Editorial: Responsive, responsible&impactful:How Mthuli Ncube’s 2023 budget can work for Zimbabweans
In the coming days, the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development will fulfil one of its important constitutional mandates: delivering the national budget. Against the backdrop of worsening poverty, dilapidated infrastructure and deteriorating social services, this is an opportunity for the government to address some of the most pressing problems facing the country.
Zimbabwe still lags behind the global average when it comes to genuinely fighting inequality despite government claims to the contrary. Government's claims seem to have no relationship with the facts on the ground. The damning indictment on Zimbabwe’s economic fabric is that inequality is on the rise. This is according to independent sources who analyse government behavior in terms of social spending, taxation and labour.
In this edition, we make a strong case for comprehensive tax reform in Zimbabwe showing how and why it is a minimum requirement. The poor are saddled by high taxes whilst benefiting little to nothing from it. Conversely, the rich and well connected including international corporations get away with little or no tax and in some cases, evade it with the connivance of corrupt civil servants and powerful politicians.
When the “New Dispensation” assumed power in 2017, it created the impression that it was doing away with the ‘old ways’ that had dragged Zimbabwe down. Chief among the pledges of the “New Dispensation” was fighting corruption and to immediately embark on lifestyle audits for senior civil servants. Since 2017, the government has harped about this for political expediency but it all turns out to be lip service.
Finance Minister, Mthuli Ncube arrived on the job amidst some considerable degree of optimism in 2018 when the new regime took over after long time ruler, the late President Robert Mugabe was deposed from power through a military assisted coup. A renowned academic and banker, Zimbabweans who believed in the promise of a post-Mugabe future, gave him the benefit of doubt. Soon, he announced austerity measures with the promise of the usual ‘endure now enjoy later’ rhetoric reminiscent of prudent budgeting. Ncube has on several occasions boasted that Zimbabwe has actually been posting a surplus as a result of its disciplined austerity measures. This has baffled millions of Zimbabweans who continue to toil and cannot make sense of or reconcile their daily misery with the Minister’s good numbers. Unless and until Zimbabweans can start receiving the dividends that Ncube touts, the economic growth story is too insulting; a fantasy that we don’t deserve or need. Zimbabweans will only feel this if the social services sector including in education, public works, health and social welfare are positively impacted. For the few that are employed in the formal sector, salaries continue to perpetually chase the inflation rate at an increasing rate and until their salaries are ahead of the race, the phantom economic boom will continue to exist in state media, political rallies and ministerial statements. This is why in this edition, we stress the need to deliver a pro-poor 2023 budget.
Covid-19 hit the poorest countries, (read the poorest sections of society) hardest due to their extreme vulnerability and exposure as no meaningful disaster preparedness or mitigation measures exist for them. In Zimbabwe, this also had the effect of widening the inequality gap. One of the most disturbing paradoxes in Zimbabwe therefore is the abundance of national wealth and revenues amidst plenty of misery. It therefore goes without saying that at the core of Zimbabwe’s problems as well is the distribution of income and any budget that does not take steps to redistribute income essentially exacerbates a problem it should be helping stop. As a policy instrument, budgeting remains a key intervention method that the government could and should use to lessen the heavy burden that Zimbabweans have bore for over two decades and counting. One way of doing this in a more effective way is to make the budget process itself participatory and inclusive through a genuine consultative approach. Nowhere else in the world is this needed more than in Zimbabwe where the governance system has for far too long been exclusionary, unaccountable and thereby unresponsive to people’s needs and expectations.