TO spend or not to spend public resources… ‘How much spending is too much?’ This has not only been a quagmire for the Zambian government and people, but also a bone of contention and a breeding ground for controversy in every passing leadership. With needs in the country continually rising and debt desperately needing to fall, there is no telling where the line should be drawn when it comes to spending.

In his interview with BBC, President Hakainde Hichilema stated that his government would be prudent and ensure resources were utilized in the most optimal manner. He maintained that his leadership was coming in with integrity and self-restraint on utilisation of public resources.

This may sound plausible, but Zambians especially the youths need much more for them to regain the lost trust on these issues. Their questions on social sector spending have taken an upward spiral with the coming of a new regime. Zambia’s expectation on this is how social spending must protect vulnerable citizens who cannot meet the most basic of needs. Social protection pertains to the policies and rules that look after the lives and welfare of people, especially those that are poor. People living in poverty cannot meet their basic needs and obtain basic services. When people cannot get food, shelter, education or medication and healthcare they are more vulnerable.

ActionAid Country Director Nalucha Ziba outlines her expectations of an increase in allocation of government resources towards social sectors with the coming on board of special drawing rights by the IMF. She hopes that this will remedy the lack of funds directed towards social services, and further anticipates that the social protection bill will be tabled in parliament.

“There have been very low funds being committed towards servicing of social services such as education, [including] health and agriculture,” she explains. “Even the wings that we are seeing under the Ministry of Health budget, most of them it is through support from various donors that have been putting in funds largely due to issues to do with the COVID pandemic, as well as realising health is usually at the heart of the country.”

“So, therefore moving forward, our expectation is that with the coming on board of the special drawing rights, which is aimed at helping, relieving the government during a crisis, we are hoping to continue witnessing an increased allocation towards the social sectors such as health, education as well as agriculture.”

CIVIL Society Scaling-up Nutrition (CSO-SUN) Alliance country coordinator Mathews Mhuru explains that the government must plan its social sector budgeting to ensure that its vision of every Zambian affording three meals a day is attained. He adds that this is crucial given that food has been a highly inaccessible basic need for most Zambians recently.

“If you look at social sectors, these are sectors that have to do with the welfare of people, you are looking at health, you are looking at social protection, you are looking at agriculture, education as well as other sectors associated with the people.

“When it comes to spending in those lines, the government has to plan through the budget on how much is going to go to each sector. We are hopeful of the President’s plan that every Zambian can afford three meals a day, it is very good. The high cost of food in the past few months has been a limiting factor to accessibility of food for most people,” he said.

The Civil Society for Poverty Reduction (CSPR) programmes manager, Edward Musopa, expresses excitement for a new chapter in the fight against corruption for Zambia through the coming of a new government. He stresses the need for more resources channelled towards youth employment, innovation and agriculture.

“We are very hopeful going by the tone given by the UPND as a newly elected party in power. Going by the anti-corruption stance which they have taken not only now but even during their campaigns we feel like we are opening a new chapter in the fight against corruption and apart from addressing the weakness within the system, but ensuring that the provisions which exist in legislation such as the public finance management act are fully enforced or they are fully operationalized. Because the act itself has got enough instruments within there which can see to it that you prevent the mismanagement of public resources intended for example to address COVID-19 or just in general to enhance citizens’ access to health care. We need more resources to be channeled towards creating employment among the youths through innovative ideas in sectors such as agriculture.” said Musopa.

The UPND government is undoubtedly racing against time. The clock is ticking and citizens are getting antsy. To spend or not to spend? There’s only one way, or five years to find out.

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