WHILE many have dismissed the budget statement presented by Finance minister Tendai Biti as being deficient on funding for agriculture, empowerment and indigenisation programmes, representatives of vulnerable groups believe next year’s budget is an improvement on previous ones.
However, they were quick to point out that although it was commendable, the funding provided was insufficient to cater for their needs.
Unlike past financial statements, the 2011 national budget provided funds for social security programmes, something that has been missing previously.
“As a movement we are happy. It is not about the quantum, but the intention is positive,” said Farai Mutuki, director of the National Association of Societies for the Care of the Handicapped (NASCOH), which has a nationwide membership of 53 organisations.
Biti described people living with disabilities as frustrated, excluded and alienated from economic affairs for not receiving any meaningful support from the government, particularly the Ministry of Labour and social welfare. He then allocated them a harmonised cash transfer of US$6,14 million.
A specific provision of US$1,3 million was made for othorpaedic limbs and small loans to people living with disabilities while US$500 000 was allocated towards provision of suitable toilet facilities to people living with disabilities in all government offices.
Biti also allocated US$13 million to Basic Education and Assistance Module (Beam), US$800 000 to Assisted Medical Treatment Orders and US$1 million to resuscitate the child supplementary feeding scheme, particularly for rural primary schools so as to avoid high school dropouts.
He also allocated US$15 million to the Student Support Grant and Loan Fund and said government would work with ZB bank to establish a sustainable and affordable student support scheme.
Social commentator Ernest Mudzengi applauded Biti for initiating the process, but said the money was not enough to handle the volumes of vulnerable people.
“The allocation given to social protection is by no means adequate,” said Mudzengi.
“It won’t go a long way because the funds are supposed to cover all areas in this country. The return of students grants is a positive move considering the life students were forced to live for survival, for example some were forced into prostitution and begging,” he said adding that: “The money is however not adequate as a lot of students in state universities and technical colleges can’t afford the high fees.”
Current estimates state that extreme poverty levels in the country are at 48% while the number of orphans and vulnerable children are estimated at one million, while 3% of the population is disabled, the elderly included.
Project Manager for Just Children’s Foundation, an organisation that provides care and shelter to vulnerable children, Martha Damu believes Biti could have done better.
“We work with children on a daily basis and believe me there are a lot of children who are suffering out there and not going to school,” said Damu. “Through our work we have recorded Chikomba district as having the highest number of children who were not going to school, for example at Mawere primary school whom we requested to benefit from Beam.”
“A class is not a class unless it is a full class. More is needed to make sure that these children go to school and the government also needs to improve on the bureaucratic system of getting these fees,” she said.
Information adviser for people living with disabilities Fambai Magweva said he was happy that for the first time the ministry has made a provision for people with disabilities.
“I think as a start the needs of disabled people has been considered. The amount might be small but overall the intention is perfect. This has been the first time we have had a disability budget or figures. That recognition should be applauded,” he said.
Magweva applauded Biti for giving people living with disabilities money to buy mobility appliances.
“We would want people living with disabilities to move away from poverty and to be involved in small enterprises like farming, trading or mining,” he said.
Zimbabwe National Students Union (Zinasu) spokesperson Kudakwashe Chikabvu welcomed the return of the students’ support scheme saying this was a great step towards reviving the country’s education system.
“Zinasu acknowledges this development not just as a piecemeal election gimmick designed to console the wounds of thousands of students who dropped out of tertiary education because they could not afford the exorbitant tuition fees but also as a positive step in reviving the country’s education sector,” said Chikabvu.
Mudzengi said government should revamp the National Social Security Authority (NSSA) which he said was open to abuse.
“The biggest challenge is to make sure that NSSA is cleansed and professionalised — not making it a breeding ground for corruption. Government can also engage in other activities for example asking for seed funds to come up with self-sustaining projects which can help pensioners who are getting as little as US$50,” he said.
However, Biti bemoaned the low social protection coverage and actual expenditures and the absence of a comprehensive strategy and underfunding for social security in the country.
“Overall given the lack of the fiscal space the above social protection programmes will count on support from donors. Hence co-ordination activities between government and development partners will be critical to avoid duplication and to enhance effectiveness,” he said.
“High unemployment, coupled with depletion of insurance and pension schemes by hyperinflation have increased the number of people requiring social assistance,” said Biti.