BILL WATCH 40/2022
[29th August 2022]
National Assembly’s Progress on 2022 Supplementary Budget
Tuesday 16th to Thursday 18th August 2022
This bulletin aims to bring readers up to date with the events in both Houses of Parliament last week, on Tuesday 16th, Wednesday 17th and Thursday 18th August. Both the National Assembly and the Senate then adjourned until Tuesday 23rd August..
Update on PVO Amendment Bill:
Speaker’s Ruling on Validity of Committee Stage Still Awaited
The position remains as it was in our last update on this Bill, in Bill Watch 28/2022 [link]: the Speaker’s ruling is still awaited on the Opposition MPs’ objections to the completion of the Committee Stage on the 26th July. The House voted for all the considerable number of new amendments the Minister of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare introduced, BUT when MPs tried to debate them via the usual virtual platform – it either did not work or they were cut off.
The Speaker has still not given his ruling on whether the Bill can go back to Committee Stage, and in the meantime the House has been preoccupied with a mid-year Supplementary Budget. Some MPs have managed to keep the issue alive by:
- on 27th July, protests over their effective exclusion from participation in the Committee Stage, on which the Speaker said he would give a ruling after having considered Hansard and listened to the audio recording of the previous day’s proceedings;
- on 17th August, renewed protests and Hon Gonese’s so far unsuccessful attempt to move a motion for the Bill’s recommittal to the Committee stage, which was said by Parliamentary officials, without reasons being furnished, to be “inadmissible”. When Hon Gonese raised the issue, the Deputy Speaker assured him he would be furnished with the reasons. [Standing Order 160(3), cited by Hon Gonese, seems to allow him to move a motion for the recommittal of a Bill, even at this late stage].
In the meantime the Parliamentary Legal Committee [PLC] have issued a non-adverse report on the Amendments, but it should be noted that, if the Bill goes back to Committee Stage and if the amendments are changed, this report will be null and void.
Supplementary 2022 Budget Debate in the National Assembly
The National Assembly spent most of its sittings from 16th to 18th August debating the Minister of Finance and Economic Development’s fiscal policy review statement and his Supplementary Budget for the rest of the 2022 financial year
Tuesday 16th August until 6.16 pm The first contribution to the debate came from the chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Budget, Finance and Economic Development, Hon Dr Nyashanu, who presented the Committee’s report on the Minister’s statement and Supplementary Budget proposals; the report is available on the Veritas website [link]. The committee recommended approval of the proposals – subject to the making of a number of amendments, including one that would increase the Minister’s proposing raising of the Intermediated Money Transfer Tax [IMTT] threshold from the current ZW$1,000.00 to ZW$10,000.00 [instead of the Minister’s proposed ZW$2,500] – “in order to make a meaningful impact on disposable income and on the lives of the people”.
The report was followed by contributions from MPs of both parties. These included a lengthy and highly critical speech from Hon Biti, the former Minister of Finance in the Unity Government from 2009-2013, who began his speech by ridiculing the near-doubling of the original Budget being described as “Supplementary” which usually implies about 10 to 20% increases. He ended with a call for: a credible macro-economic framework; a solution to the exchange rate problem [in his opinion, to float the Zimbabwean dollar]; Government’s living within its means; fiscal prudence; payment of civil servants, including teachers and MPs, in US dollars; adequate funding of agriculture and social services; and dealing with corruption and cartels. Hon Biti was followed by some twenty other MPs during the afternoon, including Hon Nduna [who stressed the urgent need for the Mines and Minerals Act to be amended to reflect current reality], Hon Mushoriwa [who underlined the fact that from 2015 to 2020 there had been consistent over-expenditure by the Government – which had not, as yet, been condoned – and predicted that there be further over-expenditure this year, even if the House approved the Supplementary Budget].
