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Editor’s Memo

Living large while economy melts


By Vincent Kahiya

THE central bank appears to be living a charmed life in which it spoils itself with all the trappings of affluence while the economy is on a roller

coaster.


What quickly comes to mind about this material comfort is not only the inflated workforce which includes fitness trainers and other dubious officers whose services were not required before December 2003, but also the monetary policy statement presentations.


These are occasions when the governor wheels out volumes of documents to demonstrate how busy he has been trying to mend the economy.
These are printed on expensive gloss paper that exclusive haute culture magazine publishers can only dream of.


Paper does not come cheap in Zimbabwe where a tonne of shoddy quality locally-produced newsprint now costs $1 662 326.


The Reserve Bank uses expensive imported paper. It even has the temerity to use expensive paper to print humourless cartoon books purportedly exposing economic saboteurs.


I do not want to believe that there is now a resident cartoonist at the glass and mortar tower along Samora Machel Avenue. All this in the name of economic recovery?


It can only be in Zimbabwe where a central bank cartoon book is printed on gloss paper while the Finance ministry fails to print enough copies of the budget statement for government ministers, parliamentarians and the media.


Last Thursday we scrounged around looking for Finance minister Herbert Murerwa’s budget speech. There was nothing at parliament where the PR department told me they were also looking for the speech.


This was confounding, as in the past reporters covering parliament were handed the speech together with the “blue book” and were also given extra copies to take back to their newsrooms.


That is all gone now. There were a handful copies of the speech last week and none for the media which had to rely on e-copies availed by friends in government and in business.


While there was not much in the speech itself other than the attempt to tame Gideon Gono and the usual fictitious forecasts growth — or is it recovery? — I was disappointed by the failure by the Finance ministry to avail the blue book.


The book should give a detailed analysis of the performance of the previous budget and the employment of funds by ministries. It also provides estimates of how government would utilise resources in the coming year.


In the past this provided an analysis of how ministries employed state funds. Then government used to state how much it was setting aside for individual capital projects like roads, dams and bridges. The blue book would spell out how much the government would spend paying salaries for civil servants, repaying loans and so on.


Debate around the budget was more informed then because there were facts and figures to large groups of stakeholders. Advocacy groups would articulate their disquiet over the military budget being larger than that of health and other social services.


Perhaps it no longer makes sense to come up with detailed expenditure estimates in an environment where the budget is exhausted in three months, but it is prudent for the Finance ministry to show us the performance of the previous budget, including monies doled out to ministries under his nose by the central bank. That is accountability.


The paucity of information availed to the public on state expenditure, especially the unavailability or very limited circulation of the blue book, has undermined the significance of the event. It is the figures and their justification which make up a budget speech.


Today the budget speech is being construed as an economic policy statement hence we hear “analysts” opining that a budget speech is the panacea to our economic woes. Zimbabwe still requires a proper economic recovery plan under which the budget should operate. Or is it the monetary authorities who have taken the gloss off Murerwa’s budget?

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