Are we getting our priorities right?
In 2017, government is going to spend K14.8 billion on paying off debt, mostly to international and domestic lenders, but also to contractors and suppliers, and a bit to cover outstanding bills for import of fuel and electricity. Over 22% of the K64.5 billion budget for 2017 will be allocated to paying off someone to whom we owe money! And the worst thing is that most of the debt has been accumulated in the five years the PF has been running the show. External debt ballooned to $6.7 billion at the end of September 2016, up from $1.6 billion five years ago. In addition, government intends to dismantle arrears to contractors and suppliers to the tune of K3.3 billion, meaning that it is likely to owe them an even higher figure. These are companies who got caught up in government’s senseless rush to develop Zambia in five years without considering how to finance the party. I hope the former PF administration – with former Finance Minister Alexander Chikwanda in the lead – is embarrassed. And I hope the current administration – with Finance Minister Felix Mutati in the lead – is taking note. One does wonder, because why do roads feature prominently in the 2017 budget with an allocation of K8.6 billion? And why is the Farmers Input Support Programme, which everyone agrees should be dismantled, receiving a 185% increase in allocated resources of K2.9 billion? Together they account for 17.8% of the budget, more than either education (16.5%), health (8.9%) or social protection (4.2%). No, I am not sure we are getting our priorities right.
Camilla Hebo Buus, Editor Zambia Weekly