The routine continues as usual. This time of the year the officialdom embarks on the process of designing the national budget. The figures mostly increase from the previous budget. Then the mid-year review come in January and the figures are adjusted based on the actual performance.
In the last few years, the half-year reviews have only served to inform Malawians that the budget estimates were too positive and the reality is that the revenues collected (domestic and foreign) have been less than expected. Then the budget once again is revised. In most cases, the routine is that during this mid-year review, certain votes will already have been overspent and Parliament is simply reduced to an entity that ratifies what has already happened. No one expects the budget estimates to be exact and hence the name estimates; however, the variances should not be so unpredictable.
In June, the minister will again present the budge having considered the contributions of the various stakeholders who have been consulted or are about to be consulted soon. The hard truth is that a budget is simply a plan. No matter how brilliant a plan is the value of any plan is in its implementation and not in the plan as a document. A budget is only a planning tool. The key is in ensuring that the budget is implemented fully. But as most of us know from our own experiences, this is a very difficult task.
The budget consultations are conducted in the various regions of the country and the different actors put across different suggestions for what the priorities should be. There is no national report of what these contributions are. Indeed, if there was a national report, then one would know what issues were raised and hence evaluate the budget based on the number of issues raised during these consultations that have then found their way into the budget. It is also common sense to assume that the various stakeholders make presentation based on their interests and one would therefore expect that there are times when the various suggestions of what should be in the budget might be contradicting.
There is no feedback mechanism to the contributors and no one knows how and the processes followed by the minister to judge which contributions are brilliant and transformative and hence warrant their reflection in the national budget. The nation sits and claps hand that they were consulted even though no one will know what exactly in the budget is a result of the consultations or simply a process of the crafters of the budget to simply choose the contributions that support their ideas and policy directions and completely ignore the ones that might benefit most Malawians but do not seem to support the officialdom line of thinking.
Contrary to political correctness, the Malawi of today does not heap accolades on those most creative and courageous. In Malawi, those who venture beyond the safe boundaries of expectation are ruthlessly opposed and demonised. Conformists do their homework before hand and tell the officialdom what the officialdom expects to hear as the right budget ideas. Becoming a proper Malawian to the eyes of many requires a great deal of ass-kissing and up-sucking. One must master the art of flattery and impress the officialdom to be invited to the next consultation sometimes.
If the officialdom is serious about promoting “transparency”, they should start by adopting a more realistic narrative about economic indicators that underpin the budget session. Last year, when it was argued that the economy will grow by 5.1 percent, The Nutcracker said the figure was overly optimistic. Those whose jobs are constantly on the line and expect favours from officialdom do seem to support ideas that they know will not work. They argued and convinced others that the economy will grow by 5.1 percent. They even found ways to hide the truth from the officialdom behind the economic verbosity like the one from one official source that stated in its reports that “meanwhile, a rebound is expected in 2016 as the economy is projected to grow by 5.1 percent. However, the growth rate could be revised downwards due to the continued negative impact of El-Nino weather conditions on the agricultural sector.”
If one knew that the figure would be revised downwards, why did they state that the economy is expected to grow at 5.1 percent? Unless one knows that there is a professional risk in upsetting the status quo. Indeed, the economy only grew by 2.9 percent!
It cannot continue that people in authority should always get away with making unrealistic assumptions every year during budget preparation and then admit that the assumptions were unrealistic in the next budget speech.