The past few months have been quite busy for Parliamentarians, the recently concluded election period coincided with the budget period and therefore, Members of Parliament had to devote time to both activities. The passing of the Public Finance Management Act in 2015 altered the budget period by fast-tracking the entire process. Initially, the proposed budget was read on 15th June annually and only then was it committed to Parliament for consideration and approval on October 30th. Contrary to the usual, Parliament now receives the Budget Framework Paper by 31st December and goes on to consider the proposed budget and approve it by May 31st.
Although the 9th Parliament is still underway, it’s important to note that the 5th session is soon winding up. This notwithstanding, the gruelling election period created three scenarios; A few incumbents decided not to contest, a majority sought re-election and lost while a few won and lastly a large number of new faces emerged. These scenarios have affected of Parliament business in a number of ways inclusive but not limited to the budget process;
Since Parliament resumed after the election recess on 1st March, the house has struggled to achieve its required quorum even in this crucial budget period. Some MPs who lost are so demoralised while others are still celebrating their victories, either way a number have resorted to absconding from their duties. One-third of MPs constitute quorum and is required before voting on various questions, however, in the recent past we’ve grown accustomed to parliament passing a number of laws and especially the budget without quorum. Last year was a testament to that fact.
Parliament also released a schedule for the swearing in of the MPs constituting the 10th Parliament, however, the budget is also scheduled for approval by the end of the same month. Considering that the new members will be sworn in by the time, technically they are Members whose constitutional obligation is to approve the budget. Therefore, a new set of MPs will approve a budget that was considered by another. The 10th Parliament will go on to monitor the budget and chances are that they will be oblivious of some facts because they were not involved in the day to day process of the budget. The impact is going to be felt especially because some MPs do not comprehend the whole process and will need time to become conversant with it. They will have trouble playing their oversight role.
The Speaker mentioned in one of her communications that Government and Parliament were undertaking talks to amend the Public Finance Management Act, 2015 to expedite the process and allow for the 9th Parliament to pass the budget. The PFMA says that “Parliament shall by 31st May approve the annual budget.” Therefore, it has the discretion to approve the budget before 31st. Although the amendment will fix the problem for the budget now, we must acknowledge that this is a scenario that happens once every five years and is a natural coming of age process and does not require amendment of the PFMA as it’s provided for already. However, it remains to be seen how and whether the Budget will be approved before the lapse of the 9th Parliament.
 16, 17, 18 and 19th of May 2016