Government’s increased budgetary allocation to the Ministry of Defence in the 2019 national budget needs to be explained to all stakeholders in view of the austerity measures, says the Civil Society for Poverty Reduction (CSPR).

Government has proposed to increase the Ministry of Defence’s budgetary allocation next year to around K5.1 billion, from K3.5 billion in this year’s budget.

This represents an increase of over K1.5 billion and gobbles around 5.8 per cent of the 2019 national budget, while also more than doubling the allocation for social protection whose funding is only K2.2 billion, down from K2.3 billion allocated in the 2018 budget.

Speaking during the ZICA-EAZ 2019 national budget analysis dinner held at Intercontinental Hotel in Lusaka, Friday, CSPR executive director Patrick Nshindano asked government to explain why defence spending had increased when the country was not at war.

“So, top-line talk always, from our perspective is that, debt repayments continue to be a challenge, external debt doubled to K14.9 billion against K7.2 billion representing 23.6 per cent of the national budget. But also, of concern and something that we would like to hear is the issue of foreign financing, which is at 28.4 per cent. But also, one of the things we have been calling for is more toward non-concessional long-term borrowing, which will not again crowd out our spending in terms of social sectors. Social protection case again there is a drop despite the nominal value increase I indicated. 2.5 per cent against 3.2 per cent. It’s not enough to put allocations; we want to see commitment towards fund during the fiscal year,” Nshindano, a key-note speaker at the event, said.

“But also I think one of the things that struck me was the increase in the defence budget. It’s something I would like to get an explanation, especially in an austerity period and the fact that we are not at war. But also, one of the things we note, like I indicated as part of our expectation was the provision of some sort of relief. No personal income relief, but also additional erosion of the relief with the introduction of a number of these levies coming on, such as the Health Insurance Bill. The sales tax is highly applauded, but also one of those things we would like to get an understanding on. So, I hope that we will get to understand in terms of the burden structure.”

He also urged government to institute measures aimed at addressing poverty and inequality instead of depending on the ‘trickle-down effect’ way of resolving the matter.

“…We need to be recognisant of the state in which we are poverty levels still remain extremely high at 54.2 per cent and for us this is the biggest challenge. And it needs to be tackled head-on and it shouldn’t be an issue of trickle-down; there should be deliberate policies that are going to tackle down that issue. But also of concern is the ever-growing inequality where a few people are benefitting from the wealth of the nation at the expense of the majority, and if you had to see the child wellbeing indicators you will see that we are not doing well as a country. Investment into social sectors becomes very critical,” noted Nshindano.