It is that time again on the budget cycle when the Parliament of Zimbabwe embarks on an ‘extensive’ round of budget consultations across the country.
Budget consultations are a phase in the budgeting phase where citizens are given a platform to express their needs, their priorities and adjustments that they feel will make the Zimbabwean society better.
The budget is there to serve the people, as should the government in their execution of duties. Marginalised groups, including youths, women, people with disabilities and rural folks should be given a voice as part of the engagement process as many a time the country has faced budget backlash over lack of inclusion.
It is also a time when citizens reflect on the budget allocations and promises that were made in the previous budget cycle.
During a time when the Covid-19 has had unforeseen negative impacts on the world economy, this year’s budget will be an extraordinary budget where there is a need to shift allocations from the ‘normal’ to other sectors heavily affected by the pandemic.
In the previous budget, despite the reeling Covid-19 effect, the health sector was allocated 13% of the budget which was below the at least 15% set by the Abuja Declaration.
The education sector was also most affected by the coming in of the virus but, it was also shortchanged with a 13.1% allocation which was also below the 20% required by the Education for All Initiative benchmarks.
According to the World Bank, “The number of extreme poor is expected to remain at 7.9 million in 2021 amid continued elevated prices, and a slow recovery of jobs and wages in the formal and informal sectors.”
This means that more than half of the population in Zimbabwe is living with extreme poverty and the 0.4% allocation to social protection made in the last budget will not cut it.
Even though there was a clear cut employment creation strategy, research shows that the number of unemployed youths continues to rise. Therefore, there is a need to re-strategize around employment.
This only highlights some issues that citizens need to be aware of as they prepare for the national budget consultations.
The media, the private sector and the government must play a crucial role in informing citizens about the budget process and encourage citizen participation.
From the research carried out by Zimbabwe Coalition for Debt and Development in 2020, 77% had not participated in any pre-budget consultation meeting, whether national or local.
This was mainly attributed to the lack of spaces for vulnerable groups and also the fact that even after the consultations, the previous budget did not reflect the will of the people as would have been proposed. The timing and notice of meeting is also a contributing factor.
The Parliament of Zimbabwe will be holding national budget consultation meetings in October as some local governments have already embarked on the process.