The ‘purpose, functions’ of Parliament in approving Government budgets

THE long annual budget session of Parliament, duly ended last week.  I guess there are many people who watch, or listen, to the budget proceedings of Parliament, without really appreciating the basic purpose and function of these proceedings. Hence, today’s presentation will focus on this matter, as a contribution to the enhancement of public knowledge and understanding of the representative functions of Parliament.

The government budget is basically a “reflection of the essential policies of the government which is in office at the material time”.  This short statement entails the need to understand several related issues including the constitutional requirement of dissolving Parliament if it fails to approve the government budget, which is a pretty serious matter;  because a dissolution terminates the life of that particular Parliament and must be followed by a general election.

The purpose and function of the government budget

There are two ways in which to interpret the purpose of government budget.  One way is to just look at the figures representing the estimates of the revenues and expenditures shown in the relevant financial year. But this is far too simplistic and does not reveal the true ‘function and purpose’ of government budgets which is the basic matter that should be realised and properly appreciated.

This ‘simplistic’ approach is what we saw in ‘The Daily News’ of Tuesday, June 27th  2023, which carried the following news in bold capitals on its front page: “House unanimously approves 44.4 trillion government budget”. This was merely an ‘excited reporting’ of the otherwise ‘ordinary news’, that the Parliament of the United Republic of Tanzania had, by an overwhelming majority, approved the government’s 2023/24 government budget.   It is, of course, very impressive that the government has been able to reach this high level performance, which is unprecedented in all our history; as these huge sums of money will be channeled into the construction of the much needed economic and social  development  projects, all over our geographically vast country. Indeed, ‘credit must be given where credit is due’.

However, it is equally important to note, that Parliament’s approval of the government annual budget  is, in fact, ‘ordinary news’, simply because Parliament cannot possibly refuse to approve any government of the government’s annual budgets.  That is the crucial lesson that should be learnt from all the parliamentary budget sessions.   This is so because the British-based parliamentary system (which we inherited at the time of independence), was designed precisely for the purpose of achieving that specific objective of ensuring that the government budget is always approved.

This assurance is firmly embodied in the concept of “government by political party”; which provides that ‘the political party that is given power to govern the country, shall be that party which has a majority of Members in Parliament’.   It follows therefore, that the ruling party is entitled to use its majority in the House to ensure that its budget is approved. This is what explains why the approval of the government budget by Parliament, is just ordinary news.

In the instant case of the 2023/24 government budget, a total of 354 MPs voted in favour of the budget; while 18 (Opposition) MPs abstained (i.e. did not vote in favour or against the budget). We will return to this budget exposition a little later. In the meantime, let us consider what I regard as an unnecessary intrusion in parliamentary debates on the 2023/24 budget debate in Parliament.

The intrusion of the Dar e salaam Port operations’ debate

An unnecessary intrusion in this year’s Parliamentary budget debates, was the matter of the ‘Intergovernmental Agreement’  between Tanzania and the United Arab Emirates  concerning partnership on ports development; whose  many benefits include improvements in the efficiency of operations at the port of Dar es Salaam;  but which the ‘professional’ detractors have claimed that it  amounts to privatising the Dar es Salaam port!

Such a deliberate  distortion  quickly reminded me of some of  Tanzania’s founder-President, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere’s  ‘teachings’  in this respect and in particular, that of “Argue, don’t shout”, which was a policy document regarding Tanzania’s Foreign policy in which President Nyerere issued  the following guidance:- “ Tanzania has definite viewpoints on Foreign Affairs. When the need arises for us to argue in their defense, we have to state firmly what they are, why we have adopted them and what they mean to our nation. It is essential for us to do so, because we either to influence people or to enable them to  better understand why we have adopted a certain line of action. And for either of these purposes, we have to argue, not to shout about it”.  Hence the abbreviation: ‘argue, don’t shout’.

The advocates of the distortions mentioned above  of “privatising Dar es Salaam port”;  were nothing more than ”shouting”, for lack of  “argument”, that is to say,  lack of  reasons to show that what is being said  is true or correct.

Fortunately however, the government’s accredited spokespersons quickly intervened, by detailing the benefits that will accrue from that ‘public/private partnership’ (PPP) deal.  The Government Chief S Gerson Msigwa, addressed members of the Press and made a statement assuring the public that   “there is no  intention of privatising the  Dar es Salaam port  in  the  government’s  decision to partner with the Dubai-based  DP World Company in the Dar es Salaam port operation”.

While Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa, when he was adjourning the  2023/24 budget session of Parliament, urged Tanzanians not to be divided by the differing opinions expressed by different people  relating to the Inter-government Agreement between Tanzania and the Emirate of Dubai.  “Let us reject any opinions that will likely split our country on any ground”, the Prime Minister urged.

