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Cablegate: Parliament Budgetary Process

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.




E.O. 12958: N/A



1. This year represents the second time in Parliament's
20 year history that the budget bill has been
disaggregated and subjected to a serious review by
Parliament's newly (2000) created portfolio committees-
consisting of Members of the ruling and opposition
political parties. This new, more transparent and
inclusive approach to law making has seen the addition
of outside experts, civil society organizations and
interest groups participating in a critique of
government's public policy objectives. The unique
innovation this year was the early engagement of
portfolio committees with the ministries they shadow to
discuss the 2003 budget requests. Inclusive public
hearings that discussed those requests were held in
April, well in advance of the official submission of the
2003 budget bill in late November. In a number of
instances, agreements made between committees and their
ministries were reflected in the final budget bill.
Particularly effective were the Health and Child Welfare
Committee, and the Agriculture and Lands Committee,
which demonstrated significant influence over the

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2. Despite this encouraging process, the disappointment
of the year centered on the official review of the
budget bill in November. The budget bill was delivered
very late in the year which limited the amount of time
for the committees to do a final review. Its
assumptions were widely criticized as unrealistic and it
did not address any of the underlying economic problems
plaguing Zimbabwe. The notice given to civil society
and interest groups was insufficient to ensure their
full participation. And the House, through the
duplicitous action of the Minister of Justice, managed
to pass the budget with virtually no debate and no
amendments, marginalizing the portfolio committees'
November recommendations for change and improvement.
The result is that the Parliament did not follow through
on an otherwise promising process of early engagement
with the executive and civil society to ensure that the
additional changes called for in the review of the
Budget Bill were enacted into law. Although the
Executive Branch will ignore or marginalize Parliament
when necessary, strengthening an institution that will
play a crucial role in a future democratic Zimbabwe and
which currently provides a rare opportunity for regular
interaction between ZANU-PF and MDC politicians is an
objective worth supporting. End summary.


3. Based upon lessons learned last year with the budget
bill, parliament's portfolio committees began their work
in preparation for the 2003 budget request in April,
seven months prior to its submission to Parliament.
These reviews with senior ministry representatives and a
broad range of stakeholders focused on government
spending compared against previously agreed upon
objectives, policies and program targets. The
committees were aided by locally hired consultants drawn
from the private sector and university community (with
expertise in each sector). The hearings received some
media attention and were well attended. Civil society
organizations offered their views, shared their
expertise, and provided the useful scrutiny. Five
committees in particular led the way in a proactive
approach to law making and establishing a firm basis for
effective executive oversight and improved
accountability: the Agriculture and Lands Committee;
the Health and Child Welfare Committee; the Local
Government Committee; the Education Committee; and the
Mines, Energy and Tourism Committees (two chaired by
ZANU-PF and three chaired by MDC).

4. The 2003 budget bill was presented by the Minister of
Finance against a backdrop of economic turmoil, driven
largely by political instability and crisis economic
mismanagement. The budget presented a cogent
description of the problems facing the economy as well
as a reasonable set of explanations for many of the
causes. What it failed to do, however, was offer any
practical or effective solutions. The budget speech
proposed some controversial and unpopular measures
reported reftel but offered very little in the way of
economic stimulus to increase investment and
productivity, encourage exports, create jobs or to
effectively curb a rising rate of inflation.

5. Parliamentary Committees went to work on this budget
bill, breaking it apart by sector or "Vote" while the
Budget, Finance and Economic Development Committee
looked carefully at the macro economics and public
finance aspects of government's proposed spending plans.
A team of four practicing economists, hired by USAID's
Parliamentary Strengthening Program, assisted the
committee in its review of the budget and held a
briefing for all Members of Parliament (MPs) to raise
pertinent issues before the portfolio committees got
down to work. Among other things, the Budget and
Finance Committee raised concerns about inter-sectoral
allocations and how they track with pronounced
government policy, about the preference for consumption
as opposed to investment expenditures, and about how
these expenditure proposals fair in light of inflation
or in real terms compared to previous years. Portfolio
committees looked at overall spending proposals compared
to ministry budget requests, examined what the proposed
reductions would mean in practical terms and queried
intra-vote allocations against stated objectives,
priorities and likely outcomes. All this was done in
full public view, with stakeholder representatives,
government officials, consultants, advisors and
journalists present and reports were tabled in the House
on the findings and recommendations for change and

6. The results of all this laborious process, based upon
a re-engineered legislative process as recommended by
the Parliamentary Reform Committee in 1998, were
disappointing. The reports provided to Parliament by
the committees were delivered, but debate was limited on
the House floor by the Leader of the House, Patrick
Chinamasa. Moreover, most Ministers failed to show up
in the House during the tabling of committee reports,
opting for the Minister of Finance to answer questions
that the reports raised in general terms. The Minister
of Finance's frequent refrain was that there was no
money to do the things that committees and government
departments favored. There was virtually no response to
suggestions to rethink priorities and rearrange planned
expenditures based upon the committees' discussions and
reports. This marginalizing of committee work in the
House undermined the authority of both the ZANU-PF and
MDC portfolio committee chairs.

7. More disturbing was a maneuver by the Leader of the
House in which resulted in no debate taking place on the
individual votes. An agreement was made between the
Leader of the House and the Leader of the Opposition
that they would each consult their party caucuses before
debating the budget bill, had been made, but the Leader
of the House defaulted on his word. He literally
rearranged the order of items for review to deal with
the budget bill when Members from both the opposition
and ruling party were out of the chamber for the tea
break. With only 18 out of 150 members present, he fast
tracked the 2003 budget and passed it without any real
debate on the House floor.


8. The 2000 Parliamentary Reforms from the 4th
Parliament set out an ambitious set of reform objectives
intended to strengthen Parliament as an institution.
The introduction of a multi-party legislature and the
reaction by the ruling party to this challenge has made
the reforms more difficult, and at the same time all the
more necessary. The changes in the legislative process,
as illustrated by the 2003 budget bill, show that some
important tenets of democratic governance have been
incorporated and are in the process f being
institutionalized. The establishment of portfolio
committees to shadow the ministries, the use of outside
expertise in reviewing bills, and the inclusion of civil
society, interest groups and journalists are all new
ways of doing business. As a result, the MPs have
gained expertise and understanding of government
programs, identified with key constituencies, and
improved their ability to offer constructive suggestions
for change and improvement. The fact that government
spares no effort to marginalize these contributions when
legislation reaches the House floor suggests how
insecure and defensive the government is in the face of
perceived threats, both real and imaginary.

9. Despite the final disappointment of the budget
process, we anticipate that Parliament's committees will
continue to monitor government performance. Both the
ZANU-PF and MDC chairpersons take their roles seriously.
As USAID's Parliamentary Strengthening Program continues
to support the Portfolio Committee system, it helps to
operationalize the reform program and bring a new way of
doing business in Parliament. USAID also supports and
trains a core group of 16 civil society organizations
that advocate to the portfolio committees in order to
create more valid engagement and more constructive
dialogue between the two sides. This two-sided equation
of the USAID democracy and governance program has
ensured that Parliament offers a venue for bringing
together civil society and ministry departments to
debate issues and make recommendations that heretofore
where outside their realm of influence. The long-term
challenge for these reforms will be to enact change on
the floor of the House and to produce final legislation
that meets the litmus test of democratic reform. In the
meantime, however, institutional change at the committee
level continues to create a space that will hopefully
permit the parliament at some future point to
effectively address the enormous political obstacles
present in Zimbabwe today. WHITEHEAD

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