IT will be difficult for government to effectively plan ahead without knowing the population of citizens it intends to plan for, says Vice-chairperson of the Zambia All Parties Parliamentary Caucus on Population And Development (ZAPPC) Princess Kasune.

Debating the K779.5 million budgetary allocation to the Ministry of Development and Planning for next year, Kasune, who is also Keembe UPND member of parliament, argued that the allocation was a clear indication that the Ministry will fail to achieve its core mandate.

“I am concerned that the Ministry that is charged with the national planning of our nation and development and evaluation. From the budget that has been allocated to them, it seems that this Ministry will not be able to achieve the very core business of its mandate that it was created for. Madam chair, in many of the countries similar to this Ministry, they do not sit the way they sit in Zambia. This Ministry usually sits either under the Vice-President or the President of the country so that they can coordinate or oversee the planning aspect of development. However, this is not the case and this has reduced this Ministry to just like any other ministry when actually their mandate is a critical and a serious one,” Kasune said.

She stressed that without knowing the total population, it was difficult for MPs to know which constituencies need to be multiplied under the proposed ECZ delimitation exercise.

“Secondly, I have not seen money allocated to the census or, indeed, the money required so that the census can take place. We are aware, madam chairperson, that the census was supposed to have commenced in August, this year, and this is in the line that come 2021, as a people, and especially us as members of parliament, would have known where the numbers of these people are and where even the needed multiplication of constituencies could have been because you cannot claim to bring equal development to a nation when you do not know your population,” she said.

She also cautioned that as long as the Ministry of National Development Planning lacked sufficient resources to fund its own projects, there will be less development.

“This Ministry is likely to miss the population dividends and take advantage of that because of the lack of data collection. The Minister (Alexander Chiteme) did allude to the importance of data collection and rightfully so. But if you look at the allocation of their budget, in an much as it looks like it has increased, but when we factor in the dollar being stronger than the kwacha, there is no increment in this Ministry. It is important to underscore, madam chairperson, that as long as a lot of the projects that are being funded by this Ministry are done by international bodies, such as the World Bank, and we do not have enough resources to fund these projects ourselves, we will find that a lot of these projects in our constituencies, which are supposed to help with the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals), as the Minister alluded to, will actually come to a halt. And we know that these international bodies are also beginning to either slow down or to pull out because they want to see the domestic revenue being put in priority projects, which I don’t think we are seeing,” Kasune said.

She also said that it was difficult to delimitate the constituencies if Zambia’s accurate population figure remained unknown.

“This is why, madam chairperson, for some of us in the UPND, we have said we are not supporting Bill 10 based on the fact that if you do not understand the population of your country, how, then, can you say that you are going to have the capacity to delimitate the constituencies so that they are manageable and so that development is brought to the people and closer to the people? It is one of the key issues that those who are proponents of Bill 10 have been dangling around, but if you cannot count your population, there is no way you are going to have an effective delimitation. That is why, for me, I have challenges with this head (Ministry), madam chairperson. And we have argued that as long as we do not have satisfactory data, it will be very difficult to plan for our country,” she added.

But National Development and Planning Minister Alexander Chiteme explained that the census was halted because of the COVID-19 outbreak as the project was a human contact exercise.

“We postponed the census to 2021 because of COVID-19-related issues. As you might be aware, madam chairperson, the census is a high human contact exercise. And because of the guidelines from the Ministry of Health, we couldn’t progress with the census this year and we have tried to postpone it to next year. I want to agree that the allocation to the budget is not as everyone would have expected, but we are managing with the scarce resources that are with (the Ministry of) Finance. I would also want to urge her (Princess Kasune) that she cannot come out here and say that the reason why she is not voting for Bill 10 is because the census has not been done because Bill 10 was on the table before the census was cancelled,” said Chiteme.