budget's contents and intended aims are linked closely to the question of whether or not Biti's Budget is the new GPA.
The latter point is made because the Budget cuts across party lines and must have been arrived at with cabinet approval as well as competitive bids by ministries to get higher resource allocations. This would mean it, too, is a negotiated document, but one that has a direct and technical bearing on the functions of government.
The first issue to be reflected upon is that this is a Budget presented by a minister with no allegiance to Zanu PF but arrived at with Zanu PF input and approval. This means that the MDC is now an integral part of the inclusive government.
That is to say, for all the outstanding issues that Sadc is addressing, there is a functional government that has the MDC contributing as important a policy instrument as the national Budget; and this for a period of 12 months.
Therefore the MDC can no longer easily seek to wash its hands of the policies that are undertaken by the inclusive government, as long as the Budget is followed under the tutelage of Biti. As a result, the inclusive government can no longer be viewed either as "shaky" or "fragile" primarily because the Budget represents its permanence for the next 12 months.
It also indicates that because Biti's office is of such national importance, no one can honestly say that he presented the Budget with an intention to simply abandon it to another person, especially one who is not in his party if the MDC once again decides to disengage from the inclusive government.
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The second factor that adds weight to the first is that Biti indicated in his speech to parliament that the framework for the next fiscal year is derived from a three-year economic strategic plan etched out in August at Nyanga. If one were to read between the lines, one would see that it is more than likely there is continued tacit agreement that the inclusive government will last for the same period of time.
This particular Budget should therefore not be understood solely within the context of the next 12 months but by an intention, as hinted by Biti, to fit the three-year economic lifespan of the inclusive government.
The Sadc mediation therefore merely becomes an ongoing characteristic of the inclusive government because Biti, in presenting the Budget, has shown that it is possible to have the usual problems of the GPA while at the same time attending to serious government business together with Zanu PF.
It is necessary to reflect on the actual policy intentions of the Budget. In his preamble the minister mentioned that his Budget was essentially meant to be "pro-poor, broad based", and "inclusive". He then proceeded to give the health sector a large chunk of the Budget together with social protection while bemoaning the government wages bill as being unsustainable.
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The major undertone of all of this was what can be discerned as a sense of nostalgia in the allocations, a strong intention to return the economy to its pre-1996 years, where the Budget tended to be characterised by measures to ensure social welfare especially in education, but at the same time trying to rein in government expenditure. This is exemplified by the allocations given to the Basic Education Assistance Module (Beam) project under the social protection line items.
The discernible intention of Biti is to "normalise" the economy, and not necessarily to change its structural focus, this being a "market-driven" economy.
The latter point is strengthened by his comparative references to Sadc best practices and the prioritisation of a regionally integrated market.
These are issues that were in vogue during the late Ariston Chambati's tenure as well as that of Bernard Chidzero as the country decided, under a Zanu PF government, to embrace structural adjustment.
Where the minister tackled the land issue, while stating that it was not his intention to undermine the land reform programme, there is once again a return to the big debate of the 1990s.
The key issue being that of land tenure ostensibly in order to ensure the development of collateral for farmers but more fundamentally, to reduce the role of the state in land ownership.
The merits and demerits of such an approach may not be appropriately discussed here, suffice it to say, its emphasis is a return to normality.
The introduction of a constituency development fund for members of parliament, evidently popular in the House of Assembly more than it would be in the Senate, is interesting to say the least.
This is because politically, it is meant to protect the sitting MPs primarily due to the constituency development problems that they have been facing since election in 2008.
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Such a fund helps the current parliament meet its performance legitimacy issues with the primary aim of retaining power for MPs as well as their parties.
The constituency development fund is therefore a fund that will, politically speaking, seek to retain the balance of parliamentary presence for the three political parties and essentially complement the GPA structure.
While others may consider it progressive that there are some funds directly allocated to women and youth empowerment programmes, the difference these funds bring is that youth and women's access to resources, previously the forte of Zanu PF, is to be shared by the three parties.
Whether these funds will not be used in the manner Zanu PF has tended to use them remains to be seen, but we can only pray that they are not used to extend the patronage systems so typical of Zanu PF.
A final point to ponder about the Budget is that it perhaps is the new GPA. Even though he does not allocate particular resources to issues such as constitutional reform despite mentioning it, Biti intends to make this Budget work.
This Budget is therefore the technical template of the inclusive government and therefore of the GPA. It is the newly negotiated crosscutting document that will determine the next 12 months the country faces.
To conclude, the presentation of Zimbabwe's national Budget by the Finance minister was extremely important politically. The fact that it occurred in the midst of GPA disagreements, and yet seemed to be an agreed-to document means it is possibly the new GPA.
It has however failed to indicate a departure from the old practices around budgets and has failed to firmly put the stamp of "a new beginning" to our country's politics. Its main character is reflective of a desire to return mainly to the early 1990s' somewhat market-driven approach to economic challenges, especially where it integrates IMF Special Drawing Rights into its anticipated public service rehabilitation projects.
The inclusive government, and not just Biti, has, in presenting this Budget failed to significantly shift the state's focus from people-centred economic planning and development. It has sought the path of a return to "normalcy" which though a stabilisation factor, does not begin to challenge the problems the country encountered under structural adjustment in the 1990s.
Takura Zhangazha is the National Director of Misa Zimbabwe