Zim urged to enhance transparency on budget preps

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BUSINESS WRITER

PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration has been urged to involve citizens in the
preparation of national budgets to ensure transparency and accountability.

This comes as Zimbabwe has been ranked 52 out of 117 countries on budget transparency by the Open
Budget Survey (OBS). Although the country’s transparency score has greatly improved from 20 out of
100 in 2012 to 49 percent in 2019, experts say there is still room for improvement.

Leonard Mandishara, an executive with the National Association of Non-governmental organisations
said about 57 percent of Zimbabwe’s 16 million population are yet to see the annual budget, while
about 56 percent believe that their views are not considered.

“This shows that public interest is very low as citizens consider the budget formulation process to be
very technical and think it’s only for the elite,” he told audience on an online platform organised by the
Zimbabwe Coalition of Debt and Development (Zimcodd) on Thursday.

Although the government – through the Finance ministry – has established pre-budget deliberations
during budget formulation but, to further strengthen public participation in the budget process, the OBS
indicated that Harare should also prioritise pilot mechanisms to monitor budget implementation.

“The government should also expand mechanisms during budget formulation that engage any civil
society organization or member of the public who wishes to participate, as well as actively engage with
vulnerable and underrepresented communities, directly or through civil society organisations
representing them,” the organisation added.

OBS – the world’s only independent, comparative and fact-based research instrument that uses
internationally accepted criteria to assess public access to central government budget information – also
added that Parliament should consider allowing members of the public or civil society organisations to
testify during its hearings on the Audit Report.

Vincent Chakunda, an academic with the Midlands State University, said the country’s budget
formulation process was elitist and excluded the majority of people.

“Almost 95 percent of people have no access to the budget strategy paper and very few people
participate in the formulation of local government budgets. This calls for Parliament, ministry of Finance
and local councils to work with existing structures to reach out to citizens,” he said.

Pepukai Chivore, an official from the Parliamentary Budget Office, also weighed in and said Zimbabwe
should utilise information and communication technologies to engage citizens and enhance
transparency in budget formulation.

“We need to ride on information technology for citizen engagement. Canada has the best model.
However, Zimbabwe has a low internet penetration ratio, I guess Parliament and ministry of Finance can
use a system that rides on free SMSs, UNICEF has it, it’s called U-Report,” he said.

Titus mangoma noted that there was no political will to include citizens’ views on the equal distribution
of resources.

“The budget is a very important document for every country but unfortunately we see there is more
prioritisation on political issues and elections where we see massive rallies in every district yet when it
comes to budgeting we find very few budget consultations, which are also done in urban areas and
mostly in hotels where a few people only manage to attend,” he said.

Augustine Manwere said it was critical for Zimbabwe to reform its budget preparation process and make
it comprehensive.

“A systems approach to the budget making process need to be redressed by factoring in the political
context and clash of interest between various stakeholders… The functionality of the budget rests on
the rationality of the custodian, who are parliamentarians as well as councilors. Without the logical
functionality of these key players the budget making process remains vague,” he added.

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