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 Uproar over 2024 budget

MARTIN MAWAYA

HARARE-Government has come under fire for conducting the 2024 national budget consultations virtually, which most citizens decried as elitist and discriminatory.

This week on Monday, the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on budget held virtual budget consultations which was attended by less than 50 people.

As a result of the technological and digital divide between urban and rural dwellers, most citizens rendered the process as a window-dressing aimed at rubberstamping elite budgeting in Zimbabwe.

Speaking to The Midweek Watch, Muchanyara Midzi who works with the economic think tank, Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development (ZIMCODD) said the approach alienates marginalized groups from participating, adding that there was no deliberate effort to accommodate the elderly and people with hearing and other impairments.

 “Zoom platform is not yet embraced by the majority of people thus, the consultations became a closed space for the rich who could afford data or working class who have access to Wi-Fi.

“As if it was not enough, the announcement by the Parliament of Zimbabwe that the budget consultations will be held virtually came barely three days before the actual consultations thereby not giving citizens sufficient time to prepare and make substantive budget contributions,” said Midzi.

She said the current process deliberately side-lined and shut out vulnerable communities as well as widening inequalities gap.

“It is clear that participating in a virtual budget consultation was out of question for vulnerable and marginalized groups. This is in spite of the fact that these groups not only constitute the bigger share of the population but also largely depend on public services, hence their voice in determining budget priorities and resource allocation was of utmost importance,” she said.

Ironically, the virtual consultation is being done at a time when the nation is experiencing severe power cuts and intermittent network connectivity in most parts of the country.

Central to the above challenges, is the “inhibitive data costs beyond the reach of many, high poverty and high cost of living has rendered data not a priority for most citizens,” added Midzi pointing out that the process was flawed, biased and undemocratic.

She however, implored the citizens to advocate for in-person budget consultations, sector based consultations and further decentralization of budget consultations to district and ward level to allow for broad-based pre-budget consultations.

Social and Economic Justice Ambassador (SEJA), Tendai Masora said the 2024 budget consultation process reflects a top-down approach that imposes predetermined spending priorities and targets on the people.

 She said the “consultation process was a mere formality that does not reflect the true needs and aspirations of the people”.

Masora urged the government to re-strategize the budget consultation process so that it will be more inclusive, participatory, and responsive to the people’s needs.

“I implore the government to adopt a bottom-up approach that respects the diversity and autonomy of the people.

“The budget consultation process should provide adequate information and education on budget issues, allows open constructive dialogue and debate that incorporate inputs and feedback of citizens in the final budget,” she said.

Recently, ZIMCODD conducted budget literacy trainings in over 20 districts across the country to strengthen the capacity of marginalized groups so that they understand the budget cycle.

Central to the trainings was citizen participation in budget formulation, monitoring, implementation and audit stages at both local and national level budgets.

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