Every year, the Minister of Finance tables in Parliament financial estimates which when passed as the Appropriation Act becomes a law authorising the Malawi Government to raise and spend public money.
Through national budgets or expenditure plans, governments around the world implement their development plans to foster economic prosperity as well as eradicate or reduce poverty.
We can, therefore, also say that a national budget represents a contract between a government on one hand and the citizens or the people, on the other.
In one of his addresses tackling budgeting issues, the 44th United States President, Barack Obama, summed it up better when he said: “A budget is more than just a series of numbers on a page. It is an embodiment of our values.”
How I wish our duty-bearers looked at the national budgets from the perspective that it is a contract setting out the values and aspirations of government to improve the welfare of the people.
We, the governed, need to shine the light brighter on the implementation of our national budgets because this is where medicines and other supplies for the young woman seeking service from a public health centre at Madede in Mzimba are provided for. It is through the budget that the smallholder farmer at Mvera in Dowa will access the Affordable Inputs Programme (AIP) as will learning and teaching materials for that teacher at Namadidi in Zomba.
It is a fact that ever since development partners suspended their direct budgetary support in the third quarter of 2013 over poor public finance management concerns, Capital Hill’s implementation of the budget has never been the same.
In the absence of the donors’ estimated contribution of 30 percent to the recurrent budget and at least 85 percent in the development budget, Malawi’s national budgets have hardly matched what is on paper. The trend has been to allocate the barest minimum resources to the various sectors and the challenges are there for all of us to see through lack of medicines in public hospitals as well as failure to execute projects within deadlines, among others. It is little wonder we are not making progress.
This week, it emerged that the country’s four city councils collectively received a paltry K4.4 billion out of the total K24.9 billion Parliament approved in the 2021/22 National Budget which expired on March 31 this year. The funds were meant to finance rehabilitation or construction of roads. The result is that residents have been denied good roads. If they take shape, the cost will not be the same.
The other day, when President Lazarus Chakwera went on his crop inspection outing, some legislators and chiefs narrated to him the mess that rocked AIP and left purported beneficiaries struggling to get inputs. The issue was beyond logistics. It also bordered on funding. It is surely not asking for too much to request for an audit of the AIP where taxpayers put in over K140 billion.
Governance agencies, including the Anti-Corruption Bureau, the Office of the Ombudsman and Malawi Human Rights Commission are equally struggling to carry out critical tasks due to erratic disbursement coupled with funding cuts.
But Treasury insists funds are available for most of the budgeted for activities and, instead, claims that ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) do not submit paperwork requesting funding on time. However, in the face of dwindling domestic revenue collections, the key source of financing the budget, one can only take Treasury’s position with a pinch of salt.
The reality is that the centre cannot hold. Economic growth was projected at 4.1 percent, but the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have already slashed it to around two percent due to several factors, including natural disasters and international geopolitics. Foreign exchange is critically low too while inflation rate appears “artificial” as are interest rates.
If ‘Canaan’ remains the destination as promised by Tonse Alliance, the leadership should face the realities and make hard choices, trade-offs, credible revenue projections and sustainable expenditure as well as policies to resuscitate the economy currently in the intensive care unit.
Malawians will make it to ‘Canaan’ the day the leadership starts doing business unusual by taking seriously budget implementation, fighting corruption that drains up to 30 percent of resources approved by Parliament and punishing public officers who flout the Appropriations Act because they are giving people a dish they did not order.