Zambia is experiencing the worst economic crisis since the 2008 global financial crisis. The strong economic growth trajectory the country has been experiencing has taken a nose dive and all macroeconomic fundamentals are in disarray.
Our productive capacity as a nation has been constrained by electricity supply deficit threatening hundreds of jobs of our people especially in the mines. While inflation and exchange rates have stabilized, they have remained high making it difficult for ordinary people to afford cost of living. Our revenues and expenditures as a nation are not in balance with the country recording all time high budget deficit of over 8% of GDP.
These are hard times and they call for radical measures. The new Minister of Finance has openly warned the nation that we have to make difficult decisions going ahead that call for tightening of our belts.
We want to remind the Minister of Finance and the Government at large that tightening our belts must not only be expected from ordinary people but government as well. Stringent measures must be put in place in order to increase revenue and cut down unnecessary expenditure. It is thus shocking that a government that is in the process of addressing its deficit and expenditure wants to create more Ministries.
The President’s creation of the Ministry of National Guidance and Religious Affairs at a time of economic hardship for example, important as religious issues may be, will unnecessarily stretch the already scarce resources of the Treasury which must be targeted at high growth sectors and reduction of poverty.
The formulation of this ministry comes at a time when Zambia is looking for a possible loan agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that must be used sustainably looking at the many expenditure saving conditions that are likely to be implemented along with it. JCTR views this ministry as an increase of expenditure that could be directed at economic sectors such as agriculture and manufacturing and therefore appeals to the President to reconsider the ministry whose duties could be performed by an already existing ministry and officers.
Further, no clear justification has been given for this Ministry especially taking into consideration that a ministry will need to have structures up to ward level. JCTR questions the mandate for this ministry as it may also duplicate the work done by church mother bodies such as ZEC, CCZ and EFZ. We urge IMF that one of the conditionalities for the loan that the Government wants to get should be non-creation of new Ministries and not removal of subsidies.
In line with this, the constitutional court ruling made for ministers to vacate office during the campaign process and refund state salaries and allowances over the period must be commended and acted upon by the Minister of Finance.
The court ruling made on this matter of public revenue must be a priority before the Minister of Finance presents the Budget for 2017 if his message of reversing economic woes is to be taken seriously. In ensuring we curb corruption, instill a sense on fiscal discipline and place our nation’s economy back to a growth trajectory, JCTR appeals to the Constitutional Court to make the necessary issuance of the ruling that includes the amounts owing for each Minister and a relevant date of repayment before they begin the parliamentary sessions.
JCTR also appeals to the President and the Treasury not to create a new ministry and prioritize funds directed to growing and diversifying the economy as well as putting in place targets for poverty reduction for the remaining 2016 fiscal year and 2017 budget. The Spiritual welfare of the nation is already taken care of, what people want are sustainable jobs, reduction of poverty and inequality which will not be addressed by creating a new Ministry of Religious Affairs.