The Coordinating Assembly of NGOs (CANGO) under the Economic Justice Project notes with concern that the reason why there has been a misunderstanding between Parliament and the Executive is because the national budget systems are still closed to citizens.
While we would like to still congratulate the Minister of Finance, Martin Dlamini, for having delivered a budget amidst the financial difficulties over declining SACU receipts the precipitated Elnino Drought, CANGO would like to reflect on the budget speech and the reaction by Members of Parliament (MPs) over the national budget.
We applaud the Swazi nation for honouring their national obligation of being responsible citizens who pay their taxes. Whilst it is not easy particularly to individuals facing so many challenges to do, paying taxes is the right thing to do. Taxes have in the last few years seen an increase in domestic revenue, thanks to strategies implemented by the Swaziland Revenue Authority to ensure that this cap is increased.
However, it is not just about paying taxes that should be prioritised. The duty of the government of the day should be to realise that citizens’ demands more for services including access to health, education and water are met. What are of essence, however, are the inclusion of citizens and the openness of budget-formulation systems where the citizens, particular tax payers, would have a say in budgeting.
While MPs felt strongly about influencing the budget to the extent of rejecting it at first for reform, it must be remembered that under the Tinkhundla system of governance, the people they serve are at grassroots level. Unfortunately, the mechanism of involving citizens is at grassroots level is not realised.
The persistence of the problem leaves out also the MPs to get involved in the budget process whereas the global trend is to the effect that governments are now opening up debates to citizens who have views.
While the Executive could be presumed to prepare the budget in line with national priorities including the National Development Strategy, Poverty Reduction Strategy and Action Plan, Social protection, Sustainable Development Goals, African union Agenda 63 and the SADC Regional Indicative Programme, opening up to the public does not take away its powers.
The Hon Minister of Finance’s budget speech stated that the focus of the budget was in “Building Resilience and Boosting future Growth” whilst pursuing His Majesty, King Mswati III’s call for “Rising Above Adversity to create prosperity for all”. The Minister highlighted that the budget has a shortfall of 12.3 per cent of the GDP on projections. The concern we have is that with budget supplementary practices this shortfall is bound to further increase. We therefore urge the Minister of Finance for fiscal discipline and in this regard the Hon Minister should take bold steps to curb wasteful spending including fighting corruption.
There should be clear measures how government will spend according to what is available. The Minister stated that “dvula dvula” were responsible for expanding the budget deficit. We would like to applaud the Minister for addressing social protection issues by increasing the payment for the elderly, disabled and OVC support extended to secondary schools.
Whilst we would have appreciated an increase up to at least E600 per month for the elderly, we note the financial difficulties the country faces. Going forward, however, government should have social protection programmes which address social inequalities whilst enabling meeting basic needs. These caution wealth which tends to be concentrated in a few hands.
Allocations for drought and disaster relief, water sector, sanitation and earth dams are welcome as well. Other critical sectors such as health and Education were also areas of focus for the country. There is concern though that the country does not meet the 15% allocation for health as per the Abuja Declaration of 2001 and 10% for agriculture under the Maputo Declaration. Should the country fail to invest in agriculture, it could push the country’s hopes of meeting food security further.
Investing in youth
We also note with concern that the RDF and Youth Fund are not sufficiently budgeted for yet we know that over 50% of young people are unemployed. There is a call for countries in Africa to benefit from the young population through proper investment. It is a concern that scholarships continue to be a challenge in particular for students from poor backgrounds. It is time we re-visit the funding model so that the disadvantaged children have access to funding for tertiary education.
National security is indeed critical. However, there is need for the country to ensure that the investment is balanced with other pressing national development priorities.
The Economic Justice Programme will further analyse the budget to assist the civil society through AA Budget Forum to understand how the budget will respond to national issues of concern.