Vendors Initiative for Social and Economic Transformation (VISET) takes note of the 2023 National Budget Presentation by the Minister of Finance and Economic Development Professor Mthuli Ncube on November 24 2022.
In our view, the budget falls way below expectations of informal economy expectations and indeed the majority poor that are trapped in survivalist mode of less than US$1.00 per day. We take a look at the particular sectors that we highlighted in the pre budget seminars attended by our members countrywide.
According to the World Food Programme (WFP), more than 3.8 million Zimbabweans in rural areas are at risk of starvation, 1.6 million in urban areas and some independent estimates saying 4.6 million children are living with malnutrition. These grim statistics would ordinarily mean that the Minister would increase the vote towards social protection, but in total only 1.12 percent of the budget was channelled towards this. The provisions that are outlined under social protection continue to be piecemeal and bureaucratic meaning that distribution takes lengthy intervals to reach intended beneficiaries meaning that value will have been eroded by the time it reaches intended beneficiaries. The cash transfer system currently in place for mostly urban dwellers and implemented with assistance from development partners has allegedly been manipulated by officials to favour certain groups of people.
Vulnerable groups such as people with disabilities are left scrambling for scant resources and we call upon the government to channel more resources to ensure access to funding to expand and grow their business, as most are in the informal sector owing to the lower barriers to entry.
Women, Gender, Equity and SMEs
The Minister in his presentation said that the focus was on ensuring mainstreaming of gender equality through empowering of women, the girl child and SMEs but this was in now way illustrated in the allocations. Empower Bank, the vehicle that government set aside for youths and SMEs was allocated ZWL 3 billion, which is in no way adequate to address needs of youths. Many of our membership has expressed frustration with the long turnaround period for funds disbursements, with some pointing out that the funds will oftentimes have depreciated in value when finally disbursed. The view was that the bank should decentralise its operations, as it was only in Harare and Bulawayo.
The Small and Medium Enterprise Development Corporation (SMEDCO) and the Zimbabwe Women’s Microfinance Bank were each allocated ZWL 3 billion, however the concern is that these are entities with stringent conditions for lending, unlike funds such as the Women Development Fund and the Community Development Fund which were allocated paltry amounts of ZWL 330 million and ZWL 370 million respectively, yet are closer to women, as they are accessible through ward officers deployed throughout the country. Our membership, which consists of over 62 percent women has often cited that much as the Ministry is decentralised, often there are inadequate resources to meet demand, thereby giving rise to alleged prioritisation of applications on partisan lines.
Many of our membership expressed concern at the lack of accessible primary health care, as should be accessible at local authority clinics in urban areas. Most of these face multiple crises of inadequate staff, equipment and drugs, with some reports of traders having to bribe staff in order to receive swift attention. The grim situation replicates itself at all major referral and district hospitals, with the Minister acknowledging a 13 percent vacancy rate amongst doctors and nurses, with it being more pronounced amongst specialist staff. The Abuja declaration speaks to governments dedicating at least 15 percent of the national budget expenditure to health, but the Minister has channelled only 11 percent to the sector, with no meaningful plan on how to retain staff and equip hospitals with much needed supplies.
Youth, Sport, Arts and Culture
We are heartened by the fact that part of our submissions were considered through the allocation by the Minister towards setting up of drug rehabilitation centres to tackle drug abuse amongst youths and the capacitation of vocational training centres.
We also acknowledge the allocation for the revamp of sports facilities and stadia, but at ZWL 1. 2 billion this falls way short of needs, considering the state of facilities throughout the country.
Devolution and Infrastructure Development
The Minister in his presentation did not specifically allocate an amount to market infrastructure development unlike in the 2022 budget and we view this as a retrogressive step. Instead, he seems to leave this to the respective local authorities as they will be allocated ZWL 195.5 billion in total, being 5 percent of anticipated revenue resources. This amount however is inadequate looking at the needs it must address, that range from market infrastructure, health, education, roads, water, sanitation along with purchase of plant and equipment.
Of concern is that government is yet to enact enabling policy, regulatory and institutional frameworks necessary to fully implement the devolution agenda, 9 years after the adoption of the constitution.
In conclusion, whilst the above is by no means an exhaustive analysis of the national budget, we at VISET sought to highlight some of the gaps that exist and will advocate through Parliament, for adjustments to be made to key provisions such as social protection in order to do away with piecemeal interventions that do not go to any lengths in addressing the needs of the vulnerable, who now make up the majority of our population.