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Understanding the Parliamentary Budget Process

The Budget Process

Parliamentary budget oversight is at the heart of Executive oversight. Strong Parliamentary budget oversight is one of the mechanisms to promote a socially accountable governance system.

Importance of the Budget

The budget governs the allocation of scarce resources. A budget is a plan for acquiring resources (revenue) and how these resources will be utilized (expenditure) to achieve desired objectives. This plan (shown below) demonstrates how revenue is raised (where the money will come from) and the broad allocation of resources to objectives and activities for the coming year, as well as the spending departments or business units, to be accountable.

Formulation of the Budget

Section 305 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe authorizes the Minister of Finance to lay before the National Assembly estimates of the revenue and expenditure on a day the National Assembly sits before or not later than 30 days after the start of the financial year. Therefore, it is the role of the Executive to formulate and table the national budget before the National Assembly as it is only in the House of Parliament where a Money Bill can be introduced.

However, prior to the tabling of the revenue and expenditure estimates by the Minister, the budget review process provides for ministries or government departments to consult Parliament, through its portfolio committees, civic society organizations and the public during the process of budget bids formulation. Thus, draft budget bids and priorities for the next budget can be discussed with Portfolio Committees and other interested stakeholders before they are submitted to Treasury.

The Public Finance Management Act empowers the Budget Committee to conduct public hearings in order to solicit citizen input on priorities for the next budget. The hearings are conducted in all of the country’s 10 provinces.

In addition to the above, Parliament, together with the Ministry of Finance, organizes the annual pre-budget workshop that brings together MPs, Ministers, senior government officials and representatives of civic society organisations to further discuss sector priorities for the next budget before finalisation by Treasury.

At such a workshop the Minister outlines the budget framework and assumptions whilst Ministers and Portfolio Committee Chairperson and other MPs are given yet another opportunity to highlight priorities of sector Ministries. The pre-budget workshop assists the Minister to hear the views of members before finalizing the national budget. It is at the pre-budget seminar that the Budget Committee presents findings from the public hearings which it conducts annually to hear the views of the masses on the budget priorities.

There is also the Budget Strategy Paper that spells out the policy framework and priorities for the Budget. There is a need to analyse the annual estimates of expenditure and revenue within the context of the Budget Strategy Paper.

Presentation of the Budget and Process in Parliament

The Constitution requires the Minister to present the Budget in the National Assembly before the end of the year but not later than 30 days into the new year. After the presentation of the budget, portfolio committees invite government officials, interested stakeholders and members of the public to discuss the estimates of expenditure. The purpose of these meetings is to scrutinize the proposed estimates against the priorities agreed in the pre-budget process. It also gives an opportunity for sector ministries to reprioritize and receive recommendations to virement funds. Parliament can only move funds from one budget item to another but cannot increase the overall size of the budget.

During the general debate, the Budget Committee leads debate by presenting its report on the overall budget, mainly focusing on the broad fiscal and monetary measure proposed in the budget. Soon after the presentation by the chairperson of the Budget Committee, other portfolio committee chairpersons contribute to the debate by presenting their respective sector reports. Other members may also contribute to debate during this stage.

In the National Assembly, debate and approval of each Vote is done in the Committee of Supply. During this stage, portfolio committees have an opportunity to debate in detail their sector allocations. Recommendations to virement funds may be proposed and debated. Thus each vote is passed, with or without amendments. When the Committee of Supply passes all the Vote allocations, the Chairperson of the Committee of Supply will report the proceedings to the Speaker, who puts the report for adoption before the House. Upon the adoption of the report, the Minister introduces the Appropriation Bill to give effect to the report of the Committee of Supply. At the conclusion of all the processes in the House of Assembly, the budget is transmitted to the Senate that will in turn debate and only make recommendations for considerations by the National Assembly.

All Appropriation and Finance Bills must be passed by both Houses of Parliament. However, it must be noted that if the Senate delays in passing the bill, the National Assembly may veto the Senate and transmit the Bills to the President in the manner they were passed in the National Assembly. In other, the National Assembly is the supreme authority on Money Bills as these can only be introduced in the National Assembly which enjoys powers of veto on all the provisions of a money bill.

As stated in Part 2 of the Fifth Schedule of the New Constitution, the Senate does not have inherent powers to amend a Money Bill but can only recommend amendments to the National Assembly.

The Public Finance Management Act requires Government Ministries to prepare quarterly budget performance reports and submit them to the respective portfolio committees for scrutiny. The committees, with the assistance of in-house and outside experts, carry out a thorough analysis of the quarterly budget performance reports before calling the government officials for a discussion of the performance during the quarter.

Section 299 of the Constitution states that Parliament must monitor and oversee expenditure by the State and all Commissions and institutions and agencies of government at every level, including statutory bodies, government-controlled entities, provincial and metropolitan councils and local authorities in order to ensure that:-

.All revenue is accounted for;

.All expenditure has been properly incurred; and

.All limits and conditions of appropriations have been observed

Representation

Representation means that the Legislative Assembly must reflect the popular will as expressed in the choices voters make for their representatives in a free and fair election. A representative Parliament is one that is socially and politically representative of the diversity of the people and ensuring equal opportunities and protection for all its members.

As elected officials, MPs are expected to speak for and air the views of those who elected them to power or office. They are expected to represent the aspirations of the electorate and engage in debates that give prominence to the wishes and will of the citizens.

Decisions of MPs in Parliament must always reflect the national interest. In addition, MPs must communicate effectively and give feedback to their constituencies so that the electorate is kept informed of key national developments.

There must be a two way interactive and effective communication interface between the electorate and their elected representatives so that key issues are ventilated to relevant authorities.

Substantive representations mean interests, values, aspirations and opinions of the people being represented are truly promoted and succeed in becoming part of the policies implemented. At the very least, the aspirations of the people are truly promoted and have an influence on the formulation of policies.

NB: Decisions of MPs in Parliament must always reflect the national interest.

Source: SAPST Guidelines on Parliamentary Reporting

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Daniel Chigundu

Daniel Chigundu is a male journalist in Zimbabwe and has been practising since September 2009. He used to the editor for The Business Connect (newspaper) in Harare, has his own news website Tourism Focus which is biased towards the tourism sector. Daniel is also working with Magamba Network on their project called Open Parliament where they do live coverage of Parliamentary activities on Twitter and Facebook. He is currently the secretary-general of the Zimbabwe Parliamentary Journalists Forum, is a member of Zimbabwe Small Broadcasters Association and a board member of Digital Communication Network. He holds a Diploma in Communication and Journalism from the Christian College of Southern Africa (CCOSA), a certificate in Youth leadership training from the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES), a certificate in Citizen Journalism from Magamba Network and is currently a first-year student at Zimbabwe Open University studying for a Bachelor of Arts Honours in Ethics and Organisational Leadership.

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