Decriminalize early disclosure of national budgets-Chibamba

Economist Chibamba Kanyama has suggested that Zambia decriminalizes the early disclosure of national documents such as the national budget.

Mr Kanyama said it may be advisable that any clauses that criminalize unauthorized disclosure of the national budget be revised so that officers found wanting can be reprimanded administratively.

He was commenting on the arrest of Ministry of Finance officials for allegedly leaking the 2021 national budget.

“With regard to National Budgets, a lot has changed in terms of content and the communication profile. Under the centralized ‘Kaunda’ system, budgets were a solemn and tightly controlled event. This was primarily because governments played a central role in controlling the economy, particularly with regard to price setting,” Mr Kanyama said.

“Come budget day, we were all glued to TV and Radio to listen to Rabson Chongo, Luke Mwananshiku, Gibson Chigaga announce, ‘From midnight tonight, the price of cooking oil, petrol, salt …will be K10, 50 ngwee.’ Imagine someone leaking the budget prior to the announcement in parliament! Long queues would form with individuals with this information hoarding up commodities hoping to make a kill after midnight.”

Mr Kanyama observed that a lot has changed since adding that government now directs the economy largely through policy pronouncements and setting economic targets.

“Since two years ago, budgets are aligned to the actual budget year. The Minister of Finance will present estimates in October only for the budget to take effect 1st January. Something else has happened: Government is much more transparent about budgets than before.”

“First, you can easily predict the budget via the medium term expenditure framework (a national budget with a long term view). That’s why when journalists ask me to predict the budget, I just go to this document, which often gets revised and then consider the prevailing economic circumstances to make predictions.”

“Second, government makes a lot of consultantions with various stakeholders for budget input. In short, today’s budgets are very predictable (I did not listen to the 2021 National Budget presentation because the MTEF was enough for me to know the broader context).“

He added, “Under these circumstances, I can as well predict that in the near future, budget presentations to parliament will serve ceremonial purposes because the public will have known what is contained weeks earlier. In any case, there is a three month window between the day of announcing it and when it becomes law; meaning anything can, therefore, change in between.“

“Given this context and the evolving context of National Budgets, it may be advisable that any clauses that criminalize unauthorized disclosure of this document be revised so that officers found wanting can be reprimanded administratively.”

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