Monday, October 26, 2020

Parliament’s involvement in preparing the national budget is overdue

The story that we carry elsewhere in this edition, in which the recently elected Chairman of the Parliamentary Finance and Estimates Committee says current budgeting procedures by the national treasury are flawed, should be an eye opener.

That said, what is refreshing and reassuring is a statement by the same man that, henceforth, parliament will be more involved in the preparation of that budget.

It gives a sigh of relief and hope that, at long last, we could be on our way to having a parliament that knows and uses the powers bestowed on it by the laws of the land.

All along, we always suspected that somehow our parliament was not doing its role.
Honourable Guma Moyo has just confirmed our fears and suspicions.

Blaming the cabinet, the law or attributing all faults on a lack of power as MPs like to do is just part of the problem, but, by and large, it borders on barking up the wrong tree.

What is important is to have a crop of MPs that grasped the intricacies of modern day administration like accounting, economics, public administration and finance.

Back to the issue: many Batswana of goodwill have always complained at the exclusionist manner at which the national budget is prepared in this country.

It is exactly because of the secretive nature under which the budget is prepared that a few years ago the late Member of Parliament, Maitshwarelo Dabutha, came up with allegations to the effect that the budget was prepared not in Botswana but in some college in Canada.

On the other hand, former leader of opposition, Kenneth Koma, used to lash out that he found no use in making contributions to budget debates in parliament because, from beginning to the end, the budget lacked legitimacy, as it was “undemocratic.”
We shall probably never know the truth behind Dabutha’s outbursts.

But Kenneth Koma’s concerns were genuine.
What Koma meant was that the budget was prepared not just secretively but, more importantly, to the exclusion of Members of Parliament who are not cabinet ministers; and, by extension, the nation on whose behalf the presumption is that it is prepared.
Sadly, at times we even get senior ministers saying they are not privy to the preparations let alone approval of the final draft of the budget.
So who owns the budget, and to who is that person(s) accountable?

It’s no secret that MPs only get to know about the contents of the budget speech the first time as the rest of the general populace.

Memories of former Member of Parliament for Kgalagadi Lesedi Mothibamele’s admission that he could not make sense of the budget are still fresh in our memories; and he was a senior cabinet minister at the time.

At one time, when called upon to make contributions to the budget speech, Oliphant Mfa stood up and asked to be given the money share of the funds appropriated his constituency at Nata/Gweta so that he could deliver it home. Such is the general ignorance among our MPs.

Today Mfa sits in cabinet and is expected not only to participate in deliberations leading to the final budget speech but to also participate in approving the contents of the final speech.

We cite these cases not to ridicule anyone but to simply point out that the manner in which the national budget is designed and planned is fraught with serious omissions and mistakes that cost the country.

The Public Accounts Committee has already written two or three reports indicating how the nation and parliament have been duped into false senses of economic feel-good.

We hope those times are behind us. For good.
We hope that without interfering and or usurping the functions, powers and privileges of cabinet, the Finance and Estimates Committee will interrogate the figures and statistics contained in the budget before such are fed the nation.

It is very important that on behalf of parliament and, indeed the nation, the Committee under the Chairmanship of Guma Moyo interrogates and questions the assumptions contained in the budget as well as try to make sense of the basis on which those assumptions are made.

Not only will this enhance the democratic ideals around the manner in which the national budget is prepared, but it will also ensure that Members of Parliament and, by extension, their voters have a certain degree in the preparation of the budget.
In February this year, parliament approved P5.8 billion for development projects.

How much of that money has been spent? What was the basis for the figure to be P5.8 billion? If the bulk of the money is not yet spent what could be the reasons?

All these are pertinent questions that Members of Parliament have to be asking themselves given that in less that two months, the Minister of Finance will once again be asking them to approve yet a few more billions.

As tradition dictates, they will oblige and approve it, but will they know the basis on which the minister predicates his assumptions?
That is the question.

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