FINANCE minister Patrick Chinamasa hit a new low when he presented his mid-term fiscal policy review in parliament last week without moving a motion seeking leave from the House to introduce a Bill for a supplementary budget as is required by the constitution and parliament’s Standing Rules and Orders.
Owen Gagare/Kudzai Kuwaza
Analysts say this exposed inadequacies of the minister who is already struggling to fix the economy as well as the MPs and administration staff who allowed him to present the mid-term policy without following due procedure.
Chinamasa smuggled in a supplementary budget as part of the fiscal policy review, but the flouting of regulations led to new questions about his competency and suitability as minister of finance.
Being a prominent lawyer and former attorney-general, ex-minister of justice for years and leader of the house of assembly, and having been involved in the writing of the new constitution, Chinamasa’s blunder could not be put down to lack of experience, but ineptitude.
The minister was forced to apologise and ask the House to condone his oversight after Speaker of the National Assembly Jacob Mudenda had declared null and void his move, saying it was unlawfully brought before parliament.
Mudenda noted that Chinamasa had not sought leave from the House to present a supplementary budget as demanded by law, but had made an announcement that would change government expenditure as if he was making a ministerial statement.
Former finance minister Tendai Biti rapped Chinamasa for making “elementary mistakes” despite his wealth of experience.
“For me, I find it totally unacceptable that for a lawyer, a former minister of justice for so many years and a negotiator of that same constitution he violated, can make these elementary mistakes. It’s a reflection of ineptitude,” he said.
Biti, who attacked Chinamasa’s tax hikes describing them as “cruel”, said the minister can be forgiven for incompetence, but not for taxing people to poverty.
“We can forgive him for being clueless, but we can’t forgive him for being cruel,” he said.
MDC-T chief whip Innocent Gonese said although Chinamasa had the right to approach parliament to correct his mistake, the opposition was shocked by his ignorance of the law when he is a lawyer by training.
“It’s an indictment on the capacity of the government as a whole. It’s shocking how a minister, who is also a lawyer, fails to acquaint himself with the rules and regulations,” said Gonese.
Gonese said MPs were not to blame for Chinamasa’s mistake as they were unaware that he would introduce a raft of measures to raise funds.
“The members thought he was just presenting the mid-term fiscal statement. People did not know that a raft of measures would be introduced.”
Zanu PF chief whip Joram Gumbo, however, said the blame should be shared.
“If you flout regulations, there are ways to correct the mistakes and what he did was quite in order. He should have first brought a Bill in the form of a motion. The procedure is to apologise and ask the House to condone your mistake. The House can then decide whether to condone or not, and in this case, pardon was granted,” said Gumbo.
“But we should realise that it’s not only the minister who made a mistake. There was a mistake by the administration of parliament, including the Speaker. The MPs were also wrong because they should have raised an objection. Even after the presentation, Honourable David Chapfika, who is the chairman of the budget committee, moved a motion to respond to the statement and it was put on the order paper. The motion should not have been accepted.”