Marginal salary increases for civil servants and a raised tax-free bonus threshold of US$1 000 for all employees announced by Finance minister Tendai Biti in his 2013 budget proposals may provide some relief to workers, but overall, the US$3,8 billion budget could struggle to meet the country’s public service delivery, particularly in health and education despite the sizeable allocations given to both sectors.
In a budget that some analysts said was designed to be pro-poor, Biti allocated US$1 billion towards education, the largest vote, or 27% of the total while health received US$381 million. The bigger chunk, or 68,4% of these funds are to go towards salaries and wages for these sectors, a general trend throughout the budget, which left approximately, US$1,2 billion for government’s operational expenses, development projects and public services.
Civil society has hailed the pro-poor stance of the budget, where US$407 million was allocated to specific poverty alleviation strategies.
Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition called the budget a “good statement of intent”, commending its provision of social services in five key areas.
These include US$97,2 million for water and sanitation mainly for dam construction and building of water and sewer infrastructure by local authorities; US$13,5 million for economic empowerment and employment creation; US$25,7 million for social protection; US$175,3 million for health (which includes allocations for district and provincial hospitals and maternal health); and lastly, US$95,9 million towards education for student support, purchase of learning materials and the maintenance and construction of schools.
While Crisis in Zimbabwe is positive about an increase in overall spending on health and education, Minister of Education, Sport, Arts and Culture David Coltart was more cautious in his response to Biti’s US$1 billion allocation for education as the ministry had only received US$11,5 million in non-wage budget support by November 2012.
“We are pleased with the theoretical figure that we have gotten, but the theoretical figure needs to be matched with actual disbursement. For this year, we only got 15% of the non-salary figure and we need to see if we’re actually going to get more. For us that’s the real test,” Coltart said on Tuesday.
The minister has previously complained about government’s prioritisation on expenditure, saying Zimbabwe spends more on defence and foreign travel than on education.
He says figures from the January-June table of non-wage budget support show that as at June 30, 2012, the Ministry of Education, received US$4,7 million only out of an allocated US$77,3 million allocated for sport and culture had been disbursed, while the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare had received US$22,7 million in non-wage budget support out of an earmarked US$170,2 million.
By comparison, the Ministry of Defence received US$35,8 million out of US$101,4 million, while the Office of the President and Cabinet received US$30,7 million out of its US$114 million allocation.
Coltart, however, sounded hopeful that 2013 would be a better year in disbursements as consultations with the Finance ministry could see critical projects such as those for maternal health as well as those for orphans and vulnerable children being ring-fenced.
“We have had productive discussions with Mr Biti and we have talked about measures to ring-fence some of the projects and make sure we get the money. I hope that might resolve some of the problems,” he said.
Some of the challenges facing the ministry include marking of Zimbabwe School Examinations Council (Zimsec) Grade 7 examinations scheduled to begin in November, which was delayed this week because the Ministry of Finance had not provided US$1,5 million needed for travel and accomodation expenses for exam-markers.
Last month government was forced to pay US$1,1 million after Zimsec threatened to block 16 000 Basic Education Assistance Module (Beam)-aided students from sitting their O and A-Level exams late in October.
Beam is a scheme launched by government and international partners in 2001 to provide school and exam fees for hundreds of thousands of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds.
On health, although Biti noted that government spending had increased to US$18 per capita from US$7 per capita allocated in 2009, incomplete disbursement of the health budget would mean this figure could be lower as noted in the National Child Survival Strategy for Zimbabwe 2010-2015 report.
“While the share of health in the overall budget had started showing a decreasing trend over the years, with current per capita investment in health by government of US$18 falling below the US$34 recommended by the National Health Strategy (2009 – 2013), the 2013 budget proposes an allocation of US$381 million,” said Biti.
However, the National Child Survival Strategy report produced by the Ministry of Health, Unicef and the World Health Organisation comments on the adverse impact of budget disbursements falling short of a projected allocation on health spending.
“The Ministry of Health was initially allocated US$157 673 800 for the 2009 budget, which was revised down to US$121 million.However, only US$23 millon (18%) was actually disbursed,” the report says.
“This translates to approximately US$7 per capita, of which only US$2 per capita was disbursed. The trend has been for budget disbursements to be below 15% of allocation over the years.”
The report notes that government’s inability to fund its own people’s health has meant relying on international donors to supplement health funding. Health minister Henry Madzorera could not be reached for comment at the time of going to press.
As Zimbabwe strives to meet its Millennium Development Goals targets for 2013 and prepare for another year of fiscal austerity, adequate health and education services remain the concerns of ordinary Zimbabweans, according to views aired in the rural areas during pre-budget consultations.
Although the budget promises to allocate more money to social services and Biti has given assurances that government will ring-fence social funds, it remains to be seen whether 2013 will be a better year for the disbursement of funds for social services.