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Insight: What to examine in the budget

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By the time my commentary has appeared on this page, the Minister of Finance will have already read the budget statement in Parliament and invited the members of Parliament to debate it.

What shall the MPs be talking or asking about? Financial matters are not easy to grasp. There is likelihood that some MPs will be dozing off and day-dreaming while the Minister is reading the statement.

Despite the hue and cry during last year’s financial year about MPs who absent themselves from parliamentary session, this problem is not yet over. Equally astonishing was the news that during the 90 minutes statement that the President read some MPs even ministers were slumbering, whose fault was this?

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While I was in a taxi I was hearing radio commentaries from listeners about the incident of dozing in Parliament. Some compared it with what happens during a sermon in the church. They said some people doze while the pastor or priest is preaching because they find what he is saying not inspiring. It is not the case that what the preacher was preaching was worthless but that his style of speaking was not lively. Substance and style equally count.

Those civil servants who write speeches for the President and Ministers should be incorporating into the speeches, memorable phrases epigrams and words. They should read models of speeches that have been delivered in the past by great statesmen. A few examples will do.

Abraham Lincoln 1809-65, sixteenth President of the United States in defending democracy and ending of slavery said that, “the nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom and that government of the people by the people for the people shall not perish from the earth.”

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Winston Churchill, British Prime Minister during World War II in order to prepare the nation for what was ahead said, “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sorrow. We shall not flag, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the sea until the enemy has had enough of it.”

John F. Kennedy, US President 1961-63 in his inaugural speech said, “ My fellow Americans ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country. If a free society cannot help the majority who are poor it cannot save a few who are rich.”

Telling phrases and maxims like these are still being quoted by writers and orators long after they were made. Since the year 1994 when the multi-party system was restored, Presidents and Ministers have been making written speeches in parliament. What memorable utterances still enrich our memories?

All this has been alluded to by the way. What is a budget? It is a statement of how much revenue a government intends to spend it. A budget is part of what is called fiscal policy, a policy that influences the country’s economic and social matters.

The leader of Opposition questioned the President’s claim that the economy had stabilized Stabilising the economy at the present level of macropeconomics is not what the country needs. Must we stabilize double digit inflation and interest rate or GDP growth rate at 4 percent annually? Ofcourse not. What is required is dynamism. The GDP should grow exponentially while interest and inflation rates should decline just as rapidly.

The one lamentation we are sure to hear both within parliament and outside is that the budget is not sufficiently pro-poor. Such lamentation has been heard in the past but champions of the poor have not explicit suggestions of what should have been incorporated in the budget.

The sure method of eradicating poverty is to give priority to measures that will accelerate economic growth. Unless economic growth rate outpace population growth rates standards of living will not change for the better.

Time and time again we have heard from experts that in view of the uncertain future of the tobacco industry. Measures should be taken to diversify the economy at all levels: primary, secondary and tertiary. Members of parliament should seek from the Minister of Finance information on how money has been allocated to the diversification programme. Is there adequate provision for tourism, research and development?

Is the taxation business friendly? Business people reduce poverty in the country when they open factories or farms and hire thousands of the unemployed.

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