In a rare moment coming at a time when public finances and debt are getting out of control, the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning has gathered its critics for 2011/ 12 budget consultation next week.
The gathering, named Budget Pitso, is a culmination of concerns from the industry and NGOs that Botswana public budget is done in ‘secrecy’.
“We are doing this because of the background,” explained Kenneth Matambo, the Finance minister. “We have been criticised about government budget and people heard only about it when it is presented in Parliament. Maybe the criticism was valid.”
A number of policy think tanks like BIDPA and trade unions have queried the way budget formulation is being conducted.
Botswana budget only gets to be scrutinised when it reaches parliament where legislators debate it. For the public, it is even worse as they only see the minister reading it on national television stations and newspapers.
The stakeholders felt left out on the consultation process therefore concluding that there is something that the state is hiding.
The stakeholders will be able to dialogue on Botswana’s budget preparation and consultation mechanism. The Pitso will also get input from stakeholders on strategy priority issues for the 2011/12 financial year.
“We are good listeners and we had listened by organising these consultations. We have a long list of stakeholders we think are important. We want to show there is really nothing to hide. Perhaps we could benefit from them,” added Matambo.
The stakeholders will be briefed on a wide range of issues, including the state of the economy and projections; importantly briefing them about government revenues, balance of payments, government debt and everything which is taken into account when preparing the budget.
Solomon Sekwakwa, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance, came to defence of the ministry saying consultation in doing the budget is extensive, especially at the district level.
He said in the past their shortcomings could have been the extent of the coverage. Most of the consultations have ignored the kgotla, which is a traditional platform for discussing cultural, economic and political issues.
Charles Tibone, the assistant minister, said the Budget Pitso will not necessarily be everything, adding that the ministry will naturally bring the issue of budgeting during kgotla meetings.
The minister expects to highlight the budgeting issue next week when he addresses a kgotla gathering in Kgalagadi along other issues. The same will be raised in the Bobirwa area where the minister will have a visit.
The Budget Pitso will take place on Thursday 28 October 2010.