The 2019 Zimbabwe Budget – Obligations for citizens need to be matched by a respect of responsibilities by the Government to its citizens

1 Dec

The new Finance Minister, Professor Mthuli Ncube presented his much awaited 2019 budget to Parliament and there have been mixed reactions by Zimbabweans as expected. The Minister has taken on a new mantra that Zimbabweans must learn to live under austerity and endure pain before the economy recovers. While this is understandable the Minister need not be reminded that a government that creates obligations of any sort on its people also has legal and moral responsibilities towards its people to deliver economic, social and political goods as enshrined in the constitution. It cannot be that the Minister will recommend and propose policy measures to the nation and not have the  same measures by government. There are a number of issues that have remained topical and need to be unpacked.

The figment of luxury that is the second – hand vehicle and the forex tax debacle

The first issue concerns the issue of the car import duty which will now be charged in forex. There has been a loud outcry that this is not right because the government pays the majority of its employees in Zimbabwe Bond and thus cannot demand forex. I find this argument insincere and short sighted. Zimbabweans who are importing cars into the country buy their cars  in foreign currency. There can be no basis for one to argue that the duty should then be paid in Bond. My reasons for arguing against the people who are crying foul stems from a different view point though. 

I am of the opinion that the importation of second-hand vehicles into the country bleeds the country of much needed foreign currency. Right from the time the car is imported, to the payment of freight and insurance charges, the purchase of new tyres, a new service kit, etc.  All that money could be used by households for investment into other more productive uses.

Besides the foreign currency that is wasted through the purchase of the second-hand vehicles, there is the cost of fuel which leaves Zimbabwe with a heavy burden of having to  fork out  millions of USD/day in  fuel importation costs. This is quite staggering for a small struggling economy like Zimbabwe’s. 

One might want to argue that the ability to purchase fuel should be left to the owner of the vehicle but that mindset is short sighted. The Zimbabwe government is struggling with fuel importation costs at the moment and one would think that bar the corruption and rent seeking cartels dominating the fuel industry in Zimbabwe, the fuel importation would in any case still remain high because of Zimbabweans’ high consumptive and voracious appetite for petrol and diesel. The “Petronellas” and “Petroses” of Zimbabwe need to find other ways of getting from point A to B without having to drive 2 – 3 cars on a daily basis to work for the husband, the wife and an extra car for the kids to school. It’s really mind boggling for example that that Zimbabweans spend most of their time doing “school runs” picking and dropping children from school in the process using so much fuel. Besides the immense time lost from work, the sheer volumes of fuel and money wasted is just unreasonable.

The fuel queues can be ended through a good public transport system

One could argue that the country does not have any reliable public transport means and thus they are forced to import second vehicles hence the cry for import duty to be paid in Bond. The former issue of a poor public transport is very real and needs to be dealt with effectively. The Finance Minister cannot relegate such kind of an issue to a Transport Ministry or the Minister of Transport and hope for the best. The Government of Zimbabwe needs to have deliberate financing mechanisms to ensure that Zimbabwe develops an efficient, affordable and well managed public transport system in all suburbs and across the country allowing for citizens to travel to and from work safely, reliably and on time. Public transport systems should allow for parents and schoolchildren to be able to travel school without problems. This goes to the root of the constitutional obligations that the Zimbabwe government has towards its people and the need to provide efficient public services. 

The Minister needs to look at his budget again and also change the way he perceives this public policy matter that might just prove to be a panacea to the fuel headaches and the high petrol importation bills. 

Indeed, even the most optimistic of Zimbabweans could still find a way to argue that the ZANU PF government cannot be trusted to set up public transport systems after the plundering of ZUPCO, Willowvale Mazda Motor Industries as well as the teetering Air Zimbabwe.

However I argue that with the right mindset where political leaders have a sense of national duty, ubuntu and sheer dedication to their country this should be possible to achieve even before ED’s term ends whether the country is under sanctions or not. 

