The UK Department of International Development (DFID Zambia) Head, Steven Beel says Zambia should not be heavily reliant on cooperating partners but begin to look out for it’s own interests by prioritising talks with the IMF and World Bank in order to secure financial support.

And Beel has revealed that the British government no longer provides funding directly to government towards social cash transfer but rather technical support to strengthen accountability in programmes.

Recently, British Prime Minister Boris questioned relevance of giving huge aid to Zambia when he announced the merger of the Department of International Development (DFID) and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) into one new department to bring together Britain’s international effort.

He wondered why Zambia should get the same amount of aid as Ukraine when the latter was vital for European security.

And explaining the implications of the changes in the UK’s international relations, Beel told Choma-based Byta FM on a special programme, Thursday, that he could not state whether funding to Zambia would be reduced.

“The UK government will continue to keep under review how resources will be channelled in the coming years and to be honest, that’s an annual process that we continue to go through. So it is very difficult for me to say where the numbers might be in the coming years. But also it’s very important that Zambia starts to look out for its own interests and doesn’t end up being overly reliant on international partners. So that’s where they kind of have to ensure that the engagement with the IMF and others is critically important to kind of make sure there is enough financing to support government,” Beel said, on a phone call from London.

And Beel revealed that the UK was no longer providing direct funding to government.

“Good governance is important in terms of financial management as well as political governance. So we don’t provide any funding to the government but certainly, whomever we provide the finding to, the way funds are managed is very important and we are just as interested, to be honest, in terms of how Zambia’s tax prayer’s money is spent and accounted for. That’s why for many years, we have been strong supporters of accountability and transparency arrangements to be put in place. So in the last few years, we’ve had a few challenges. Our role is to support all the stakeholders that have a role in strengthening systems of accountability, democratic processes etc. And actually coming up to next year’s election, that will be very important. All of that is about making sure that all funds, wherever they come from are used as effectively as possible,” Beel said.

“There are certain areas like the Social Cash Transfer Programme which we have supported for many years but the last couple of years, we did stop funding directly to the government and now there is a kind of change in nature of the relationship and Zambia’s own resources. We stopped funding directly to the government. But our commitment to the Social Cash Transfer Programme is still very strong, we still provide a significant amount of technical assistance through support to the UN and World Bank. Our belief is that this needs to be considered as a priority for government as well to kind of make sure that systems work as effectively as possible. It’s probably worth saying that the amount of funds that UK provides in Zambia is a very tiny fraction of the government of Zambia in budget, we are probably talking less than two or three per cent of the resources that government has. So also, [that] influences how we use our money and where we spend it.”

He said his government was providing technical assistance to strengthen the social cash transfer programme.

“So we are now providing technical assistance, this is about strengthening systems. So there has been kind of a lot of Parliamentary hearings on the Social Cash Transfer Programme and I think consistently, it’s really a very important part of strengthening social protection systems in Zambia and it’s part of Zambia demonstrating its very much maturing and strong developing country that needs to have a strong social protection system. But clearly, with systems of these kinds, there are probably from time to time problems of targeting and making sure the right beneficiaries receive the money to make sure budgets are provided where needed to ensure people get their payment on time. So I think these are all the things for which the systems need to be strengthened,” Beel said.

Beel, however, said his government was still committed to supporting Zambia.

“This doesn’t change the fact that government remains committed to spending the same amount on supporting Zambia. So the merger shouldn’t change that situation. The reason for the merger is to put development at the heart of our foreign policy so this should help us in engaging with Zambia more frequently than we have been to do so in the past. So it’s a merger of two departments. We are not losing the support, we are not losing the funding. But we want to support other countries in that sense,” said Beel.