As is always the case when the annual ritual of tabling in parliament the government’s budget guidelines or expenditure proposals for the next twelve months is fulfilled, the theme is now automatically the centre of attention with most other development related issues delegated to the back burner.
A situation where members of the public are busy talking about budget related matters is not surprising, given the fact that government budget affects every citizen in one way or another, whether one likes it or not. It is under these circumstances that we join other commentators to make a few observations on the subject which is too important to be left to legislators alone.
Listening to comments being made by members of the public as they talk about the budget, and monitoring views aired by opinion leaders via the media, one gets an impression that there is a feeling of reserved optimism about the 2012/2013 budget - the central issue being whether it has potential to improve their lives during the next twelve months or not.
Several newspapers conducted interviews to get opinions of the common person about the budget. My attention was captured by one of the local dailies which brought us the impression of an interviewee on the budget under the headline of: “government budgets .are meaningless as costs continue to soar, bemoans a food vendor.” Remember a food vendor interacts with low level workers, small entrepreneurs, the unemployed, and you name them.
He/ She is an authority on the kind of life led by urban residents who leave from hand to mouth, and his/her comments on the budget can’t taken for granted.
The inference from the quoted vendor, who happens to be one of our social barometers, is that the common man and woman’s major concern is inflation, which officially stands at around 18.5 percent and remains unpredictable. In fact the reality on the ground is different, in the sense that prices of some essential commodities and services have of late doubled.
Economics experts are saying one of the ways of managing inflation is to increase food production by boosting agriculture. The budget speech highlights this clearly when it reveals that during April 2012 food prices contributed 24.7 per cent to inflation, adding that controlling rising food process, especially those of sugar and rice will be one of the government priorities in this area.
We are told measures to be taken immediately include issuance of sugar and rice import permits and strengthening the national food reserve.
There is also this promise by the government to invest in rice and sugarcane farming in great valleys of Kilombero, Wami, Kagera, Malagarasi, and enhancing several agriculture irrigation schemes.
Any keen observer who has been bothering to read the past annual budget speeches between the lines must have noted that such proposals recur every year, but our great valleys have never turned into national food baskets.
The minister of finance also admits that electricity tariffs and high prices of oil are other ingredients which add fuel to the inflation blaze.
Regarding addressing energy related problems, we come across another proposal-cum-slogan in the budget speech which says “the government will continue to develop alternative sources of energy such as natural gas, solar energy, wind, and sugarcane energy in order to reduce use of fuel as a source of energy”. Yes, one won’t be surprised if the above statement is cut and pasted in the 2013/2014 budget.
You also have a number of controversial observations made by parliamentarians and budget analysts which raise doubts whether the budget will work in the first place, and ease the economic hardships of the underprivileged in society.
One of the suspicions is that there might be serious financial leakage in the treasury itself, which is vindicated by the revelation that figures of the money collected and the amount disbursed to various ministries for expenditure do not tally. A worrisome aspect! And it is happening in an environment where misappropriation of public funds has been turned into a hobby by some public officials.
Reducing development budget is another area of concern to many, as this is bound to have a negative impact in the near future. Dependence on foreign funding continues, and practices which increase current expenditure have not been seriously addressed.
Of all the comments made on the budget, the one which has impressed me most is when a commentator said the devil in the 2012/2013 budget, like previous ones, lies in the implementation. This is an aspect our legislators must focus on throughout the year.
Henry Muhanika is a Media Consultant firstname.lastname@example.org