FINANCE and Economic Development Minister Professor Mthuli Ncube today presented a ZWL$421.6 billion budget premised on an economic rebound after a year lost to the coronavirus pandemic, but critics remain unimpressed.
Mthuli Ncube also hinged his budget on anticipated recovery from Covid-19, materialisation of mining investments, recovering domestic aggregate demand, stable prices and costs, control of wasteful expenditures, among other factors.
The budget proposed a PAYE tax-free threshold of ZWL$10,000 per month from ZWL$5,000 per month. It also revised the bonus tax-free threshold from ZWL$5,000 to ZWL$25,000, effective 1 November 2020.
Ncube said the budget is on the back of the National Development Strategy 1, which is pro-development. He made significant allocations to the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education, (ZWL$55.2 billion), the Ministry of Health (ZWL$58.7 billion) and the devolution programme (ZWL$19.5 billion).
These, the minister said, were meant to ensure schools continue to function in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic, while the health ministry allocation was meant to capacitate the ministry in its health-delivery function.
Ncube said to buttress the development thrust being pursued by the government, ZWL$3.9 billion has been set aside for water and sanitation programmes, ZWL$10.7 billion for works on major dams across the country, ZWL$30.1 billion for major road construction and rehabilitation projects under the Ministry of Transport and ZWL$1.4 billion was allocated to the Ministry of Mines.
Economic analyst Tapiwa Mashakada said the budget is balanced in projecting a decline in inflation, it also indicates a lack of fiscal space.
“The budget will continue stabilising the exchange rate, prices and also ensure there is growth and development in the economy. It would appear the budget continues to depress wages, they are 10 per cent below expenditure, which is bad news for the civil servants,” said Mashakada, an MDC-T MP and former Minister of Economic Planning.
Reacting to the allocation made to her ministry, the chairperson of the Pariliamentary Committee on Education, Ms Priscilla Misihairambwi-Mushonga expressed satisfaction with the largest allocation of ZWL$55.2 billion made to the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education, that also included a provision for sanitary wear for girls from disadvantaged backgrounds.
MDC Alliance vice president Tendai Biti, who is a former Finance Minister, said the 2021 national budget is yet another “damp squib” as expected.
Biti said the reintroduction of the Zimbabwe dollar has failed and the government should have re-dollarised the economy to restore the real value of wages and pensions.
“As expected this was yet another damp squib. A real missed opportunity to address the key distortion in the economy which is forex and monetary policy.
“The fiction of Zimbabwe dollar is not working. The real value, real wages and real incomes needed to be restored. Maintaining Zimbabwe dollar fiction is madness.
“The failure to restore USD wages and pensions is the ultimate theft and failure by the regime. Failure to deal decisively with pensions and the Justice Smith Inquiry recommendations is another disaster,” said Biti.
Meanwhile, ZWL$7.3 billion was allocated to the Ministry of Justice, Legal And Parliamentary Affairs, ZWL$23.8 billion to the Ministry of Defence, ZWL$10.2 billion allocated to the Ministry of Local Government, while the Ministry of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services got ZW$1.5 billion, including funding towards the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation’s operations.
The Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Water and Rural Resettlement was allocated ZWL$46.3 billion, while the Meteorological Services Department received an allocation of ZWL$766 million for capacitation projects, in line with generating information on climate change and weather patterns. – Wires ■