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Budget circus

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SUBJECT OF BUDGET AND FAILED PROMISES—Some road construction projects

By Deogratias Mmana:

In less than a month from now, Members of Parliament will be meeting – again – at the National Assembly in Lilongwe to deliberate and pass the budget for 2022/23 financial year.

But ringing in their head will be the voice of Minister of Finance Felix Mlusu who built expectation last year as he gave high sounding figures — numbers that have not brought as much changes to people’s lives as promised.

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And analysts say whatever reasons there are for government to fail to meet its budget promises, there is no justification.

As he presented his K1.9 trillion budget last year, Mlusu outlined a number of allocations for both big and small project but most of such promises have not been met yet.

For example, he allocated K400 million for the construction of houses for persons with albinism. But Malawi News understands that that money has not been disbursed.

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Mlusu also budgeted another K300 million for the implementation of activities under the National Action Plan (Nap) for the persons with albinism.

This too has not been disbursed, according to the Association of Persons with Albinism (Apam) president Young Muhamba.

“Since Parliament passed the National Budget in June last year, no funds have been released to stakeholders involved in the implementation of various interventions under the National Action Plan and there are only two months for the fiscal year to end,” Muhamba said.

But Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development spokesperson Enock Chingoni has disputed Muhamba’s claim, saying the money was disbursed and that construction of houses for persons with albinism was underway in some districts.

Mlusu also gave hopes to the care givers who look after children in the Early Childhood Development centres, promising them K15,000 monthly honoraria.

However, the financial year is inching towards the end without the Ministry of Gender, Social Welfare and Community Development meeting this budget provision.

Members of Parliament approved allocations for some road projects under local councils to improve the city roads and drainage system and street lighting. ‘

But in some of the cities, the situation remains as it was when Mlusu delivered his budget statement last year.

Initially, government allocated K8.9 billion to Blantyre city; K7.8 billion to Lilongwe city; K4.1 billion Mzuzu City and another K4.1 billion to Zomba City for improvement of the roads and street lighting.

The figures changed later to K9.1 billion for Blantyre; K14.8 billion for Lilongwe and K4 billion each for Mzuzu and Zomba.

In an interview, Mzuzu City Council spokesperson MacDonald Gondwe said with only two months to the end of the 2021/2022 fiscal year, the council has only received K525 million out of the K4 billion for the projects.

He hoped that the government may disburse the remaining funds in the coming two months.

Director of Finance for Zomba City Councul James Mafunga said the council has embarked on three road projects to the tune of around K3 billion. This means that two road projects are yet to be handled.

Asked to explain the absence of disbursement of funds to some government departments and in some cases disbursing little funding, Ministry of Finance spokesperson Williams Banda said yesterday that for projects, Treasury releases funds only after production of project certificates that show progress.

And as for other funding, for example, in the case of failing to disburse funds to Ministry of Gender for activities for persons with albinism and caregiver workers, Banda said Treasury provides funding as per cash flow and Parliament appropriation.

Treasury has been struggling to raise funds for the national budget. It was expected to raise K700 billion locally for the 2021/2022 national budget but Banda said they only managed to raise K550 billion during the first half of the year.

He hoped for more revenue through the recently launched Domestic Revenue Mobilization strategy.

Executive Director for Centre for Social Accountability and Transparency (CSAT) Willie Kambwandira said most of the national budgets in Malawi are not realistic as they are too ambitious for the sake of political satisfaction.

He also faulted Parliament and citizens for failing to hold government accountable to the budgets it formulates.

“We are not surprised that there are a number of projects that have failed to take off despite being allocated some funds. Government also is not sincere in terms of projects. They want to sound like they have an ambitious plan when in fact they do not have resources,” Kambwandira said.

According to Kambwandira, the sad thing about the national budget in Malawi is that it is usually overtaken by politicians and technocrats at Capital Hill fail to advise the politicians for fear of reprisals.

He also bashed members of Parliament, saying their oversight is “cosmetic to a certain degree”.

“We have not seen the desired oversight role from our Parliamentarians. Also, Malawians do not take government to task for failing to implement the budget according to plan,” added Kambwandira.

Milwad Tobias, Director for Centre for Consultancy and Research, said budget implementation has been a perennial challenge in Malawi.

He said the reasons vary, including the fact that some projects are donor funded and that some donors require matching financing by government which it fails to do.

“At other times, it is due to changes in projected revenue and expenditure, either revenues are less than projected or expenditure is higher than projected. The budget lines that are vulnerable to cuts are for development projects,” he said.

Whatever reasons, he said, there is no justification for failure by government to implement a budget which is a law passed by Parliament.

“None of the supposed reasons justify the problem. As a nation we must ensure strong accountability mechanisms to eliminate these problems,” Tobias said.

As has been tradition, Mlusu and his officials at the Ministry of Finance conducted pre-budget consultations in November and December last year, ahead of the budget meeting scheduled for next month.

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