Minister of Finance Felix Mlusu was all smiles yesterday as Parliament passed the K1.9 trillion 2021/22 National Budget within hours of commencement of the Committee of Supply where legislators scrutinise allocations vote by vote.
Members of Parliament (MPs) took about four hours to approve the 55 votes for government ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs).
In yet another rare occurrence during the Committee of Supply, there was no allocation to an MDA that faced rejection from legislators. In the past, some allocations have had to be reworked after rejection before the budget is passed.
Reacting to passing of the budget, Mlusu, who had 24 hours earlier adjusted the budget upwards by K5.5 billion, said he was grateful to the MPs for their inputs into the financial plan and also for dedicating their time to have the budget passed.
He stated he was pleased that MPs from both opposition and government sides supported the budget, which is a second financial plan for the Tonse Alliance administration ushered into power through the country’s first court-sanctioned fresh presidential election held on June 23 2020.
The minister said: “I am excited that the budget has passed in one day. I thank the members of Parliament for their understanding and time they put it to scrutinise it vote by vote.
“They raised issues which we addressed. That is why when it came to analysing vote by vote, most of the issues they raised had already been cleared and we did not have a problem and much debate on those votes.”
The 2021/22 Budget, first to incorporate the Malawi 2063 Vision and also the last budget to implement the Malawi Growth and Development Strategy (MGDS111), will cover the nine months period from July 1 2021 to March 31 2022. It is a transitional budget to the new government financial year set to start from April 1 instead of July 1.
Commenting on the recruitment of teachers, the minister said government is getting support from development partners to ensure that there are more teachers to reduce the teacher-pupil ratio.
Mlusu also called for prudence in the utilisation of the public money in the budget. He said that in future government will promote financial prudence to ensure that the money is used for the intended purpose.
But responding on the recruitment of teachers, Mulanje Bale MP Victor Musowa (Democratic Progressive Party-DPP) lamented that government has missed an opportunity to recruit more teachers through this year’s budget. He observed that the budget is silent on the recruitment of more teachers.
“There are many trained teachers suffering out there because of government’s failure to allocate funds for recruitment of the teachers,” he said.
Musowa also played down the minister’s explanation that the teachers will be engaged through funding from the World Bank, saying the support was mostly for the auxiliary teachers. He said the World Bank cannot employ teachers on full-time basis.
Musowa’s concerns echoed recommendations of the budget cluster committee on Education, Science and Technology which asked government to allocate K20 billion for recruitment of teachers.
The cluster’s chairperson Ephraim Nayeja, who is Thyolo North MP (independent), earlier called on government to recruit 11 000 teachers to improve education standards and decongest classrooms amid the third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic.
He said government was putting lives of teachers and learners at risk by not allocating funds to recruit more teachers.
On his part, Mangochi South West MP and Public Accounts Committee of Parliament chairperson Shadreck Namalomba (DPP) justified the unprecedented speed in passing the budget.
He said legislators had no issues with Mlusu as the minister had already addressed their concerns, citing the increased allocations to the country’s accountability institutions in.
However, the budget has passed with a yawning fiscal deficit of K723.8 billion, which is an increase from a deficit of K718.3 billion following the Tuesday upward revision of the financial plan by K5.5 billion.
To finance the budget, Mlusu will likely resort to domestic borrowing, which is expensive to the taxpayer in terms of interest repayments compared to external borrowing.
Already, the minister is facing growing criticisms from other economic experts who have expressed fury over an allocation of K299 billion solely for interest repayments.
In the 2020/21 National Budget, Mlusu also allocated a whopping K376 billion towards interest repayments and such an allocation was the second largest priority area in the budget after an allocation to education sector.