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Thumbs up to the Parliament Portfolio Committee on Budget, Finance and Investment!
Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition
October 20, 2010

Countries the world over, are seeking ways to increase citizen participation in national processes and are moving away from imposing policies and national budgets on citizens to creating platforms which enable citizen engagement and participation. The government of Zimbabwe, through the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Budget, Finance and Investment, has set up a series of consultative meetings nationwide to solicit input from Zimbabweans for the 2011 national budget.

To allow for greater accountability, the government of Zimbabwe enacted the Public Finance Management Act (2010) which strengthens the role of parliament in budget implementation. Section 33 requires every Ministry's accounting officer to "submit quarterly financial statements and reports for submission by the Minister to the appropriate parliamentary portfolio committee within 60 days of the end of the respective quarter". These financial statements are meant to be published in the government gazette. Gazetting of the monthly statements is a transparent way to allow public scrutiny of the use of public resources.

Although government came up with such a noble initiative, the process is marred by poor turnout The Herald of Tuesday October 19 2010 reported a disappointing attendance of 5 people at a pre-budget hearing in Gweru. The same case was reported in Bindura where a low turnout stunned the Finance Minister, Honorable Tendai Biti who attended. Other centers that witnessed low turnout include Mutare and Bulawayo. A Harare meeting has been scheduled for 21 October 2010 and analysts are skeptical of the success of this hearing.

Poor planning, absence of extensive publicity and lack of confidence in public processes on the part of the committee can be blamed for the low turnout. Former Midlands Provincial Governor, Cephas Msipa attributed the low turnout in Gweru to lack of confidence by the public in government processes. Despite the many impediments, contributions have been put forward by the various stakeholders. Issues raised include requests for the budget to set aside resources for the resuscitation of industry which was affected by poor investment. Operational challenges have forced huge employers including ZIMGLASS and ZIMALLOYS to shut down indefinitely resulting in hundreds if not thousands of breadwinners losing their jobs.

The committee should have involved local councils extensively in both the planning and execution of the meetings. The principle behind participatory budgeting, according to the Municipal Development Partnership for Eastern and Southern Africa, originates from local governments who in turn should report to the central government. It is generally perceived that councils are more community oriented and can reach the people in the best way possible which would be a solution to the poor attendances currently being experienced.

For the successful implementation of the participatory budgeting process, the Parliament Portfolio Committee on Budget, Finance and Investment should ensure non-politicization of the process and extensive publicity to raise public awareness and restore public confidence in government activities.

The participatory budgeting process originated in Porto Allegre, Brazil in 1989 and involves communities in determining spending priorities and budgets in the country. Participatory budgeting allows the public to give their consent with regards to public spending and is based on the notion that what may be important to government may not be important to the general populace. It thus allows citizens a greater voice in how public finances should be used and what issues should be prioritized at the same time supporting effective transparency and accountability in government particularly where corruption is prevalent as in the case of Zimbabwe.

Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition commends the efforts made and hopes that the government will employ participatory and consultative methods in all policy matters. With such initiatives taking place, Zimbabwe might just be on the road to recovery.

Visit the Crisis in Zimbabwe fact sheet

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