September 12 2019
So Minister of Finance, Economic Planning and Development Joseph Mwanamvekha tabled the 2019-2020 National Budget this week. Like any other budget, it has its ups and downs.
The K1.7 trillion financial plan has received mixed reactions. The most surprising proposal government made, like I said last week, has been the inclusion of a K1.6 billion for the construction of stadia for football teams Nyasa Big Bullets and Mighty Be Forward Wanderers. How that clause ended up in the budget after so much opposition is still baffling!
Counting the real cost of K1.6 billion, I understand, it is 12 primary schools complete with four blocks housing two classrooms each, 16 toilets, two teachers’ houses and a staffroom. While sports is important, like many have said, government spending on private football teams does not add up.
As the world is going for green and clean energy, Mwanamvekha deserves kudos for removing value added tax (VAT) on solar panels, batteries, accumulators and lamps, energy-saving bulbs, liquid petroleum gas (LPG) and gas cylinders as well cook stoves.
With the incessant blackouts, the use of solar energy as an alternative source is the way to go. And to discourage the use of charcoal and firewood, other sources of energy for cooking must be cheaper and if the budget passes, it is expected that these products will be cheaper and more accessible.
Even further, with solar energy being far much cheaper for irrigation, it is expected that the farming community will benefit.
But then, my major worry is not necessarily on what the budget contains or not, for that has been tackled extensively. I am more than worried because no matter how flowery a budget maybe but if nothing is done to check over-expenditure; we will not move an inch in development.
When he was Minister of Finance, Friday Jumbe once titled his budget: ‘Living Within our Means’. It defined the importance of being frugal on how we use the national pulse.
As a matter of fact, some of the budgets have centred on the importance of being thrifty with the national coffers. Ken Kandodo brought us the Zero Deficit Budget (ZDB) while Maxwell Mkwezalamba came with the Cash Budget. At the turn of the millennium, Matthews Chikaonda brought his own built around a 10-point Plan.
Budgets come and go, but still we continue to live beyond our means. It was only in December last year that the then Minister Goodall Gondwe said six months before the next budget, State Residences, police and the army had already depleted their allocation in the budget presented in June.
The propensity for government agencies, departments and ministries (MDAs) to spend beyond their means needs constant and brutal checking. Without checking, we will continue to dig deep into the treasure chest.
Over expenditure, rooting from bad financial management leads to excess borrowing, especially through commercial banks. This, in turn leads us to fathom what deficit we will have as the year ends to check our performance.
The effects of such over-spending and excess borrowing are far-reaching. For one, projects take longer to finish. There have been so many road projects that have been included in national budgets for years on end. Progress on such roads has been minimal. How many times has government allocated funds for the construction of the Mzuzu YouthCentre and yet nothing has been done?
It is my view that if, for instance, parliamentarians pass the allocation of K1.6 billion for the construction of stadia for Bullets and Nomads, next year the government will come again with another allocation for the completion of the stadiums. Is this not unnecessary spending?