Wednesday afternoon until 6.53 pm After Question Time, which took up about half the afternoon’s sitting, the National Assembly resumed the Supplementary Budget debate. Further contributions were made by MPs, including Hon Prof Mashakada, who presented an analysis of the economy’s problem and called for a National Economic Council, which should be a broad based council of economic experts from industrialists, labour, business, and academia, and act as a think-tank to advise Government on macro-economic policy; he said experience in the USA, Kenya, Malaysia and all the successful south-eastern economies had proved the value of such a council. Hon Mashakada was followed by five other MPs before the Minister began his reply to the debate.
The Minister began by thanking the Portfolio Committee for “constructive suggestions” in its report and other contributors for a “very robust debate” but warned the House that the aim of the Mid-Term Statement and Supplementary Budget “was to realign public finances in order to ensure that the objectives of the 2022 National Budget are met. However, some of the issues raised by Hon. Members and recommendations thereof will be considered going forward, particularly during the 2023 budget formulation process” – which, he said, was only some three months away.
He defended his Ministry against accusations of poor economic forecasting for 2022 by pointing out that international financial institutions had also had to revise their forecasts for the year [although hardly doubling them].
On the uneven pattern of Budget disbursements to Ministries, Departments and Agencies [MDAs] in the first half of the year, which he referred to as “over-performance” by MDAs who had received more than their share [e.g., Office of the President and Cabinet and Ministry of Agriculture] and “underutilisation” by those receiving less [e.g., Parliament] while referring to other factors affecting disbursements.
When the automatic adjournment came just before 7 pm, the Minister had not finished his response to points made during the debate.
Thursday afternoon until 6.15 pm The Minister completed his response to the debate on Thursday afternoon. His motion for leave to bring in a Finance Bill was then approved and the Minister accordingly presented the Finance Bill which is numbered H.B. 9, 2022 [link]. The Bill was given its First Reading and immediately referred to the PLC for a report on its consistency with the Constitution. The House then began considering the Supplementary Estimates of Expenditure, also known as the Blue Book because the hard copies of the Estimates traditionally come with a dark blue cover.
Consideration of Supplementary Estimates of Expenditure [link]
For this part of the Supplementary Budget proceedings National Assembly sits as a committee of the whole House called the Committee of Supply. Normally, Supplementary Estimates provide for only a handful of Ministries and departments. For this particular “supplementary” exercise, however, the Estimates in fact contain exactly the same number of parts [called “Votes”] as the original Estimates for the whole of 2022, i.e., thirty-five in all.
Vote 1, the Office of the President - MPs had no difficulty on Thursday afternoon approving this after a short discussion.
Vote 2, Parliament - the Minister soon ran into trouble with this. MP after MP complained about the paltry salaries and allowances of members of the Legislature as compared with MPs in other African countries and the members of the two other branches of Government in Zimbabwe, the Judiciary and the Executive. Given their responsibilities, MPs said, they were entitled, not only to increases in salaries and allowances, but also to suitable constituency offices and support staff to assist them in dealing with constituents’ problems and conduct constituency business. Also raised were the issues of late funding of the Constituency Development Fund and non-payment by Parliament of hotel bills for MPs, which had led to the recent undignified and embarrassing refusal to accommodate MPs by hotels. The Minister responded to these complaints by suggesting that, in the interests of making progress, the House suspend the decision on the vote for Parliament and deal with other votes. MPs, however, rejected this suggestion, insisting that the Minister should come up with a solution before the next sitting on Tuesday 26th August. On that note the House adjourned at 6.16 pm.
Business in the Senate 16th to 18th August
There was no Government business for Senators to consider. Apart from the usual Question Time on Thursday 18th August, Senators occupied themselves debating a new report by the Thematic Committee on Gender and Development on its March 2022 benchmarking visit to Rwanda on women’s participation in leadership, politics, decision-making positions and women empowerment in the socio-economic sector. The message conveyed by the report was that Zimbabwe has a lot to learn from Rwanda on these subjects.
On Thursday the Senate approved Senator Chinake’s motion calling on the Government for policies that address and plug loopholes related to tax evasion, illicit financial flows and corruption in the mining sector, thereby promoting transparency and accountability of revenue generated.