The Parliament Portfolio Committee on Finance and Economic Development has begun nationwide public consultation on the 2023 National Budget.
The consultation, which is an annual process, began in earnest on Monday, with legislators expected to go around the country, gathering views and aspirations from members of the public, on their expectations from the national budget.
Although public hearings are expected to be held physically across the country for some days until next week Friday, virtual consultations will also take place in a process that will afford the general public a platform to input their views in the forthcoming national budget.
In the last few days, individuals representing a broad spectrum of socio-economic backgrounds have been converging in different areas across the country to input into the national budget crafting process.
While a myriad of issues has so far been raised, what is clear is that the citizenry is calling for continued improvement of their lives.
The majority want allocation of more resources towards processes and systems that promote good standard of living, resources towards employment of the youth, gender equality in the allocation of resources, and the improvement of health services in Zimbabwe.
During one of the meetings held in Shamva early this week, participants requested that Finance and Economic Development Minister Professor Mthuli Ncube in his budgetary allocation adhere to the dictates of the Abuja Declaration, which calls for the mobilisation of more resources from the Government coffers for the health sector.
Last year, Treasury allocated $117,7 billion to the Ministry of Health and Child Care which represented about 12,6 percent of the total budget.
However, the money was not much compared to the insurmountable challenges that were being faced in the sector.
As a result, the health delivery system remains overwhelmed by a myriad of issues that require substantial funding.
Most facilities at public health institutions need a retouch and facelift, owing to continued usage by thousands of people, who cannot afford the exorbitant medical fees being charged by private health institutions across the country.
The consequential effects of the Covid-19 outbreak on health facilities in most public institutions across Zimbabwe were so damaging that Government will need to pump more money to resuscitate some of the struggling health sections.
It is, therefore, not surprising that investing in health is a common thread cutting across in most budget consultative meetings that have been held so far, because the majority of people are struggling to keep up with steep medical fees that are being charged in private institutions.
The contribution is not misplaced because apart from ensuring good quality services in the sector, investments in health have ripple effects, which are heavily tied to economic growth in most economies.
Over the years, strategic investments in health have shown that they do not only deliver better health and improve well-being for more people, but they also bolster economies, create jobs, and enhance personal productivity.
In other words, investing in health is a vital economic and societal catalyst, something the Government needs, to maintain its positive trajectory in economic development. The incisive and well attended meetings are also creating robust debates around gender equality amidst a growing call to include women in the economic development matrix.
Contributing to these highly engaging conversations, some participants said there was need for the 2023 budget to foster women economic empowerment through creation of a financially enabling environment by increasing funds towards females development programmes.
Currently several women are struggling to sustain their projects and programmes owing to lack of funding.
This is largely due to lack of support from financial institutions that usually demand collateral security for one to qualify for a loan. Sometimes women fail to get funding that Government would have allocated to small, and medium enterprises, either because of lack of information where such financial packages are available or serious jostling where the females are systemically elbowed out.
If women are to be effective agents of economic development, focus should be put on enhancing their contribution and taking into account their different needs, multiple roles and changing economic and family situations.
As mothers, wives and care-givers, women will need economic programmes that will hone their business skills, while giving them time to attend to their socialised roles.
It also means more recognition must be given to their current and potential contribution as producers, decision- makers and as income generators who have the competitive edge to operate in any environment.
Some of the problems that women are facing in accessing funding can be addressed once Treasury allocates enough money to the Ministry of Women Affairs, Community, Small and Medium Enterprises to fund projects.
In previous years, budget allocations have been negligible despite growing calls to allocate reasonable funding to ensure that women’s projects are ably supported.
In 2020, Treasury allocated 0,7 percent of the budget to the Ministry of Women Affairs, Community, Small and Medium Enterprises and the figure went down to 0,5 percent in 2021.
Such low figures in the last two years negates the commitment by the Government to empower women and achieve gender equity.
Empowerment of women involves costs, thus the national budget is a key tool of advancing and demonstrating gender equity. Minimal allocation for women affairs also signifies that the national budget falls short of the gender-based budgeting principle.
Some of the participants highlighted what they termed “structural issues”, in the country which make it impossible even for women to benefit holistically.
Ideally by its mandate, the Ministry is not supposed to be directly involved in day to day usage of the funds through direct disbursement to primary beneficiaries, but they may co-ordinate, monitor and evaluate the projects on the ground.
However, over the years, the Ministry has taken a dual role of co-ordinating, approving and disbursing loans as well superintending the same projects, leaving them with little time to coordinate other gender related projects.
The overlapping of responsibilities then overshadows the crucial role the ministry plays to represent both individuals, organisations and extended services that benefit from the ministry’s guidance and oversight role.
Allocation of funds towards improvement of the Victim Friendly Units as gender based violence cases are increasing by the day, budgeting towards youth empowerment by improving vocational training centres and the availing of social protection services for women in the informal sector are some of the issues that are emerging in the ongoing budget allocations.
The economy is showing positive signs of recovering, as attested by the decline in inflation, reduction in prices, ongoing massive construction projects that have resulted in a massive road upgrade and the recorded bumper harvest of maize and wheat.
Such a positive trajectory has given hope to all and sundry that Zimbabwe is on the rise, and those developments should not be lost to translation, but should be an enabler to push the gender equality agenda.
Over the years, Zimbabwe has shown its commitment to promote gender equality be enacting a litany of legislations, some which have been implemented to date, while others continue to gather dust.
As result, women who constitute 52 percent of population feel short-changed.
The Second Republic has made progress towards the implementation of some of the commitments that are on paper, such as the elevation of women in powerful governance posts, but the economic space in terms of resource allocation is still largely dominated by men.
However, it is never too late to address the historical imbalances that have been perpetuated over the years.
There can never be an opportune time than now, to elevate the economic status of women and their aspiration, which we hope would be carried through in the forthcoming 2023 National Budget.