Wednesday, 7 November 2012

2013 National Budget: 'Last orders' for the inclusive government?

By Takura Zhangazha* 

This month Zimbabwe’s Minister of Finance will present the inclusive government’s last policy salvo in the form of the 2013 projected national budget.  It will however be presented without the air of finality I imply here.  That’s probably because it is an electoral budget both in relation to what will be its key priorities as well as in the relevant minister trying to pitch for his party’s performance legitimacy in the negotiated government.  The latter point is evidenced also by the promises prior to the presentation of the budget of not only bonuses but even pay increments for civil servants who are significant  national opinion makers in an election year. More-so after the informal announcement by  President  Mugabe that elections are scheduled for next March.

This fourth and final budget of the inclusive government will not be the subject of much debate in a Parliament that is close to the end of its term of office and more worried about party primaries than national policies. Neither will it be strenuously argued over in Cabinet, when both the President and Prime Minister are hopeful they will be presenting a less negotiated budget to a new Parliament in potentially less than six months.  So it will be a highly politicized budget with limited little by way of long term or firm policy directives. Except perhaps for the issue of civil service bonuses, income tax thresholds and customs duty on foreign goods.  And these are issues that will concern more the ordinary citizen than our ‘end of tenure’  political leaders. 

In fact our politicians are so conscious of their time being up. It has been reported in the media that members of Parliament are now asking for ‘exit packages’ or 'pensions' because they fear that they will not come back or will not have resources to launch re-election bids. And all of this somewhat conveniently before the budget is presented. Cabinet too is not to be exempted from this now apparent affinity for profligacy when one looks at Ministers' propensity to travel for almost every conference abroad  and other issues such as luxury vehicles in a country with inadequate and for the most part, dilapidated public transport. 

So as it is, the 2013 national budget might just be a case of ‘last orders at closing time’ for leaders and parties in the inclusive government. From ‘pensions’ through to the purchase of new vehicles for officials who have no more than six months left in office, these  ‘last orders’ will be many and will come from members of the parties in the inclusive government.  

What will be missing, once again, is a progressive policy imprint on the country’s economy not just for the year 2013, but for posterity. And this has been the problem of all of the last three budgets that have been presented by the inclusive government to Parliament.  They have not sought to provide a holistic and progressive framework that sets the country on a traceable economic recovery path. 

They have sought to 'stabilize' the neo-liberal framework that has informed the national economy since the years of Economic Structural Adjustment Programmes (ESAP).  This means instead of using the economic crisis of the late 1990s as well as that of 2007 to change the World Bank sponsored (and for the large part, failed) frameworks of addressing the challenges of the national economy, the inclusive government has merely perpetuated them.   

This has been done through reversion to the euphemistic public-private partnerships which have been more about ceremonies than real economic progress;  the continued state disinvestment in its own public infrastructure and social services much to the detriment of the livelihoods of many; the unmitigated and elitist courting of extractive foreign direct investment and the outsourcing of key state responsibilities such as drought relief and healthcare provision  to international organisations whose terms of reference and resources are not only limited but can also be selective. 

The parties in the inclusive government have however sought to blame each other for the incoherence of our national economy and their economic policies. One party will argue that agriculture is underfunded while another will say that mineral wealth particularly that accrued from diamond mining is not being adequately or properly remitted to the fiscus.  These sort of accusations may come with the territory that has been the inclusive government but are only symptomatic of the greater problem of the lack of a holistic understanding of the necessity of a progressive social democratic economy for Zimbabwe. 

For instance, even if one were to eventually be satisfied with the funding of agriculture a key question that would emerge would be why then export the cotton when we can manufacture (even with our dilapidated textile industry) clothing and clothing items here in Zimbabwe?  Similarly, even where the diamond revenue was to be remitted adequately, why would it be proposed that it be used to repay debt to the IMF as a priority over and above the rehabilitation of Parirenyatwa or Mpilo referral hospitals? 

It is however most unfortunate that the inclusive government’s approach to the national economy, as exemplified in the last three annual budgets, has sought more a return to a neo-liberal past and not a progressive social democratic future.  Where we await the 2013 one, we must be aware that it is the final one of the inclusive government and it is most likely to be about elections and the attendant politics thereto. This however does not mean it cannot be about the economy itself as opposed to political grandstanding over our right to vote. We must therefore query its fundamentals with a broader understanding of the economic progress we envision (in my case,  a social democratic one) that will improve and encompass progressive livelihoods for all Zimbabweans in the ‘now’ and for posterity.
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (