Economists have described pre-budget consultative meetings the government conducts ahead of the tabling of the national budget in Parliament as irrelevant.
The economists have said the consultations lack the input of rural masses, who constitute the majority of the country’s population, now estimated at 18 million, according to recent United Nations estimates.
This comes as officials from the Ministry of Finance have disclosed that pre-budget consultative meetings in the country’s three regions are set for mid-March and will be presided over by minister responsible, Goodall Gondwe.
When contacted, Ministry of Finance spokesperson, Davis Sado, said all is set for the meetings with the private sector, faith community, and representatives of non-governmental organisations, among others, before the budget is presented to the National Assembly later this year.
“It is likely that the next budget will have three priority areas; hunger, National Population and Housing Census, and Tripartite Elections in 2019. We are ready,” he said.
But development economist, Du Mhango, who has been involved in various economic research activities, conducted lectures and worked in South Africa during and after the Apartheid regime said in an inter view that the meetings lack value as the people on the ground are not consulted.
“Rural people also feel the pinch, but they are not consulted. Priority goes to the private sector and other representatives, which is not good. Give them a voice so that they can give their input and have their views included in the budget,” he said.
Mhango stated that rural people are never given information about the status of the country’s economy and direction authorities want to take.
“It is a pity that these meetings are just held in towns. All districts should be consulted. What needs to be done is that Capital Hill should provide introductory information through district offices about the economy before engaging them,” Mhango said.
But Sado hinted that officials from the ministry are meeting different companies to understand what they want incorporated in the budget and share their experiences.
“This is a nor mal arrangement and we also need to learn about issues of taxation from them. We are at that level and, come mid- March, regional pre-budget consultative meetings are set to start,” he said.
Mhango said, in the absence of a national development plan, Malawi cannot progress.
“Think of the government cutting the current budget pegged at K1.3 trillion by K30 billion. This would mean poor planning and this is where experts under the planning commission have to come in,” Mhango said.
In a separate interview, University of Malawi development economist, Sane Zuka, who is now based in the United Kingdom, echoed the sentiments and said that pre-budget meetings are not necessary.
“At the moment, they are a waste of time and resources because they do not define budget agenda. The minister has a number of channels through which to get feedback. Above that, his tray is already full of items that have not yet been implemented,” Zuka said.
He noted that the central argument is that the people that patronise the meetings already have access to the Minister of Finance.
“Are farmers represented at these meetings? Yet these are the people, who do not have access to such forums,” Zuka said.
He further said that the next budget should focus on issues to do with agriculture, health, energy, education, infrastructure and job creation.
The government has since put in place a National Planning Committee that will be instrumental in championing the yet to be launched Malawi Growth and Development Strategy (MGDS) III.
But the International Monetary Fund recently cautioned government to do more financing and private sector engagement so as to support flagship investments under the MGDS III.
The investments include agriculture, water development and climate change management, education and skills development, energy, industry and tourism development, transport and ICT infrastructure, among others.