Mwalimu Nyerere had a penchant for telling ‘catchy’ stories, in order to buttress his teachings which he delivered through his speeches.  There is another such story that was told by him in connection with this  human  weakness of resorting to  “shouting  for lack of “argument”. It is about a religious preacher, who was reviewing his written sermon, which he had prepared for delivery in his church the following morning, when he reached a paragraph whose theological foundation appeared to be weak and unconvincing. So he made a marginal note beside that paragraph, in which he scribbled this: “theology weak, shout”. 

The moral of this story, is, basically, that it cautions people to avoid “shouting” in  cases where their argument becomes conspicuously weak.

And this seems to be the case in relation to the ‘conspirators’ who cooked up the false, alleged story, of the ‘privatisation of Dar es Salaam Port’; which was actually never intended by the government!  We will ow return to the budget function exposition.

There are two basic functions which are performed by the government budget. One is “to implement the government’s accountability to Parliament” and the other is “to reflect the policies of the government of the day”. These functions are elaborated in the paragraphs below.

(i)    Government’s accountability to Parliament.

The main function and purpose of the government budget, is to ‘implement the government’s accountability to Parliament’. This is specifically prescribed by Articles 63(2) and (3) of the constitution of the United Republic of Tanzania, 1977; empowers Parliament “Kuisimamia na kuishauri serikali”; and prescribes the ways in which this particular function will be performed. These include Parliament’s scrutiny and approval, of the government’s annual budget (art.63 (3) (b) and (c)).

It is also important to note that the function of “approving the government budget” is a matter of grave constitutional importance; because article 90 (2) (b) of the constitution requires and directs the President to dissolve Parliament, in case it fails to approve any government budget; a very serious matter indeed, for a dissolution of Parliament must be followed by the holding of a new  general election.

It is in recognition of the seriousness of this constitutional provision, that the ‘Rules of procedure’ of the House were crafted in the way which introduces the seemingly unusual procedure of “voting by roll-call” on every motion which seeks approval of the annual government budget. It is unusual because voting in Parliament of all other motions, is normally done by “voice vote”, which is cast by the all members collectively. The roll-call procedure was introduced specifically in order to obtain more reliable and undisputable results of the vote to approve the relevant government proposals.

But that was the first challenge I received when I became Speaker of the first multi-party Parliament in 1995; at the time of voting to approve the 1995/96 government budget. The Opposition camp had expected that we would use the normal  “voice vote” method, which is the only one they had experienced since their entry into the House after the general election of October, 1995. Apparently because  that false expectation, they had made plans  to convince some of the CCM MPs to join them in  rejecting that budget.

Thus, as the time of voting approached, I rose to explain the ‘roll-call’ procedure that would be used in approving the budget, plus the reasons for it.  I had, apparently, frustrated their secret plan; hence, they responded by walking out of the House, in protest. However, because CCM had a huge majority in the House (there were, in fact, enough of them to constitute a quorum); the voting process continued and the government budget was approved “nemine contradicente”  i. e. with no one dissenting.

(ii) A reflection of government policies.

For parliamentary purposes, the vote to approve the government budget is treated as a “vote of confidence” in the government of the day. Conversely, a rejection of its budget is treated as a “vote of no confidence” in that government. That is why a rejection of the government budget necessarily leads to the dissolution of Parliament; in order to give the electorate the opportunity to elect a new government which will,  hopefully , have  the confidence of the people’s representatives.

These are  absolutely  essential  and vital, constitutional issues which should be  clearly understood by the electorate; in order to enable them to “vote wisely”

Zitto Kabwe’s attempt to introduce ‘an alternative Opposition budget’      

This is a clear illustration of the kind of public ‘ignorance’ that generally exists regarding this matter.  Hon Zitto Kabwe  was the leader of the  ACT- Wazalendo Opposition political party and member of Parliament (MP) for the Kigoma Urban Constituency during the 2018/2019 budget session of Parliament.

Just before the commencement of that session, he announced his intention to introduce what he called “an alternative Opposition budget”  in Parliament, during that session; “because he was dissatisfied with the Government budget”; which, he alleged, “imejikita zaidi kwenye maendeleo ya vitu, badala ya maendeleo ya watu”.

‘Alternative budgets are unknown in parliamentary processes.     

In fact, an ‘alternative budget’ is something which is completely unknown in the normal Parliamentary processes.  Consequently, no provision has ever been made in the Rules of procedure for the transaction of such business in the House.                                                                                                                                        Thus, Zitto  Kabwe’s  plans  were “a shot in the dark” (which is defined as   “a guess, or something you do without knowing what the results will be)” for the reason only that the operations of  parliamentary  system,  just could not allow him to do that.

piomsekwa@gmail.com  / 0754767576.

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