FINANCE Minister Dr Situmbeko Musokotwane says an IMF programme will not affect social sector expenditure, contrary to what some people are saying in the media.

In a pre-budget interview with Diamond TV, Thursday, Dr Musokotwane said government would ensure that the Health, Education and other social sectors benefited.

He argued that those who had reservations on getting a bailout package were remembering an IMF of the past.

“I think people are talking about the IMF of the past, maybe 15, 20 years ago. Yes those problems used to be there because the essence of the IMF programme or one of the key elements is ‘spend within your means’. Spend within your means because if you don’t do that you will get into debt problem, you will get into inflation. Those days a number of countries, yes they were spending within their means but the question was not asked ‘if we are not spending within this constraint, what are you spending on’? The IMF realized that some of these countries when we say spend within your means, they will cut out spending on education, water for the people, health. In the meantime, they are spending on things that don’t matter to the people. So that has now changed,” he said.

“When we get into an IMF programme, they say number one, spend within your means. Number two; the question is asked ‘now that you are spending within your means, what are you spending the money on’? And they make sure most of the money goes to the social sector. So you can be assured that getting into the IMF programme, health is going to benefit rather than suffer, education is going to benefit rather than suffer, water is going to benefit rather than suffer, issues of how to pay pensioners, those who have retired are going to benefit rather than suffer.”

Dr Musokotwane insisted that Zambia needed the IMF programme.

“I have heard a lot of people talk in the press that we don’t need an IMF programme, we don’t need this and that. My friends, we need it. Why? Because when we approach those people we owe money to say ‘friends we are unable to do this debt, let’s talk about rearranging the debt. One of the simple ways is to stretch the payment period so that what we pay every year is less’. These people will say ‘you want me to stretch your repayment period, but what guarantee? What assurance do you give me that in spite of stretching that period you will still pay me something because I don’t want to write off my debt’?” he said.

“The assurance that they want to hear from us is that the wrong things we were doing such as over borrowing and mismanaging our resources must be put behind us. They want to hear that assurance and that assurance will come from an independent party familiar with economies of ours called the IMF. Once we have done a programme with the IMF, it becomes easy to go to our creditors to say ‘if you doubt about our capacity just talk to the IMF’.”

And Dr Musokotwane said he was not scared that the UPND government might fail to deliver.

“First of all, I’m not scared and I think one of the advantages of being an old person is that you have seen so many things in your life. You have seen challenges and this one is not one of those that will scare me or think that we will fail. We have seen these challenges in the past before and we know they can be resolved and they will be resolved. The issue of jobs for the young people, they are very expectant for jobs. Yes we will create these jobs starting this coming year 2022. Government does have the capacity to create jobs for the services that the government is responsible for the people. We were talking about teachers, we are going to hire a significant amount of teachers this year,” he said.

“Government can only create so many jobs, so the rest of the jobs will come from the private sector. So we will create conditions that will make it easy for the private sector to invest and create jobs. Ultimately in the next 10, 15 years whether we are there or not, what we want to see is a country that is making very visible progress so that we look like the Mauritius of this world, the Rwanda of this world whereby young people get into employment. The private sector is indeed very important. How do we manage to create jobs in the private sector? By the government creating an environment which is conducive for people to come and invest. We are going to be a user-friendly government as far as investment is concerned whether by Zambian investors, foreign investors, or youth, we are going to set standards.”

Dr Musokotwane said people would see more money allocated to rural areas in the 2022 budget.

“Certainly one of the things that you are likely to see in the 2022 budget arising from the discussion that the President has held with members of parliament and I agree with it 100 percent, you are going to see more money going into rural areas. You are going to see more money going into rural areas to fix schools, to build modern classrooms, to build clinics. We are going to put more money into rural areas and what we want is the young people to take advantage of this money we are going to put in rural areas to keep themselves busy,” he said.

“For example, we have vowed that never again shall Zambia import school desks from South Africa, they must be made here. The money we are going to push in the rural areas, not in the ministries here, will occupy our young people to be able to do carpentry work and produce desks that are required in their schools. So they will be busy but we must train them. We are proposing that we put money in the budget for them to uplift their skills so that they don’t do rubbish but something that will last long.”

And commenting on whether the government would reduce taxes, Dr Musokotwane said, “We are there for the Zambian people, we are a government that belongs to the people. Our job is to coordinate over that time being and specifically on the taxes. Every year there is a process here at the Ministry of Finance. Unions, investors, business people make submissions on taxes and we have already received some and we are going through. Then and where it makes sense to reduce the tax of course we will reduce it.”