Liuwa UPND member of parliament Dr Alexander Musokotwane says he expects the 2020 national budget to be characterized by a cash shortage as Zambia will need to prioritize debt repayments and salaries for public service workers.

And Dr Musokotwane, who is a former finance minister, has bemoaned the inadequate amount of relief food being distributed to hunger-stricken areas.

Speaking to journalists at the UPND secretariat, Tuesday, Dr Musokotwane anticipated that debt servicing and salaries for public service workers would largely be prioritized in the forthcoming 2020 budget, leaving limited resources for other economic sectors.

He also noted that the only way new projects would be seen was if government borrowed more money.

Government spending on serving external debt drastically leaped to nearly K15 billion in this year’s budget, more than double the amount of K7.26 billion allocated in the 2018 budget.

But despite that increased allocation, Finance Minister Dr Bwalya Ng’andu presented a supplementary budget of K9.8 billion to Parliament earlier this month, with about K6.4 billion to be spent on both external and domestic debt obligations.

“I do not expect that we will see much change in the budget that is coming later this year, why do I say so? Because the whole budget is just going to be consumed or rather most of it going to be consumed by two things: one, public service salaries; two, debt service. So, if there is anyone who believes that now we are going to see new projects and so forth, if they happen, it will only be because, again, more money will be borrowed,” Dr Muukotwane said.

“So, right now, the key thing that I expect the Minister of Finance (Dr Bwala Ng’andu) to grapple with is how to deal with the debt crisis; how to deal with the fact that schools have no teachers, not because there are no teachers, but because there is no money to pay them. So, these are the things that we expect the Treasury will be grappling with, cash shortage. So, I won’t expect really any other area of focus other than how they are going to deal with the cash shortage.”

And Dr Musoktwane expressed disappointment over the inadequate amounts of relief food being distributed to areas that had been affected by the looming hunger crisis in the country.

“The hunger situation in my constituency is very serious, not just in my constituency; I can tell you that in all of Western Province, hunger is very serious! This is why, as a party, we have always been saying, as a government; please declare an emergency situation because there is hunger! The government says there is enough food, but this food is not reaching the people. The purpose of declaring an emergency situation is that, there are organisations in this world that have budgets for emergency hunger situations, but for those funds to be released, they require the government to declare that these are the laws that obtain in our country, you can’t just make an extraordinary effort to go feed somebody, the owner of the family, the one who is hungry must state and say that there is hunger here, that’s when that money is unlocked,” he said.

“So, we feel very disappointed that even when people are hungry, the relief food that is going in these areas is just too little to make any difference. So, we feel very disappointed that the government is not delivering enough food and when people say ‘declare an emergency situation’ so that if you are not able to handle it ourselves, those who wait for signals like the ones we are telling you about, will release their resources so that the people will feed. So, hunger is very serious, and this is hunger that started from January, now it is even worse! We don’t know what is going to happen when it comes to November, we don’t know and, of course, without water for animals, there will be a lot of death of livestock.”

Meanwhile, Dr Musokotwane called on government to rethink the idea of the national airline as it will perpetuate poverty because of the huge pressure it would have on other sectors of the economy.

“You have heard here in the region, a big airline like South African Airways making huge losses and there is a discussion there, in South Africa, whether they should continue subsidizing or not. Those subsidies are money taken away from somewhere else to fund an airline. A few days ago, I read an article that the Namibian government is contemplating closing the Air Namibia, why, because it’s making losses. So, you wonder when it is almost certain that this new airline is going to be making losses, and we are 95 per cent certain to be losing money, why do it? Because once it starts operating, and they tell you we have no money for fuel, you withdraw money from hospitals to buy them fuel because of the plight our national airline must fly,” observed Dr Musokotwane.

“So, you withdraw money from paying teachers, you withdraw money from councils. Where do you take it, national airline? So, this is just going to perpetrate poverty. Don’t listen to this story to say it’s going to encourage tourism, where the environment for tourism is ripe, we don’t need a national airline to take tourists. But I can tell, if this airline makes losses, Ethiopian Airlines will not put a ngwee there! They will say the airline is making losses so bring money, why should they support it, why should subsidize it?”