Government does not have any business in business and just needs to work with private partners to facilitate the right environment and infrastructure for private businesses to flourish in the public transport sector. In any case with the high taxes paid by Zimbabweans one wonders why it would not be possible for a responsive and responsible government to create and provide  such  public goods/services.

The two per cent tax – Burden or Necessary evil

There is no denying that Zimbabwe remains one of the highest taxed countries in the world. People continue to cry foul about the two percent tax arguing that it is too much and places unnecessary financial burdens on citizens.

However, with such a highly informal economy, where money no longer circulated in formal channels it is difficult to understand how else government was going to be able to reach out to the citizen for taxes. Taxes are ideally supposed to take care of national policy providing social goods and services as well as allowing the government to run efficiently.

The scepticism that surrounds the issue of taxation and its high abuse by Government officials in Zimbabwe is understandable. However, there must also be an agreement that citizens have legal obligations to pay their taxes. What the citizens need to do is to challenge the Government that obliges them to pay such high taxes to then be fully responsive with regards providing the public goods. A government that creates such heavy obligations needs to be responsive and be able to provide services/goods of high quality that are affordable and accessible to them without having to beg  for them.

A government that neglects its responsibilities towards citizens should be ashamed

A government that allows its taxpayers to move around neighbourhoods carrying containers of water at churches, schools etc as well as being at the mercy of Asians who allow  citizens to draw water from their private boreholes should really be ashamed of itself. 

A government that taxes its citizens but allows the state of roads and other infrastructure to deteriorate to unimaginable levels as in Zimbabwe should ask itself serious questions on whether it is still respecting its duties to respect, protect and promote rights for its citizens as enshrined in the Zimbabwe Constitution of 2013. 

On any given day, it should be really embarrassing to the point that a Minister should resign if as much as a single citizen dies of a disease like cholera. The idea that the Zimbabwe Government still spars with the opposition led City Councils about the issue of cholera shows clearly a lack of leadership and this should be addressed.

The Minister of Finance could do himself a favour by looking into his budget and asking the right questions on whether the funds he allocated are clearly monitored, targeted and address the problems that the money allocated was intended to fix.

National Budget deficits – The avenging spirts of our forefathers or what?

The Finance Minister wants to continually sell a story that Zimbabwe’s high budget deficit is everyone’s cross to bear. This is not necessarily true and the earlier he realises that the better. The ZANU PF government that appointed him into power continues to borrow large sums of money apparently in a bid to stimulate the economy so they can repay off the debt. 

There is nowhere where such policies have ever worked. One cannot continuously borrow to pay off loans by other lenders. At some point, the faux will collapse and the ruse will come off. The Finance Minister is trying to tell Zimbabweans to brace for tough times and allow the present government to borrow further. However, the creation of such obligations on citizens by this Government must be matched by an equal amount of austere living, governing and spending of national resources which mainly come from the high taxes levied on Zimbabweans. The Zimbabwe government cannot have its cake and eat it too. They want to behave like a drunk father who spends his salary on beer and  other nefarious activities but neglects to buy his family food or pay for school fees. When called to order, the father always wants to run to the neighbours to borrow money for those essentials. That cannot be right and it cannot be allowed. The government that creates austere obligations for its citizens needs to take of the responsibilities towards its citizens.

The Minister needs to be a servant leader and listen to Zimbabweans

I have listened to the Minister of Finance several times on radio and on TV. There is something about him that shows he means well and he would like to change things around. What I find a bit putting off is the “seeming arrogance” that is slowly creeping into his head and his mouth. There is a growing dismissive tone that seems to be coming from him and it is not clear whether its because he is tired of being criticised and receiving comments or what. 

One thing that remains very clear though is that for this government to put heavy obligations on its people, it must also be able to meet its end of the bargain by taking up the constitutional responbilities to take care of its people through provision of infrastructure to grow the economy as well as providing social goods and services and ensuring that public funds are not looted left right and centre as is currently the case.

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