ON Thursday the Minister of Finance and Economic Development, Prof Mthuli Ncube, presented a national budget of $421.6 billion that is expected to provide a strong foundation that will balance the country’s economic structure going forward.

Building on the strength of the austerity measures and the Transitional Stabilisation Programme (TSP) economic blueprint whose tenure ends next month and has been succeeded by the National Development Strategy (NDS 1) that President Mnangagwa launched last week, the budget is a clear testimony of the many positives achieved this year as the country presses out of the confines of the messy macro-economic trenches characterised by the Covid – 19 induced national lockdown.

Key human face deliverables from the budget include tax relief measures that are expected to cushion the workers where the Minister doubled the tax-free threshold from $5000 to $10000 per month with effect from the 1st of January 2021. The Minister also reviewed upwards the bonus tax-free threshold from $5000 to $25 000 effective 1 November 2020.

Among other key deliverables and measures aimed at stabilising the national economy, the Minister said the economy is expected to grow by 7.4% in the coming year while the official exchange rate is expected to remain at around US$1:ZW$81 while annual inflation is projected to continue declining.

With all the above positives that are buttressed with massive infrastructure development projects such as roads, dams and other construction projects at different stages, one can only imagine the pace had it not been that the country was heavily burdened with Covid – 19 global pandemic that decimated the world’s population and slowed down economic growth with lengthy periods of economic inactivity.

The recent spiking deaths due to Covid-19 particularly in Bulawayo have caused panic and anxiety among residents when everyone thought the country has managed to pass the critical stage of coronavirus with an amazing record.

The calls for collective efforts to fight the rising cases of the pandemic are therefore supposed to be heed by all progressive citizens so that the country does not fall back into lockdown and derail its economic gains. In recent weeks, the city has been hit by the virus that has forced a number of schools such as john Tallach and Girls College into lockdown and indefinite closure leaving parents and teachers in fear. But the budget also took note of that with a tacit admission by Treasury that the country’s healthcare needs a major infrastructure realignment.

We applaud Prof Ncube for his frankness and admission of the lessons learnt from the country’s response to Covid – 19. He said despite the challenging economic environment, the New Dispensation has over the last two years been providing significant resources to revive the health system in areas such as reproductive, maternal, new-born and adolescent health and nutrition services.

Prof Ncube posited that however, the Covid-19 pandemic has put a spotlight on the challenges in the healthcare system and infrastructure, from shortages of testing and medical supplies to access of health services for underserved populations.

“Infrastructure gaps still exist in service delivery and availability, as well as readiness of health facilities to provide basic health-care interventions in the country. The health crisis provides useful lessons for longer-term reforms required to build greater resilience in our health systems against any future shocks,” he said.

In this regard, he says, the NDS1 provides a commitment to revamp the public health infrastructure, covering upgrading and construction of health facilities, installation of medical equipment, procurement of ambulances and utility vehicles.

“Building on the country’s resilience to deal with health crises through stringent Public Health and Social Measures (PHSM) as noted by a survey carried in August 2020, the 2021 National Budget will endeavour to increase the allocation to the health sector so that it gravitates towards the Abuja target of 15% of National Budget to ensure the country achieves the desired health outcomes,” he said.

It is our hope that stakeholders will put their hands on the deck in the fight against Covid – 19 so that the country does not slide back into economic regression as a result of another strict lockdown regime.

We therefore reiterate here and now that it is the responsibility of everyone to make sure the country is safe from the pandemic through following the guidelines provided by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Enforcement agents should therefore be on the lookout for those who have no regard for other people’s lives. The country cannot afford to lose lives because of negligence and complacency. The country’s economy should be built on the strength and healthy of its workforce.