The Zambia Congress of Trade Unions has questioned government decision to increase the budget allocation towards defence, security and public order whilst reducing funding to health and education.

Speaking at a briefing, Wednesday, ZCTU secretary general Cosmas Mukuka said the union noted an increase in funding to defence and security since the PF came into power.

“We note with concern that the defence and security sectors continue to receive increased funding year in year out, since the PF came into power. Our worry is that here is a situation where we have so many needy areas. Unless what is worrying in the defence sector is explained which requires more allocation? Are we smelling an attack on Zambia? What is worrying in the religious circles are we smelling certain situations? The public order act, any person would say is it because of the election in 2021 that we need to invest in that?” Mukuka observed.

He said the defence forces and the public order act should have seen their allocations reduces to finance higher priority sectors.

“ZCTU proposes that the defence forces and public order act should have their allocation reduced to finance higher priority programs in education and health. We are not a country at war! Investment in education and health will have much higher future social and economic returns. Some funds released for some infrastructure development in both sectors should be channeled to recapitalising existing institutions improving the quality of health services, drugs and equipment as well as hiring personnel. Further more the increment for cultural and religious affairs from 0.3 per cent in 2019 to 0.4 per cent in 2020 is unnecessary because the country is facing an economic crisis rather than a religious or cultural crisis,” he urged.

“Government’s proposal to reduce spending on education from 15.3 per cent in 2019 to 12.4 per cent in 2020 and health from 9.3 per cent in 2019 to 8.8 per cent in 2020 is a serious drawback; could this be the reason behind desperation on the national health insurance deductions? ZCTU is gravely disappointed in that, not only will this decision have adverse effects on literacy levels in the years to come but it also goes against international instruments that the country is already signatory to.”

And Mukuka said the 2020 national budget had misplaced priorities.

“ZCTU’s observation is that the 2020 budget has missed prioritising some critical areas of the economy and is to the large extent not well aligned with the prevailing economic conditions. This budget falls short on many social aspects which could alleviate the suffering of majority poor Zambians. Social sectors have witnessed a reduction in budgetary allocation which in our view, will have a negative impact on many suffering Zambians,” Mukuka said.

“We also note that the projected economic growth (GDP) is not inspiring to move Zambia towards attaining the goal of becoming a middle income country by 2030 because the budgetary allocations tend to regress; instead of increasing in the face of the rising cost of living in the country.”

Mukuka said the the union was saddened that the tax threshold remained unchanged.

“ZCTU is saddened that the income tax threshold remains unchanged. Considering that there was a very minimal increment of 4 per cent during collective bargaining for public service workers for 2020 fiscal year and many other employees in the private sector got marginal increments to their salaries,” he said.

“Therefore ZCTU maintains its submission that the 2020 budget needs to adjust the non-taxable threshold from the current K3,300 to K5,000 in line with the current basic needs basket, as per studies done by Jesuit Center for Theological Reflection (JCTR) and other think tanks on living conditions in Zambia.”

Mukuka also proposed that government amends the Loan and Guarantee Act to strengthen parliamentary oversight on debt contraction.

“ZCTU proposes that the government amends the Loan and Guarantees Act to strengthen Parliamentary oversight on debt contraction. Further, there is need to introduce the planning and budget bill to improve public investment management and limit borrowing to only projects with higher economic returns,” Mukuka proposed.

“With regard to the revision of the Public Procurement Act for reference pricing and strengthening for high value procurement, emphasis was not made on corruption and curbing executive interference and protection of whistle blowers. There is need to preserve the integrity of institutions fighting corruption. The budget failed to directly address government extensive, consumption and measures for mitigation.”

He described the K1 billion allocated to settling retirement benefits as a drop in a ocean.

“The Government reduced the allocation to social protection programs from 2.5 per cent in 2019 to 2.4 per cent in 2020. An amount of K1 billion has been set aside to go towards paying retirement benefits to public service workers to reduce the waiting time between retirement and receipt of benefit. With the expanding list of recipients, this is a drop in the ocean,” he said.

“In 2019 an amount of K1 billion was allocated to the pensions authority for dismantling arrears but to date, only 48 per cent of that amount has been released. Therefore, there is no guarantee that the entire K1 billion in the budget will be disbursed accordingly.”

Mukuka said the reduced allocation to the Farmer Input Support Program (FISP) would have negative effects on yields in the next farming season.

“We would like to stress that the reduced allocation to the farmers input support program (FISP) from K1.4 billion in 2019 to K1.1 billion in 2020 will have a negative effect on yields in the next farming season. The spill over effects of the 2018/2019 season are still being felt not only by farmers who have little inputs to work with, but by the entire population with the increase in mealie meal prices and other food prices,” said Mukuka.

“An increase in allocation would help the majority of farmers recover as well as help them put up preventive measures. Furthermore, this negative development also comes with the reduction in allocation to strategic food reserves from K672 million in 2019 to K660 million in 2020 as well as environmental protection from one per cent in 2019 to 0.6 per cent in 2020. This will not help in poverty reduction and needs to be revisited.”