2020 Budget Speech not informed by evidence for development results
ZAMBIA’S socio-economic and geo-political landscape has continued to dwindle for some years now. Key Performance Indicators in almost all growth sectors have remained gloomy over the past years. Major sectors such as agriculture, mining, energy, tourism and manufacturing have shown poor performance giving rise to abject poverty and hopelessness among citizens. Amidst these challenges, government has over the years attempted to improve the predicaments affecting the economy. The recent effort is the 2020 budget presented to Parliament by the Minister of Finance, Dr Bwalya Ng’andu. I am using the Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) lens to appreciate which results our 2020 budget seek to achieve for the people of Zambia.
A critical look at the 2020 budget has highlighted a number of missing fundamentals. These pertain to the core reasons we have an annual budget – as an instrument for growth and development. For me, a national annual budget should clearly spell out what result (s) the government want to pursue in a given year. While some elements exist, the 2020 budget speech did not outline and synchronise past, current and future outputs, outcomes and long-term impacts for the country. As I finished reading the whole speech, wondering within myself persisted as to how the many proposals in the budget were going to be made reality. It was difficult in the ‘results language’ to find clear links on what government intended to achieve in 2020. The most outstanding gap in the 2020 budget speech (to me) concerns the absence of evidence to justify budget allocations by the Minister of Finance. In Results-Based-Management (RBM) approach, citizens would have highly benefited to see a 2020 budget firmly anchored on past and current results (positive or negative). Such evidence would then help to meaningfully direct resources to needy areas of the economy. In the absence of evidence-based and results-focused planning and budgeting, the 2020 budget will be difficult to implement and later impossible to track, measure, monitor and evaluate. Thus, accountability, feedback and learning functions will not accrue to national development. Unless the Ministry of Finance has (somewhere and somehow) clarified the clear results we will pursue in 2020, we may stand at the same point we are today asking same questions and giving same answers in 2021 and beyond.
The 2020 budget speech did not fully provide satisfaction and inspiration, particularly in the fashion it presented expected deliverables and results for the year 2020. Certain results-based questions occurred to me naturally. What kind of evidence led to some decisions to reduce allocations for instance, economic affairs from 23.8% in 2019 to 20.6% in 2020; a reduction from 15.3% to 12.4% in education; in health, a reduction from 9.3% to 8.8% and a further reduction in the environmental protection from 1% in 2019 to 0.6% in 2020? In the similar way, what evaluation findings or research recommendations assisted government to increase general public services allocation from 36% to 41.6%; and the public order Act and Safety allocation moved from 3.3% in 2019 to 3.8% in 2020? While I have no idea of what informed these high level decisions, but I would strongly wish our budget speeches and budget debates were anchored on evidence and measurable results for our country’s growth and development.
Thus far, I will continue to wonder what informed our 2020 budget decisions. In the absence of a results-based approach, the non-mentioning or prioritisation of building and strengthening the Government-wide M&E system in the budget speech puts Zambia at risk of solving old development problems with old strategies—which unfortunately got us here. This prompted me to study some budget speeches of South Africa, Botswana, Kenya, Rwanda, Ghana and Zimbabwe just to see how our counterparts were handling their speeches. I really wanted to see how the Dr [John] Magufuli government in Tanzania structured its budget speeches and budgets—alas! All their budgets were in Kiswahili language and I stopped there. But Rwanda, Ghana, South Africa and Botswana budget speeches attracted my attention – results oriented and evidence based.
While our 2020 budget makes some fair reading, I believe restructuring our budgets and budget speeches to focus more on evidence-based development results will lead Zambia to enjoy the trio benefits of M&E—accountability, feedback and learning. Without inculcating a results-based management culture in Zambia through investing in functional M&E systems and practice, even realising President Lungu’s sentiments during his recent address to the National Assembly where he called upon all of us to work together as a people to achieve economic stability, sustainable growth and development, within the spirit of “doing more with less” will be impossible to attain. Equally, without a transformed and results-oriented Zambia and governance, the 2020 budget theme of “focusing national priorities towards stimulating the domestic economy” will remain a dream—never to be realised. As a matter of priority and undivided commitment, transforming the public sector government-wide M&E system will provide the much needed evidence for our development processes. That way, the Minister of Finance will have the required evidence to structure future budgets and budget speeches towards a results-based development agenda.
Dr. Vincent Kanyamuna holds a Doctor of Philosophy in Monitoring and Evaluation and is lecturer and researcher at the University of Zambia, Department of Development Studies. For comments and views, email: firstname.lastname@example.org