Are we going to have an annual budget review or a mid-term fiscal policy statement? There are a few better ways to reveal whether government’s rhetoric matches reality than examining how it raises and spends public money.
Are funds being spent on the things government said they would be? Are these investments achieving the outcomes that were intended? In short, is government budget accountable? After a change in government last November, policy accountability and transparency is necessary to strengthen confidence in the economy.
Last year, Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa made significant changes to the budget statement in an effort to enhance accountability and improve policy engagement and accessibility to a wider audience.
The budget statement was streamlined and an annual budget review was introduced, which is important.
The Finance ministry in last year’s budget promised to publish an annual budget review by the end of the first quarter.
However, it was delayed and published end of second quarter.
The annual budget review is of the essence as it helps assess the performance of public funds and also track whether government is spending on what it promised to spend in the budget statement.
Some may argue that the 2018 national budget was detailed and therefore there is no need of an annual budget review.
Limited access or lack of adequate fiscal reports necessitates the publication of the annual budget review, especially in this election year.
Treasury used to publish fiscal numbers on a monthly basis, which helped to track government spending and revenue, thus allowing public engagement on economic policy issues.
Government seems to have stopped disseminating such reports despite giving assurance to the public that such reports will remain available.
“Treasury will, however, continue to provide Quarterly Treasury Bulletins, capturing quarterly macro-economic and fiscal developments, in addition to the Consolidated Monthly Financial Statements published monthly, in line with the Public Finance Management Act.
This should avail the public with necessary information on relevant economic developments, that way enhancing and supporting their decision making processes, activities and engagement with government on overall economic policy issues.
All the documents, other policy reviews and updates will also be available to the public on the Treasury website: www.zimtreasury.gov.zw.
Similarly, as we build capacity, dissemination channels will be broadened to provide for budget publications available in some of our main languages,” said Chinamasa in the 2017 budget presentation and in the first annual budget review.
Disseminating such reports to the public would go a long way in improving budget accountability and transparency, as well as promote public participation and engagement with government on economic policy issues.
It is important to note that government budget and its spending patterns are receiving much public attention because of their implication on the welfare of the people and the impact they have on economic activity.
Government policies implemented through the budget direct the path and pace of economic activity and have a direct bearing to the welfare of the citizens.
However, it can only be achieved if the general public has full access to government budgetary information which is now being disseminated sparingly in Zimbabwe.
Publishing the annual budget review in time will go a long way in fostering transparency and accountability.
As evidenced everywhere, just having a budget without budget accountability is a huge scam which leads to the misuse of resources and alarming deficit outturns.
Evidence from last year’s annual budget review, where some government departments received more than tenfold of what was budgeted for points to lack of accountability.
Treasury used to provide Consolidated Monthly Financial Statements, which helped in tracking government spending pattern.
A common characteristic of every election year is that the national budget faces more pressures related to electoral financing.
Treasury therefore should timeously publish its documents.
This is necessary as this helps track whether government’s rhetoric matches reality.