Centre for Trade Policy and Development (CTPD) has projected that debt accumulation will increase in 2019 and Zambians should expect more taxes because government will be desperate for domestic resource mobilisation.
And Civil Society for Poverty Reduction (CSPR) executive director Patrick Nshindano says building universities should not be government’s priority it should instead invest more in remote areas because that’s where poverty levels are high.
And Save the Children International (SCI) Country Director Duncan Harvey says the 2019 budget is not child friendly because the allocation for children’s health, social protection and education has decreased.
The three were speaking at a public forum held at Southern Sun Hotel in Lusaka, Friday evening, where different Civil Society Organizations as well as some members of the public were in attendance.
The public forum dubbed ‘The state of the economy and public investment in children’ was brought by a consortium of organisations under the Zambia Tax Platform, Child Budget Network through Zambia Civic Education Association (ZCEA), CTPD, Save the Children and News Diggers!
Opening the discussion, ZCEA Executive Director Judith Mulenga wondered what rights people kept talking about when some children were hungry.
“As ZCEA, we are fully engaged in advocating for more allocation in the national budget towards those programs in the budget that advance the realisation of children’s rights. CTPD is equally engaged on resource mobilisation. They engage in advocating for more resource mobilisation and tax issues in order to allow for the children’s program to be fully realised. We have the 7NDP with the theme “Accelerating development efforts towards the Vision 2030 without leaving anyone behind”. These days whenever you see a policy or a vision in Africa, we are always accelerating and leaving no one behind, on paper. What rights are we talking about if children cannot eat?” asked Mulenga.
In his presentation, CTPD researcher Bright Chizonde noted that external debt had affected the 2019 budget because allocation to social services had been reduced.
“What has caused these reductions in education, health and social protection? In our analysis, looking at the percent allocated to debt in the 2018 budget, it was given about 20 percent. In the 2019 budget, debt was given 27 percent of the budget share. So it means the allocation has increased by seven percent. Where did the seven percent come from? One percent reduction from health, one percent reduction from education and five percent reduction from other budget items,” he said.
Chizonde projected that debt accumulation would increase in 2019.
He told Zambians to expect more taxes in 2019 saying there would be more domestic resource mobilisation.
“Interest rates may fall but debt payments would increase. This is due to the fact that there is domestic borrowing which is going to reduce but then an increase in external borrowing. Domestic resource mobilisation is going to increase, meaning whatever we felt in 2018 in terms of taxes, in 2019 we expect more because there will be more domestic resource mobilisation,” he said.
Chizonde recommended that government reduced the stock of the debt in order to mitigate the risk of distress.
He further recommended that government implemented other measures aimed at reducing debt payments, as well as improving financial management saying Zambia risked accelerating into debt distress if the recommendations were not heeded.
SCI Country Director Duncan Harvey then observed that the 2019 budget was not child friendly because the allocation for children’s health, social protection and education had decreased.
“The question to me is that ‘is this a child friendly budget? Is this a budget that’s focused on children? There are three particular areas that I would want to highlight, children’s health, children’s education and social protection. We are not seen the budget heading in the right direction. What we have seen in the previous years is a trend towards under investment in those areas and we really need to be advocating for government to be doing more. When it comes to education for example, back in 2014, government was investing more than 20 percent of the budget in education for children. [But] for next year, that allocation is down to 15.3 percent. In terms of answering the question, ‘is it a child friendly budge’, to me there’s still a lot more that should be done in order to invest in children,” he said.
Meanwhile, CSPR executive director Patrick Nshindano said building universities should not be government’s priority but to invest more in remote parts of the country because that’s where high poverty levels were.
“Within every budget that you see, the priorities that we set in our budget basically determines what is it that we want to achieve and where our heart lies. Poverty affects mostly women and children. Zambia still remains in high levels of poverty. And when a budget is undertaking investment, we need to be alive to the demographics of the country in terms of where that investment has to go. Part of that has to be concentration in the remote parts because this is where we have high poverty levels. Once you are tackling the issue of poverty in the remote parts of the country, you are also investing in children,” said Nshindano.
“On education, despite achieving universal primary education, the quality of education still remains low. Completion rate at grade nine and 12 are at 69 and 53 percent respectively. Yet when you look at the 2019 budget, under education one of the largest chunk there is going to universities, building of the FTJ university at K443 million. And when you look at the secondary to primary school ratios, where are those children going to go that are completing primary school? Yes universities are important but at this particular time this is not a priority.”
Zambian Artist, Kantu Siachingili observed that access to education was still one of the major challenges that children faced.
She lamented that it broke her heart to see children in rural areas walk long distances to get to school, 55 years after independence.
“Access to education is still one of the major challenges that the Zambian child faces. It is very heart breaking that 55 years after independence, children in rural areas still have to walk 40, 50 kilometers to get to school yet we pride ourselves of the natural resources that we have. And when they get to school, bear in mind they have no shoes, even when they get to that school, they will have to sit under a tree because the infrastructure is dilapidated. This is country that is one of the highest copper producing country in the entire world! I feel we ought to be ashamed,” said Kantu.