Hon Folks, first, a question on best practices: Which must come first between planning and financing?
The plan comes first, right?
Not so with folks in government, at least not now when elections are just 14 months away. Finance Minister Goodall Gondwe saw a deficit crater in the 2017/18 national budget and decided a mid-year review. Nothing wrong with that!
The tweaking obviously took into consideration the forthcoming 2019 elections, who wouldn’t? According to Gondwe, out of the 85 development projects, government identified 15 must-be completed projects for which APM constituted a Cabinet Committee to monitor their implementation.
Other 26 projects were earmarked for funding that could allow for their implementation to “a stage where each is visible”. To these 41 fully or partly locally funded projects were added another 15 donor funded projects, resulting in a cool 56 projects to give the governing party a foot-stool in these hard fiscal times.
The remaining 29 projects, constituting more than a third of chitukuko earmarked for this year, were shelved and, according to Gondwe, will reappear in the next budget.
Gondwe disclosed all this was in his Mid-Year Budget Review Statement delivered in Parliament on Friday, February 16. He also said some of the funding allocated for the pended projects would be transferred to the prioritised projects while K34 billion would be used to repay “part of the accumulating domestic debt.”
The domestic debt referred to here is already at 25 percent of GDP, five percentage points above the internationally recommended threshold of 20 percent. Too much Government borrowing crowds out business borrowers and that is likely to have a negative effect on wealth generation and job creation.
In addition, if Gondwe and his colleagues get too cosy managing government business the katapila style, our innocent children will be forced to inherit our poverty and the debt burden.
All the more reason why my generation should feel duty-bound to ensure government doesn’t throw away our hard-earned tax revenue on things that don’t make sense.
Take the controversial K4 billion Gondwe thought he had secretly allocated to selected constituencies until the opposition protested when they got wind of it. Gondwe isn’t even consistent on where it came from.
On Wednesday he told The Nation reporter the money was from savings following the re-adjustment of the 2017/18 budget.
The following day the story changed and he said the money was not from the budget, yet he could not disclose the source.
Whichever was the source, Gondwe could have used the extra K4 billion to reduce further the domestic debt burden.
Instead, he said they agreed in government that the money could be used “more effectively in rural areas where it could sink boreholes, repair schools and build roads”.
Not that there was any proposal for such projects to inform such a decision. What was there is the K4 billion for which government identified 86 out of 193 constituencies represented in Parliament for splurging with K40 million each.
Wow! What a creative way to throw away public revenue for sheer political expediency? It’s common knowledge that local government coffers are so porous that almost half the money expended though Local Development Fund (LDF) and Constituency Development Fund (CDF) is either swindled or lost to inefficiency.
Yet this Gondwe, the champion of cutting down on wasteful spending, says someone told him and he agreed to quietly create a funding bypass from Capital Hill to “village or area development committees”!
Who was going to account for the splurge? Parliament should have demanded for that information. It should also have demanded for a disclosure of the 86 MPs who were earmarked the extra funding and the criteria used to select them.
Surprisingly, there was calm on the backbenches when Gondwe offered to have all 193 constituencies benefit from the funding. Before that the opposition was demanding resignation of the Finance Minister, describing the funding as illegal.
Does spreading the funding to benefit all MPs make it legitimate?