A columnist writing for Newsday has said the president and the finance minister should not be allowed to abuse the constitution and later seek condonation without seeking the parliament’s approval prior to making budgetary borrowings.
Paidamoyo Mazulu opined:
….Coming home, President Emmerson Mnangagwa declared a three-week lockdown that ends on
April 19 ostensibly to contain the spread of COVID-19. However, the lockdown was announced well after Parliament had gone into recess, leaving the Executive to run the country by decree.
The government has lived to its reputation of running things by decree and has issued no less than 20 statutory instruments to give direction during the lockdown and immediately after. Among the statutory instruments gazetted are those dealing with public health, minimum wage, raising customs excise on fuel and declaring which sectors are essential services that should operate during the lockdown.
As an afterthought, Finance and Economic Development minister Mthuli Ncube last week released a statement that said Treasury had set aside $500 million financial support for three months to small businesses and vulnerable people affected by the lockdown.
Said Ncube: “Vulnerable groups in our society are the most exposed under this COVID-19 crisis. Accordingly, Treasury has set aside resources to cover one million vulnerable households under a cash transfer programme and payment will commence immediately. The Social Welfare Department will use its usual mechanisms to identify the beneficiaries.” Ncube further said he was ringfencing the 2% intermediated money transfer tax for social protection and capital development projects and, hence, will ordinarily be channelled towards COVID-19-related mitigatory expenditures.
The minister also issued a circular of March 20, 2020 instructing line ministries to identify areas for cuts and areas for redirecting expenditures. It goes without saying that the Treasury directives have a significant impact on the 2020 national budget. The bailout figures have to be reflected in the Appropriation Act (Blue Book) as demanded by the Constitution. Section 305(4)(b) of the Constitution is very clear that Treasury can only incur expenditure as outlined in the Finance and Appropriation Act.
It is, therefore, imperative for Ncube to immediately table a 2020 supplementary budget that reflects the figures he has provided to mitigate against coronavirus effects. The budget has to be approved by Parliament for it to be constitutional in terms of section 305(5) of the Constitution. The unbridled and unrestrained use of public funds without parliamentary authorisation should be stopped. Mnangagwa and Ncube cannot be allowed to abuse the Constitution and later seek condonation, like they did last year for $9 billion that had been borrowed without parliamentary approval. Parliament should be convened soonest to approve these expenditures.