NGOCC PRELIMINARY STATEMENT ON THE 2016 NATIONAL BUDGET
The Non Governmental Organisations’ Coordinating Council (NGOCC) has noted the Government’s proposed K53.14 billion National Budget as announced in Parliament by the Minister of Finance, Mr. Alexander Chikwanda on Friday, 9th October 2015.
In his much anticipated Budget Speech address under the theme, “Fiscal Consolidation to Safeguard Our Past Achievements and Secure a Prosperous Future for All”, the Minister was honest enough to warn Zambians that 2016 would yet again be a tough year as the country will witness further challenges in raising the economy to yet another level. The Minister further warned that Zambians should be prepared to face the impending challenges that may arise with the gloomy outlook of the global economy.
On behalf of the 104 Member Organisations of NGOCC, we made submissions to the Ministry of Finance on our expectations of the tax and non-tax proposals in the 2016 national budget. Our submissions were premised on our vision that envisages ‘A society where women fully participate and benefit from social, cultural, economic and political development’.
- GENDER RESPONSIVENESS OF THE NATIONAL BUDGET
While noting some positive proposals in the National Budget We are disappointed that the 2016 Budget just like the past ones, has remained largely gender blind. NGOCC expected the budget to clearly allocate resources to gender issues such as the full implementation of the Anti-Gender Based Violence Act of 2011. We have over the years been advocating for gender sensitive budgets that would address the needs of both men and women. It is high time that the Government embraced gender responsive budgeting if they are to effectively address the challenges that we face as a country.
NGOCC welcomes government allocation of K35.7 million to the Women’s Economic Empowerment Fund, but however implore government not to politicize the fund by ensuring that all women of Zambia benefit from it, regardless of their political affiliation. In addition we wonder whether our government reflected on the implications of reducing excise duty on clear beer given the negative repercussions of alcohol abuse in as far as exacerbating gender based violence is concerned.
- DIVERSIFICATION OF THE ECONOMY
NGOCC is happy to note that there are some positive pronouncements in the 2016 National Budget aimed at actualizing what has now become a “political cliché” to diversify the economy away from the dependence on Copper. We are happy to note that accelerating the diversification of the economy, particularly towards tourism, energy, agriculture and agro processing form part the 2016 macroeconomic objectives. We have also noted the establishment of the Ministry of Livestock and Fisheries as a way to diversify the economy.
Zambia finds itself in the current situation where the country’s currency has rapidly depreciated largely because of the dependence on Copper whose prices have tumbled in the recent past. The announcement that the electronic voucher scheme will be implemented during the 2015/16 agriculture season in thirteen districts is a welcome development. However, there is need to decentralize the operationalisation of the electronic voucher scheme.
- EXPENDITURE BY FUNCTION
- Tripartite Elections/Referendum
We have noted that Government has allocated K727,900,000.00 towards the holding of the tripartite elections and the National Referendum to enact the new constitution. While, this is a positive development, NGOCC remains opposed to the simultaneous holding of the forthcoming general elections with the national referendum. The Zambian people are opposed to the use of the phased approach of adopting the new constitution. It seems to us, that the government has yet again decided to give a deaf ear to the wishes of the Zambian people on the new constitution. We are concerned that with the proposed amendment approach of enacting the draft constitution, the aspirations of the Zambian people will not be met. Going by past experiences of voter apathy and the confusion on how to mark ballot papers exhibited by the electorate in a general election, we believe combining the general election and the referendum together will cause the constitutional making process not to be given the attention it deserves.
- Economic Affairs
The Government proposes to spend a total of K13.2 billion on economic affairs. In his speech the Minister said Government remains committed to supporting the expansion and diversification of the economy. As stated however, there is need for more resources to be allotted towards the diversification of the economy. The allotted amounts in the 2016 National Budget do not spur confidence that the necessary policy and strategic measures would be fully implemented towards the diversification of the economy, especially efforts in the short term. What Zambia needs now, more than ever before, are well targeted poverty reduction strategies that should assure food security and a growing entrepreneurial climate.
- Education and skills Development
On the Education and skills development, the Minister proposes to spend K9.1 billion (representing 17.2%) which falls far below the Cairo declaration requirement of allocating at least 20% of the national budget to the sector. We are sad to note that a huge chunk of this amount has been directed towards various infrastructure development projects. The country has always lagged behind with regard to holistic skills development and technological advancement. There is need for more resources to be allocated towards the purchase of teaching aids and books, as outlined in the 2016-2018 medium term expenditure framework. NGOCC is however glad to note that Government has proposed to allocate K35.6 million to the rolling out of the school feeding Programme for vulnerable children especially targeting rural areas.
NGOCC is sad to note that the allocation towards the health sector keeps reducing with the Minister proposing to spend a total of K4.4 billion in the sector. The consequences of the reducing funding on the health sector have adverse effects on women and children, such as increasing maternal and infant mortality rates. Already our monitoring exercise in some parts of rural Zambia have revealed that not much is being done to accelerate completion of the much publicized 650 Health Posts. Many of these structures are incomplete with some still at foundation stages. We further note that the proposed amount of 8.3% allocation to the health sector in the 2016 National Budget falls far below the Abuja Declaration on 15% allocation to the sector of which the government of the republic of Zambia is a signatory to.
- Revenue estimates and financing
We have noted the measures that government has proposed to raise revenue. In the interim while we are still studying the proposed revenue measures, NGOCC maintains that there is need for the government to structure some tax measure that will equitably benefit Zambians from their natural resources including minerals. We are cognizant of the high cost of living and the need for ‘more money in people’s pockets’ as per the Patriotic Front government’s own promise to the people of Zambia. In this respect, NGOCC envisaged an increase in the tax free threshold of the PAYE from K3000 to K4000 to ensure that citizens have more disposable income especially now, given the harsh economic situation.
As observed, while the 2016 national budget contains some progressive proposals, it has remained gender insensitive. The budget is also not pro-poor and fails to address the current economic challenges which the country is facing. Further, while we appreciate the need for fiscal consolidation, which has the benefit of reducing the cost of borrowing, the 2016 national budget needed to put in place short term measures that would address the current hard economic times that the majority of Zambians are facing.
Engwase B. Mwale (Ms)