Did we forget about the budget?

Zdravko Saveski
Political scientist and member of Levica

Major things are happening on the political scene. Constitutional changes are being pushed through blackmail and bribes, while, in the meantime, the main culprit for the criminal rule of the previous government Nikola Gruevski has fled the country. We now have a government that shows a high level of unscrupulousness and practices methods of governance that were typical of the previous government. In such a context, it is understandable and expected that the focus of the public would be on these topics.

However, this does not mean that we need to forget about other topics. In particular, it should be taken into account that this is the time of the year when the budget for next year is to be adopted. In normal countries, the public is focused on that process. Yes, we are not a normal country, but we must not allow without public debate and public pressure to push through the budget. Because it is about how the government is spending the money it takes from the citizens and, consequently, whether our life as citizens will be improved next year or the money will be used irrationally, will pay party soldiers with them, or simply end up in well.

The government again proposed a record—breaking big budget for next year. That in itself is not troublesome, but it’s troublesome that the record-breaking big budget again plans to contain a deficit. That deficit is not negligible at all, amounting to 17.7 billion denars (28.8 million euros). And they did not have to produce a deficit. The government plans revenue for the next year as much as the expenditures for this year. This offered an opportunity, due to the increase in the planned revenues, for the first time in a while, the budget does not contain a deficit. But no! The ruling government took the revenue increase as a green light to increase costs!

Before coming to power, SDSM repeatedly alarmed that Macedonia was rapidly sinking into debt. But when it came to power, the only thing that affected it was the spread of cheap propaganda. For the first time in a while, public debt as a percentage of GDP has decreased. Yes, the percentage has decreased, but the amount, the amount of money that Macedonia owes continued to grow. And the sum is the most important aspect, while whether the percentage of GDP has increased or decreased has secondary significance. In a situation when Macedonia becomes a seriously indebted country, SDSM should strive to reduce public debt, and not plan a budget that contains a significant deficit. Does it plan for revenues for next year that are on the level of expenditures of this year? What is the necessity for an increase in expenditures next year?

And again, even the increase in expenditures in conditions of lower incomes is not in itself bad. It may be planned to increase public investment, to foresee more funds to reduce poverty among the people. In that direction, the government will be praised that it has increased the budget of the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy. It is true, but neither the amount that has been increased (plus one billion) nor the percentage of increase (2.3 percent) cannot be balanced with the increase in the budget of the Ministry of Defense (plus 1.8 billion denars) and the percentage of an increase that it received (a whopping 29.7 percent!).

The increase in budget funds for defense is so huge that we have the right to talk about the militarization of the budget! No other way, the increase in the defense ministry budget can be characterized by almost a third in just one year! What is the reason for this militarization of the budget? Macedonia is threatened with immediate military danger? No. All this has to do with NATO membership and the fulfillment of the famous NATO standards for military expenditures of member states. Macedonia in 2017 set aside 0,98% of GDP for “defense”. NATO standards require an accelerated increase in these expenditures to 2% of GDP. And the government zealously threw it to fulfill it. Since its coming to power in just two years, SDSM has increased its incredible 956 percent, from 151 million in 2017 to 1.4 billion in 2019!

What’s wrong with that? Don’t ever forget that money does not grow on trees. If a budget item is growing, then often another budget item falls. And that’s what the government intends to do. While the budget of the Ministry of Defense has grown enormously and no matter how the government plans a larger budget for 2019, the budget of the Ministry of Health is – reduced! So what is the power that enormously increases the budget of the Ministry of Defense, and reduces the budget of the Ministry of Health? One thing is for sure. That government is neither social nor democratic, nor does it care about the real problems of the common man!

In truth, quite a few items in the budget of the Ministry of Health have not only been reduced, but also (minor) increased. And the reduction of the total budget of the Ministry of Health is due to the reduction of the funds for construction of a new clinical center in Skopje and Stip, and for the reconstruction and extension of the health facilities. But why are these funds reduced? Is not it an urgent need from the citizens’ point of view? Wasting money to meet NATO standards is more important to the citizens? If so, then the new tanks that they will surely buy because of the modernization of armaments in accordance with NATO standards – they should park them in front of the hospitals. So that citizens, when they receive a poor healthcare service they can admire them and comfort themselves: “Maybe we do not have proper appliances in hospitals, perhaps even our hospitals are ruined and doctors are running away, but we can be proud of being a member of NATO!”

The enormous increase in the budget of the Ministry of Defense is not only at the expense of the Ministry of Health budget. The budget of the Ministry of Culture has also been reduced. The funds for financing the activities in the field of culture and the funds for science have also been reduced. In just two years SDSM literally halved the budget of the Ministry of Culture! Even worse, since 2004, the Ministry of Culture has never had so few budgetary resources available!
It’s similar to science. In the last two decades our science literally sank. One of the reasons for this is insufficient investment in science. And in such a situation, what kind of measures does the government in power take? With an increased budget, it – shamelessly – cuts budget funds for science! The percentage of budget funds for science fell to poor 0.18 percent of the general budget, the lowest percentage since at least 2003. Nikola Gruevski’s catastrophic power did not even dare to allocate as low a percentage of budget funds for science! And these, supposedly the enlightened ones, did it! Shame on them! Have they heard that the Western countries, to which they are allegedly striving, allocate at least 1 percent of the budget for science?

This situation also speaks of the situation with the militarization of the budget. Before SDSM came to power, the budget funds for reducing pollution and for NATO integration were almost the same, about 150 million denars. After two years, while the funds for NATO integration increased by unprecedented and unbelievable 956 percent, the funds provided for pollution reduction rose by miserable 0.6 percent compared to 2017. The overall budget grew by 10.8 percent, but the means to reduce pollution – by only 0.6 percent. This is how serious is the ruling government in its efforts to deal with pollution!

In the end, I will again emphasize. Money does not grow on trees. In a country with such poor citizens like Macedonia it is extremely important that the government does not waste the people’s money and budget to tailor it according to the needs of the people, not according to the imperial master’s instructions. The militarization of the budget is particularly unacceptable in conditions of impoverishment of the people and serious indebtedness of the state. Citizens must not allow the government to push through the frivolous draft budget for 2019 so easily.

Views expressed in this article are personal views of the author and do not represent the editorial policy of Nezavisen Vesnik