The Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Finance and Economic Development recently held a 2017 National Budget Consultative Meeting in Harare on the 14th of September 2016. The meeting sought to have citizens give recommendations on what should be included in the coming fiscal policy. The consultative meetings are being conducted across the ten provinces of Zimbabwe. Every year, the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development conducts national budget consultative meetings across the country in order to source for recommendations that are representative of the citizenry.
The meeting was attended by about ninety people including the citizenry who came in their own capacity, representatives of non-governmental organisations, the public and private sector. Although women comprised approximately half of the meeting, it was men who were more vocal on issues about debt management, corruption and mismanagement, education, implementation of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and youth issues.
In light of the discussion, Donald Taderera expressed that there is need for a thorough debt audit if Zimbabwe is to come out of debt.
“We would want to see a thorough debt audit so that we ascertain the exact amount of what we owe, who we owe and why we owe so that we are able to take the necessary measures to address the debts.”
In the same vein, a Representative of Youth Advocacy for Reform and Democracy (YARD) highlighted that the government should be accountable for the revenue it receives and expends by making sure that information is accessible to the public. He also recommended that in order for the government to reduce expenditure, it should look into reducing the number of congested Cabinet Ministers who should also be remunerated accordingly.
Tariro Senderayi, a representative of Youth Empowerment and Transformation Trust (YETT) added by highlighting that, “The Auditor General investigated ghost workers and they did not inform us of the actual findings. There is need to remunerate the actual civil servant if we are going to cost cut employment costs in the 2017 National Budget”.
Youth Organisations present emphasised that the 2017 national budget should focus on empowering young people through employment creation and skills development. Among the recommendations were:
- The Youth Fund should be accessible to everyone regardless of political affiliation and all funding processes should be transparent- (YETT),
- There is need for a fully operational legislation to put the National Youth Policy into life- (YETT),
- There should be an audit of Youth and Women Empowerment Schemes in order to monitor how money was disbursed in the past- Youth Advocacy for Reform and Democracy (YARD), and
- The government should allocate resources for young people with disabilities- Young Voices.
Representatives of the Zimbabwe Deaf Trust emphasised on the need for an interpreter when the committee is doing its consultative meetings so that deaf youths can understand and share their ideas. They also highlighted that the fiscal policy should provide for a sign language syllabus in schools.
One can argue that citizens who attended the meeting managed to air out some key elements that need to be considered in the coming budget. However, several core issues hindering women development were not mentioned yet they need to be addressed in the national budget. The minimum attention given to women’s issues during the meeting shows that the contributors did not find them pertinent enough. Without placing blame on those who contributed, some of the women present did not utter a word during the whole meeting which also contributed to their women’s issues getting minimal or no attention. Clearly there is still a gap in the active participation of women in influencing policy making.
While women in agriculture contribute 70% of labour, they face challenges which hinder them from becoming commercial farmers. They lack the necessary resources such as capital, expertise and inputs for them to effectively engage in large scale farming. The national budget should allocate easily accessible funds to specifically target the needs of women in agriculture.
The national budget should also finance women in the mining sector in order for them to be more productive. Because of financial constraints, some of them fail to pay for mining claims and levies. By making funds available for women miners, they will be able to fully participate in mining activities.
It has also been long since the proposal of a Women Development Bank (WDB) in Zimbabwe. Since the proposal of a WDB in 2015, the government has completely failed to support the initiative. This proves how much it fails to prioritise women’s concerns. The existence of a women only bank would help with easy access to loans without the hustle of competing with menfolk or dealing with stringent collateral agreements. Women can be more productive if they easily access finance to help with starting or expanding their businesses.
Women in the informal sector should also not be left out. The government should enact a duty free policy as an incentive for women who are in the informal sector. In Zimbabwe, women contribute 67% of informal traders but they face a lot of difficulties in their day to activities. Media Manyere, one of the women present at the national budget consultative meeting, commented that, “The government should create an enabling environment for the informal sector to operate. It should do away with the tough bi laws when we want to borrow money from banks.”
A woman who identified herself as Paidamoyo said, the government should invest money towards research and development of people with special needs.
“Empirical research should focus on going into communities in order to find out the challenges faced by people with special needs so that the budget can be allocated accordingly.”
In addition a member of The National Code on Corporate Governance (ZimCode) highlighted that money allocated towards the Social Welfare Department is inadequate to cater for people with disabilities because that is where most of them seek assistance.
“The Social Welfare Department has been underfunded in the past so the government should allocate more money for people with disabilities because that is where many of them go for help.”
Without viable sources of income, it is a challenge for such women to provide the necessary support to their loved ones. They also need to be catered for in the budget whether through the Social Welfare Department or other channels.
Key to development, are issues about women’s health and well-being. With a high maternal mortality rate in Zimbabwe, more money should be directed towards improving maternal health so that women do not die during child birth because of lack of necessary resources.
The youths present managed to speak out about a pro youth budget something the women who were present failed to do. In such public consultations, it is not only crucial for women to be physically present, but they need to collectively engage on issues affecting them. What happens if they don’t is that no one else will air out concerns on their behalf. Women should be more confident to constructively articulate on issues affecting their wellbeing and they have a duty to monitor any inconsistencies on allocation of funds to ministry departments they are affiliated with.
Public consultations are not enough if the government fails to implement the concerns of citizens. The government should take measures to also address the specific needs of women because they are the centre of national development. After presenting the 2017 National budget, the government should be accountable to citizens for the decisions it would have made.
Main image taken from www.thezimbabwean.co