Civil Society for Poverty Reduction (CSPR) executive director Patrick Nshindano has lamented that poverty cannot end in Zambia because political decisions override progressive budgetary allocations.

And Nshindano says Zambia needs leaders who will spend public resources on developmental projects as opposed to those which are politically sexy.

In an interview, Nshindano noted that whilst the 7NDP was progressive, there was a danger that it would not be followed to the letter due to political interference.

“I think the biggest challenge that we have as a country is that there is insufficient attention given to poverty reduction and if you look at the current statistics, rural poverty is at 76 per cent on average. Other districts recording as high as 80 to 90 per cent. It’s said that after 52 years of independence the country still has such levels of poverty. A lot more needs to be done and if you look at the Seventh National Development Plan (7NDP), it’s a very progressive plan and it identifies the problems and the solutions that need to be implemented. But there is a tendency when you look at budgetary allocation, there is this tendency of following political decisions as opposed to what is planned for in the 7NDP. There is a clear outline of what has to be followed in the 7NDP and that has to be sufficiently followed in terms of budgetary allocation. But the challenge is that we usually find political decisions taking prominence in place of what has been planned for,” Nshindano said.

And Nshindano said Zambia needed leaders who would spend on developmental projects instead of politically sexy ones.

“Even the current positions where we find ourselves with a lot of debt deficit is because of outside budge expenditure. This is a very big problem to poverty reduction because you have to be sure that first and foremost, the macroeconomic position of the country with regards to the deficit, debt management and the economy indeed are healthY. Later on, sufficient investment is channeled to social sectors such as health, education and so on, which has not happened. What we have now is a situation where resources available to invest to social sectors have been diverted to other issues because of the fiscal deficit and high debt levels. A case in point is the 2018 national budget where we have just about 30 per cent to invest in social sectors while the rest is going to debt repayment and expenditures such as salaries,” he said.

“So you find that room for poverty reduction is increasingly reducing and for us to create sufficient fiscal space, it requires very strong and honest political leadership, which is going to ensure that we reduce waste, we reduce corruption in the way that we spend the country’s resources. Because if you don’t have such leaders then we are going to continue spending our resources on things that are politically sexy, as opposed to what is developmentally right. And there are plans that speak to that. Can we speak to the 7NDP, can we speak to the Zambia Plus that we put together, can we speak to the medium term strategy that we came up with? If we do that, we should be able to see also room created to invest in poverty reduction programmes. Failure to do that becomes a challenge again and we will not be able to realise what we have put at risk.”

Nshindano observed that government lacked priorities when it came to projects which had a direct bearing on people’s living standards.

“The government has issues when it comes to implementation, we implement political priorities even now that we have a clear guide of what we are supposed to do in the next five years. Nobody should even start asking what is supposed to be included in the next budget because it’s very clear and all we need to do is to speak to the 7NDP and it will tell you that we are supposed to look at in agriculture is this, in health and other sectors. So in there, all the priorities are made clear. But what you find is that politics tend to lead us away from the development plans that have taken thorough analysis, a lot of consultation programmes and so on. Now we are in very fiscally tight position, and when you are in that kind of position, it calls for very strong leadership. Because we want to reduce unnecessary expenditure, we want to ensure that resources go to the priorities that are set within the budget and we also want to curb any waste on the part of government. This includes also the issues to do with corruption, public finance management. So we need a very strong political will to be able to fight that and speak to the plan,” Nshindano said.

Meanwhile, Nshindano complained that government had not created an enabling environment for the domestic private sector to thrive and create jobs for the local people.

“The other problem we have is that government has started to think that they can create jobs. Government should facilitate for an enabling environment of creating jobs. Sustainable job creation and growth should be aligned to economic growth and productivity. When the domestic private sector grows, then you will also see jobs being created. But that’s where the problem is, we don’t have a very strong domestic private sector that is involved in manufacturing, production and so on. But what we have is a lot of growth that is driven by foreign capital investment, which has very high ability to have a lot of government projects which are not given to locals and you find that very few Zambia are employed by these companies permanently,” said Nshindano.

“So if the government wants to create jobs, can we ensure that the SMEs are provided with the necessary support to be able to grow and create jobs. If you look at employment in Zambia, most people are actually in the informal sector. Informal sector contributes over 80% of the labour force. That clearly shows you that the informal sector creates jobs which are sustainable. However, we are always optimistic and we expect that the 2019 budget will fully align some of the things that we have highlighted.”