Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Saturday, September 22nd, 2018

The Budget Debate

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The Budget Debate

The budget rejection is not something new. Last year, the lower house of the parliament had rejected the budget draft and demanded changes in it. After the first rejection, usually it should be possible to incorporate recommended changes in the budget and get it approved, but the case with our Government is different. Our rulers have no regard for the institutions of the system that the current setup is working upon. The nature of centrality of power to one person in our administrative system has the roots of all political and administrative issues in Afghanistan.

The budget for the new fiscal year was rejected with majority of votes some weeks ago, after Finance Minister Omar Zakhilwal had presented it for approval appealing for quick process as it has been late for two months already. The draft was approved from Senate three weeks ago. But with a huge majority, the Lower House rejected the budget with a list of reasons including unbalanced allocation of funds for development and other projects in different parts of Afghanistan. The Ministry submitted a second proposal draft last week and MPs after studying it, once again rejected with huge majority. When presented on Monday, majority of the house present during the session, 86 members, rejected the draft and small changes made.

MPs say the Government is violating the Constitution of Afghanistan by bypassing some clauses on balanced development. It's not only the ridiculous distribution of development and non-development funds for all the provinces, but allocation of Government spending on public sectors such as health and education makes one wonder what the Finance Ministry does?

This budget draft also show the luxurious spending of the current Administration, despite the situation in a country like Afghanistan is going through. For instance, the amount allocated for expenses of the President's office is at $90 million, which is more than the entire amount allocated for any province. And of course this amount comes under official expenses, and nobody knows about those bags of cash that come from Tehran and other places. The President himself had admitted it, even saying it comes through a proper and "clear procedure".

The Deputy Speaker of the House has made it clear that any budget without proper changes according to their recommendations won't be approved. I think this is a responsible check that the parliament is making. The problem with our system is that there is no respect for our national institutions. If the rulers would have taken the parliament serious, the budget draft proposal should not have been rejected for second time. And it's interesting that in a country like Afghanistan, the Government will not shut down despite the fact that our budget is not approved even after two months of the current year has passed.

After the previous rejection, there was not much changes made in the proposal. The Government had just increased 4 billion Afghanis as the initial amount was 150 billion Afghanis. The development budget is 82.5 billion Afghanis.
Another controversial and questionable aspect of the rejected budget is inclusion of $73 million for Kabul Bank, the troubled private bank that collapsed because of the irregularities and corruption of its shareholders, those having connections with big shots in the Government. This was criticized by some MPs. If it's not taken into state control, why should the taxpayers' money go to save an almost-collapsed bank, which is largely because of corruption-related irregularities in the bank. The bigwigs who are responsible for the crisis of Kabul Bank are not mentioned in the reports nowadays, and none of them have paid their loans back.

The current budget proposal has 215.9billion Afghanis for the coming fiscal year, with an increase from the last year's 115billion AFN. About 60 percent of the budget has been allocated for security and defense expenses. Though it's almost a double increase in defense budget, but with the intensifying recruiting rates of Afghan security forces and the security transition from NATO and the US forces to Afghan troops, it is the need of hour. Last year it was 45billion for security

About 20 percent of the budget is allocated for agriculture sector. Divided in two parts, ordinary and development budgets, about 150billion AFNs will go to development budget while 65.9billion AFNs for the ordinary. Spending all 20 percent on agriculture doesn't make sense when a huge population is jobless and we need spending for job creating sectors, infrastructure development and health services. And education should be the top-most priority,

Afghanistan hugely depends on foreign donations and aid for running the daily financial affairs and expenses of the Government. It's a great development that the budget is almost double of last year and most of it comes from State revenues. And the growth rate has been better with over 10 percent then last year.

But we need much improvement. The Government completely ignored the recommended changes in the budget proposal by the parliament, causing a shameful blow of second rejection. The most critical point to MPs in this budget is the unbalanced distribution of funds for different provinces. They are right to reject it when some insurgency-hit provinces have been receiving all the attention and mega-million projects in the last decade, but the poorest parts of the country being totally ignored.

Our rulers are very stubborn with this. They won't take it serious easily. The clash with parliament on this issue can cause serious problems as already many important national projects are running out of funds to operate. The Government must respect the representatives of masses and not make a mockery of the system and itself. The possible changes should be incorporated in the budget as recommended by MPs.

Abbas Daiyar is the permanent writer of the Daily outlook Afghanistan. He can be reached at Abbas.daiyar@gmail.com

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