FINANCE and Economic Development minister Mthuli Ncube last week presented a ZW$421,6 billion (US$5,1 million) themed Building Resilience and Sustainable Economic Recovery.
The government should be commended for its efforts to prioritise health and education. The 2021 budget was a departure from the past. The ministries of Primary and Secondary Education and Higher and Tertiary Education will be getting ZW$55,22 billion (US$675,9 million) and ZW$14,368 billion (US$175 million) respectively, while the Ministry of Health and Child Care will get ZW$54,7 billion (US$669,5 million).
The budget is anchored on the following seven thrusts and priorities: Social protection, human capital development and well-being; inclusive growth and macro-stability; developing and supporting productive value chains; optimising value in our natural resources; infrastructure, ICT and digital economy; effective institution building and governance and engagement and re-engagement.
For the first time, there seems to be a deliberate attempt by the government to meet the minimum expectations in budget allocation as stated in the Abuja Declaration.
In April 2001, heads of state and government of African countries pledged to set a target of allocating at least 15% of their annual budget to improve the health sector. The 2021 budget allocated 13%, a jump from the 10% allocated in 2020.
This is in recognition of the centrality of health in a country’s economic development as Covid-19 continues to ravage nations worldwide, Zimbabwe included.
Zimbabwe is currently experiencing a second wave of Covid-19. It has now recorded more than 10 129 coronavirus cases and 277 deaths.
However, the government still appears to be heavily reliant on donor funding for the health sector, particularly when it comes to reproductive health services, which like all sectors in the country took a battering from the pandemic. The coronavirus has had a devastating effect on the country’s crumbling health system.
The budget is founded on a wrong narrative and assumptions on what they call progress on social reforms. It skirts the realities which should influence the budgetary allocations.
Getting sick in Zimbabwe has become hazardous. Prices of life-saving drugs are exorbitant and unaffordable.
Our realities are increasing morbidity due to Covid-19, a fractured healthcare system, perennial strikes by healthcare workers, unavailability of medicines, dilapidated infrastructure and corruption and militarisation of healthcare. These are the things that should be the preamble to our budget — as they are things we need to address as a nation. We should be focused on dealing with increasing maternal and child mortality, an increase in the numbers of unwanted pregnancies, preventable deaths, hospitals that have become death traps, critical shortages of life-saving drugs etc.
After economy declined by 4,1% this year, Treasury expects the economy to grow by 7,4% in 2021, while creating 151 000 formal jobs in the process. But without a healthy nation, such targets are not achievable.
As economist Prosper Chitambara says; “Countries that invest a lot in health do better economically than countries that invest little. The country continues to overly rely on external funding to finance our healthcare. Donors are projected to provide about US$496 million towards health in 2021, far more than what the Government has allocated. This is highly unsustainable.”
The country needs to prioritise health delivery to ensure better health outcomes.
Government needs to put a lot more effort on strengthening health systems. It needs to innovate and find more sustainable ways of financing the healthcare sector. Government has set aside a budget for equipping hospitals.
Focus too should be on ensuring transparency and accountability in the award of tenders for the procurement of such equipment.
Some of our public hospitals have become graveyards of unserviced or inappropriate equipment and this must stop.