MINISTER of Finance Tendai Biti this week accused President Robert Mugabe of deliberately frustrating the gazetting of the Public Finance Management Act, which seeks to revolutionise how public funds are monitored and audited in line ministries.
Biti made the revelation when he appeared before the public accounts parliamentary portfolio committee on Monday.
The law introduces new financial management techniques in government such as cash budgeting and e-governance. Government finances would be done online and the computer system would refuse to pay for expenses that are outside the budget, neither would it allow inter-borrowing from different accounts.
He said the Office of the President had been sitting on the law since June last year after his ministry sent it for gazetting.
“We are facing problems with the president in having the Act gazetted so that it would be operationalised,” Biti said. “Various letters have been written to the President’s Office and we are yet to get any response.”
The minister said government continued to overspend on foreign travel, which he warned against last year when he presented the 2011 budget.
“The need for strong central leadership is critical, I have complained about the $3,79 million spent for travelling alone in January,” Biti said, “I am not a principal. I cannot tell ministers not to travel or I will be labelled a super minister.”
He told the committee chaired by Webber Chinyadza that his ministry had set up a budget allocation committee to prioritise expenses in the face of limited revenue flowing into government coffers and would only consider financing votes contained in the budget statement.
“The budget allocation committee meets two weeks and reviews priorities that should be paid first,” Biti said. “For instance they have to decide between infrastructure and the constitution. If the issue is not in the Blue Book (budget statement) no payment will be made.”
Biti told the committee that his ministry would continue to reform public finance management by introducing new regulations that would give more teeth to the current public finance management legislation.
“Our mission was to bring sanity to public finance management by introducing new legislation,” the minister said. “In addition to the Public Finance Management Act, Reserve Bank Amendment Act and the Office Audit Act, we will gazette new statutory instruments before the end of April this year.”
The RBZ Amendment Act curtailed the bank’s quasi-fiscal operations that had reached new proportions under the governorship of Gideon Gono. The banks debts rose to an all time high of over $1,2 billion.
Biti said if the government did not stop its propensity to spend it would find itself in the pre-2009 era of high debts and a suffocating economy.
“The country is operating at an auto-cruise to self-destruction because there is no shared common goal,” Biti warned. “Finance ministry only deals with figures and currently we only collect revenues of around $150 million monthly against a $120 million wage bill. No one panics.”
Zimbabwe is currently saddled with over $6 billion foreign debt and cannot borrow from the Bretton-Woods institutions and other multilateral institutions because of its credit rating.
At the same meeting, Chinyadza accused government of not taking seriously audit reports and recommendations from the Comptroller and Auditor-General.