ENACTING the Private Voluntary Organisations Amendment Bill (PVO) is likely to promote unrestrained corruption as it will clamp down on watchdog institutions that have been providing oversight on public finance management, experts have warned.
Zanu PF is pushing for the PVO Bill, arguing that non-governmental organisations in the country were sponsoring opposition players and civil society actors to push for a regime change agenda.
The Bill is currently passing through the National Assembly, and the minister of Public Service, Labour, and Social Welfare has published a long list of amendments to the Bill which he proposes to move when it reaches the committee stage.
Civil society organisations (CSOs) believe the Bill will hamper progress that has been made in promoting accountability by institutions that manage public finances.
Zimbabwe was recently ranked third on budget transparency by the International Budget Partnership (IBP) in its Open
Budget Survey (OBS) report for 2021, with CSOs playing a pivotal role.
“The PVO Bill has a number of provisions which seek to shrink the civic space. The provisions undermine the effectiveness of civil society organisations that operate in public finance management,” said John Maketo, the Zimbabwe Coalition for Debt and Development (Zimcodd) programmes manager.
Zimcodd, one of the likely casualties of the Bill, has been instrumental in promoting transparency and accountability in public finance management.
“The provisions’ ban on the political involvement of CSOs, and the definition of political involvement is vague. Politics is regarded as the authoritative allocation of values or resources. In a way, this literally means that public expenditure tracking surveys or budget trends analysis will be classified as political involvement.
“The PVO Bill will also be used to target watchdog institutions that specialize in Public Finance Management. This will be done to undermine CSOs’ oversight role and facilitate the continuation of under-dealings and poor public procurement,” said Maketo.
Civil society has a myriad of roles in the budgeting cycle, according to an open-budget survey report by Zimcodd compiled by public resource management expert Vincent Chakunda.
“They contribute critical information on the public’s needs and priorities that can lead to stronger policy choices, draw more people into the debate by collecting, summarising into easily understandable formats, and spreading budget information, and train members of the public to understand and analyse government budgets themselves, supplement government’s capacity to budget effectively by providing technical support, whilst giving an independent opinion on budget proposals and implementation,” says the report.
In 2021, the national Treasury incurred unauthorised excess expenditure amounting to ZW$6 806 340 654 as a result of unallocated reserve transfers made to line ministries amounting to ZW$7 386 995 654, far exceeding the approved budget of ZW$580 655 000.
An analysis of the Auditor-General’s report for the year ended 2018 shows that transactions worth US$5.8 billion, 5 million euro, and 319 thousand rand had financial irregularities ranging from unsupported expenditure, excess expenditure, and outstanding payments to suppliers of goods and services, transfers of funds without Treasury approval, among other problematic issues.
This constitutes about 82% of government expenditure for 2018.
Report ffindings show that people lack confidence in legislative oversight institutions, hence trust in CSOs.
In the same year, unauthorised expenditure amounting to US$3.2 billion was incurred by the ministry of Finance and Economic Development in violation of section 307 of the constitution which requires the ministry to introduce a Bill in the National Assembly seeking condonation for the unauthorised expenditure.
The money has not been accounted for to date, and CSOs have been working to ensure accountability and transparency in use of public funds by some of the institutions overseeing public finance.
“About 35% of the civil society organisations, mainly resident’s associations are not institutionalised due to limited financial resources. As such, their efforts to hold the duty bearers accountable remain minimal as they do not have a significant contribution to the governance processes.
“Whilst civil society has the potential to be a viable voice of the voiceless and the eyes and ears of the urban citizenry, the research results indicated that there is often a discord in the policy direction of residents’ associations in areas where there is more than one association as competition for resources may end breeding friction which eventually diverts them from their core function,” says the report.