A day before Finance Minister John Rwangombwa presented the 2010-2011 budget to Parliament, I met a young man I knew as Dan Small for a cup of coffee at a restaurant in a Kigali suburb. Small is nether small nor very young.
After his high school he worked for a local newspaper as a cub writer where I trained him in the basics of the trade, for debate still continues as to whether journalism is a profession.
This was towards the end of the last decade, which happens to have been the end of the last century and last millennium. After a short while as a journalist he went to India for a degree in Business Administration and shortly after he flew to Great Britain for an MA in Media and Cultural Studies. I was in company of a well educated and traveled man.
Our social talk was dominated by the usual rather mundane issues, like the goings on in our lives and our society. He told me that although he initially trained in the field of management, he had fallen in love with journalism, and is now involved in media consultancy.
He advocated for numerous changes and innovations in the local media which I found pertinent. I found one observation he made about the impending national budget quite intriguing, “You see the budget will be read tomorrow in Parliament, but will it be accessible to Rwandans?” he wondered.
With my high school Economics I did not want to exhibit my ignorance of the subject, so I decided to plod him, the Socrates/Aristotle style, and asked him to explain.
Small said that the Minister will be listened to by MPs and few people listening to TV and `radio, yet the budget is for and affects all Rwandans and “ of course it is so complicated that only those trained in related disciplines will make sense of the budget apart from its price and tax implications”.
I then asked him, “SO?” Small made what I thought was a simple suggestion from the point of view of disseminating information about and educating people about the budget and its implications. “Get experts to translate the budget in terms understandable by the people , sector by sector and publish them in simple language. That way people will know what to expect from the government, and pressure government to provide services.
pledged in the budget and to account for the money budgeted for particular proposes”. Unfortunately I did not meet the man after the budget, but I made sure to listen to the budget when Rwangombwa` read it in parliament.
The budget is long and complex and I can’t claim to be able to write about authoritatively, but I found it a development budget in that it allocates a big share Human development and the social sector.
I listened attentively to the part of the budget that concerns me most;Education. As expected the budget for education in general was increased substantially. However, It is the minister’s answer to Deputy Emmanuel Mudidi, former rector KIE, which demonstrated that most people don’t understand implications of the budget even at high levels.
The Member of Parliament, rightly, pointed out to the minister that lecturers need higher salaries to work effectively, to which the minister answered that higher institutions of higher learning could raise salaries according to the income generated by those institutions. Hon. Rwangombwa reaveled that a student at ULK pays Rwf 500,000 a year and they are able to pay higher salaries, meet construction and other costs, yet the government pays 1,200, 000 frw per sponsored student, implying some anomaly.
The minister’s argument was raised during May day celebrations at Kigali Institute `of Education and lecturers wondered why institutions don’t budget their revenue from the government in the same way private institutions do.
It is simple arithmetic; from the 1200,00 frw, deduct the student’s bursary and you remain with between 700,000 frw and 800,000 frw depending on the student’s course. Whatever the case government sponsored student pays over 200,000 frw more than a private student. Why then are university lecturers not paid fair salaries?
A lecturer from School of Finance and Banking asked to comment on the minister’s revelation said “our public institutions need more autonomy to work efficiently where board of directors or university councils are empowered` to design policies, employ all appropriate staff and put the money from government to good use by adopting appropriate institutional budgets unburdened by bureaucracy.
According to Dr. Celestin Ntivuguruzwa, the chairman KIE staff association, with good management, the resources provided to public institutions by government lecturers could be better remunerated. “ There are many ways of reducing unnecessary expenditure, and we should not blame or wait for the government to do it for us. Government gives us `money we should be able to manage it properly”, said Ntivuguruzwa
Going by Small’s paradigm, it would be fruitful if stakeholders were facilitated to understand and own the budget, so that those who don’t deliver are made to account for their failures instead of lording it over. The example above illustrates how stakeholders could use information from their budget to participate in national development.
Small’s idea of preparing publishing accessible summaries of the budget would go a long way in educating the people about the budget.