What was expected to be a presentation of a technical overview of the first half performance of the 2017/18 budget turned sour yesterday when the Budget and Finance Committee threw out a Treasury report.
The committee turned on Secretary to the Treasury (ST) Ben Botolo and his officials, accusing them of presenting a substandard report.
Botolo, alongside budget director Peterson Ponderani, appeared before the committee to provide an overview of the execution of the 2017/18 National Budget when they faced the cold reception.
The committee accused Botolo of ignoring summons to appear before it on several occasions and alleged that attempts to communicate with him had hit a wall.
“There is reluctance on the part of the Ministry of Finance to attend meetings of this committee and this has incapacitated our work to serve the people. We are very disappointed and unhappy,” committee chairperson Rhino Chiphiko said in welcoming Botolo and his team.
But other committee members were not so kind and diplomatic in their remarks on the matter.
A report presented to the committee without figures worsened the already tense atmosphere with committee members visibly angry. One committee member described the report as something a manager presents to a messenger knowing he would not understand anything.
Botolo’s earlier remarks that he had walked out of a meeting with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to attend to the committee did not please some members, among them Dowa West MP Alexander Kusamba Dzonzi.
Said Kusamba Dzonzi: “They [IMF] don’t represent any constituent, but we do. The people we work for, the people that pay you. They are not being serviced the way they have to through the submission of this poor, substandard and incompetent document and this is failure to represent the President.”
In an interview after leaving the committee room, Botolo said the ministry had not yet finalised the Mid-Year Budget Review which the members wanted.
He said: “We have not yet finalised the budget review, we are now with the IMF working on it. But the committee wants the budget review document when we have not yet completed the whole framework. The Minister of Finance has not even completed the framework. We cannot submit anything to the Budget and Finance Committee.”
Botolo confirmed that he submitted to the committee a summarised report with no figures because these were being discussed but the committee did not give them a chance to explain.
He also confirmed that he was not always available to the committee but there was room to liaise with other officials in the ministry such as the budget director.
Chiphiko said the committee would arrange another meeting with the ministry officials once they were ready to present substantive information on the performance of the budget.