CHARLES Milupi says there is nothing to expect from the 2019 budget.
And Milupi says it is inappropriate for President Edgar Lungu to increase his salary considering the dire economic crisis that the country is facing.
Finance minister Margaret Mwanakatwe this afternoon presents the 2019 national budget amidst high debt and a weakening local currency, the Kwacha.
Milupi, Alliance for Democracy and Development leader, yesterday wondered where the PF government was going to get money to support next year’s budget.
“It is not really appropriate at the time for those of us who understand the structure of the budget to talk about our expectations. We can’t say ‘we want more schools’. We know how desperate these people are. There is no money. I stand to see and watch where they are going to get the money from, what the total budget is going to be, how much of that will come from external loans, and who is going to give them those loans. Any contraction of external loans must go through Parliament,” Milupi said.
“Government through the Ministry of Finance must determine why they want to borrow; they have to go to Parliament. First of all, they should tell Parliament the status of the current debt; how much do we owe? Secondly, how much more do we want to borrow and where do you want to borrow it from? What are the conditions for paying it back? Then after that; how much interest are you going to be paying? How that money is going to be used; what are you going to do to use that money to be able to pay back the loan? We don’t want loans for consumption. For me, it’s going to be very difficult for us this year because the traditional sources have dried up in terms of the bilateral, multilateral, and in terms of donor support because of our own actions.”
Milupi said 2019 would be a difficult year for everyone.
“On the budget, it is interesting because over the years, we have seen situations where 20 to 30 per cent of our budget is premised on outside support by way of donor funds, external loans. This last year, first of all, the official external loans from IMF did not come through. What we are seeing with the social cash transfer and the Ministry of General Education funds is that the donors are withholding their funds, so what kind of budget are they going to put in place? Because first of all they have got to ensure that we have revenues, but where are the revenues going to come from? Last year’s budget was about K55 billion and if they are going to increase to maybe K75 billion, where is that money going to come from? We are an over-borrowed nation, to get new loans it will be difficult. We are a very corrupt country so to get donations, it’s going to be a problem,” Milupi said.
“So, we will see further attempts to squeeze Zambians by way of extra taxation. Wherever you drive now you have tollgates, you have to pay several times…from here (Lusaka) to Kitwe; you have to pay several times. From here (Lusaka) to Mongu, they are paying tollgates, everywhere, in addition to these other taxes…so what I think will happen is they will continue with the rate at which they carry on spending. In order to do that, they have to get money. They can’t get money from loans…okay the Chinese, the Chinese don’t care what you use the money on. They give you as long as their company undertakes the work and the money goes back to their country, China. That is why you have all these roads, which are done by the Chinese companies. The money just goes back to China. Even when that happens, you will still end up with the debt which they ultimately come back to get your assets.”
And Milupi said it was inappropriate for President Lungu to increase his salary.
“It’s the most inappropriate action taken by the government, especially considering the dire economic crisis that the country is facing. We are aware that even paying civil servants is an issue, paying retirees is an issue, completing projects, the government itself announced that projects that have less than 80 per cent completion rate will be put on hold. We are aware that paying debt is an issue, we are aware that the budget of this year when it was presented to Parliament had a huge component of US$1.3 billion that was supposed to come from IMF but didn’t come…even now it hasn’t come. So we are in a budget deficit. We are also aware of the tremendous pressure that has been put on Zambians in government’s effort to raise funds,” Milupi said.
“All manner of things are now being taxed, boreholes, internet…to try to squeeze the little ounce of blood out of the Zambians. Now, we are also aware of the misapplication of funds, this social cash transfer from donors, the Ministry of General Education funds…we are also aware of these high cost procurements of the ambulances, fire tenders, Ndola-Lusaka dual carriage road…all these are putting pressure on the diminishing government revenue. It is therefore totally inappropriate that under these circumstances, those that are already very well paid can choose this moment to go and increase their salaries.”
Milupi said President Lungu’s decision to have his and other Constitutional office holders’ salaries increased showed that there was a disconnect between their desires and reality.
He said it was unfortunate that the PF government was not facing reality.
“That is why despite of all these issues I have just mentioned, they can still charter planes to go to New York. In Gambia, it has caused an uproar because the President there also chartered a plane. In Tanzania, which is doing far much better than ourselves, President John Magufuli jumped on a commercial plane. This is where people are looking at their circumstances. As they say in English, ‘cutting their suit according to their cloth’. In our case, there is total disconnection between what should be happening and what is actually happening,” Milupi said.
“I will give you an example, towards the end of 10th National Assembly; I think that was the one that ended in 2011, after president Levy Mwanawasa died, president Rupiah Banda took over and I was in that Parliament. There was desire to increase the salaries for Constitutional office holders. It went to Parliament for an increase and Parliament passed it but I can tell you that Rupiah Banda refused to sign that law, so that increase never materialised because of the circumstances that the country was facing at that time. But if you compare the circumstances of that time and what we are facing, they were much better. We didn’t over-borrow as we have done in this particular case. The administration at the time, listening to the cries of the people, did away with that increase. Now this lot, they are so insensitive.”
Milupi said democracy does not thrive in a situation where those with power are insensitive to the cries of the people.
“The people are crying…look at social media but because these people are so insensitive, it doesn’t matter to them. That is not how democracy is applied. Those that wield power on behalf of the people must be sensitive to the views and feelings of the people. That is why in proper democracies, civil society organisations, Non-governmental organisations, Parliament, opposition political parties…all those views of the people must be listened to. This is why you have opinion polls on every subject. Those opinion polls guide the actions of those in power because they are sensitive to what the people are saying,” said Milupi.
“In Zambia, today even having a press conference appears to be an issue for our President…a big issue like our partner nations like Ireland, Sweden, Finland, even UNICEF suspend their aid to the vulnerable in this country, the President does not see it fit to address the nation. That is being insensitive. So, it is inappropriate but we have stopped getting surprised by the actions of this government. That is how they are. To them, the fact that they hold the instruments of power, that is what is sufficient, it no longer has feels anything for the Zambians. Otherwise they would be paying attention but they are not.”