FINANCE minister Mthuli Ncube (pictured) presented the 2022 National Budget yesterday, which did little to dispel his growing reputation as a sleek-talking merchant of mass impoverishment.
He may resort to the high-flown language of sophisticated algorithms to make himself sound like a well-meaning technocrat, but there are very few people who disagree with the court of public opinion which has since arrived at the conclusion that the professor and his boss, President Emmerson Mnangagwa, have vandalised people’s quality of life.
The budget failed to address the three pressing issues which are screaming out for attention: poverty, currency crisis and structural infirmities linked to corruption, bad governance and policy inconsistencies.
There were no tax breaks worth talking of in this budget; in fact, Ncube has piled on the misery by introducing new taxes. Figures do not lie. While Ncube was at pains to portray a picture of economic normalcy, the latest official statistics revealed the grim reality that year-on-year inflation rose to 58.4% in November from 54.5% in October.
The ultimate measure of a government’s economic policy is quality of life. Anything else is smoke and mirrors. When a regime makes it near-impossible for the average citizen to buy a loaf of bread, eat three square meals a day, afford decent shelter, healthcare and education, it has failed to govern and has no legitimate business clinging on to political power.
The few workers who still hold down a formal job have been reduced to paupers. As for the poverty-stricken majority in the informal sector who must eke out a living on the tough streets or at the mercy of hostile climate change, life is getting more unbearable by the day.
A budget is the most important policy instrument of a government. It is a qualitative and quantitative expression of state planning for a fiscal year. Although it is fundamentally a political statement, a budget reflects the economic priorities of those in power.
But it is crucial to guard against the arrogance of power. In the Zimbabwean polity, while it is the exclusive jurisdiction of the ruling elite to determine the direction in which the national budget takes, the government dare not ignore the concerns of the masses.
If legitimate political authority is derived from the consent of the governed, the national budget must, of essence, be an eloquent elucidation of the national interest. This national interest is supposed to transcend the untidy arena of the fleeting politics of the day; it must encompass the higher ideals of statecraft, national survival and prosperity.
Achieving national objectives requires commitment, diligence and practical action. A budget is reduced to a useless piece of paper if the government is not serious about its implementation. The only way in which a budget’s scope can go beyond the narrow definition of “estimates of revenue and expenditure” is when it is implemented as a public policy imperative and in the national interest. This is where the Zanu PF regime has been found wanting.
A good budget is not just a collection of the wishes of the ruling elite; it must be an organic, living and breathing public policy instrument that achieves clear goals and objectives, transforming the lives of citizens for the better.
When minister Ncube gloats about a “fiscal surplus”, he comes across as insincere to long-suffering citizens who feel insulted by flowery rhetoric meant to hide the ugly underbelly of bad governance.
This economy is a waking nightmare; anyone making utopian claims to the contrary must now budget for the inevitable backlash from half the entire population which is wallowing in untold poverty.