2021 budget has heavily undermined smooth preps for 2021 elections – GEARS

GEARS Initiative Zambia executive director McDonald Chipenzi says the 2021 national budget has heavily undermined the smooth preparations for the 2021 general elections and the voter registration exercise with the allocation of a paltry K585.1 million for both exercises.

In a statement, Chipenzi said this was so because the ECZ had been on record asking for about K800m for voter registration exercise alone and of the demanded cost, only less than half had been released by the Treasury by August this year.

He said being the last national budget before the 2021 general elections, one expected a sound allocation of resources to the electoral process related activities and the Commission to avoid the process being heavily compromised and dependent on external donors and funders to manage it.

Chipenzi, who is also an electoral expert, lamented that reliance on external donors and funders to fund the national electoral process compromises the country’s sovereignty and independence and further undermines the autonomy and independence of the electoral body.

“This trend also tends to undermine the quality and patriotism of the leaders being produced out of such a process as most of them become puppets of the funding agencies than the electorate and the nation. This 2021 national budget is a demonstration of pure lack of political will towards the funding to the ECZ and for the realisation of credible, smooth, free and fair elections in 2021,” Chipenzi said.

He said with the 2021 allocation, it would not be long before stakeholders call on the Commission to resign due to unsatisfactory and inadequate preparations for the elections due to poor funding by the government.

Chipenzi said 2021 would be a marathon year for ECZ.

“Amazingly, the allocation to defence, public order and safety remains as high as that of health as if the country is at war or experiencing or expecting civil unrest. How can a country at peace with itself and one not anticipating war, violence, conflict allocate close to 8 per cent of the total national budget on defence, safety and public order?” he wondered.

He further lamented that allocation to social protection had been put at 4 per cent.

Chipenzi said perusal into the budget lines reveal that more money have been allocated to FISP and other philanthropic activities, perhaps focused to be used to “colonise” the electorates’ mind ahead of the 2021 general elections.

He maintained that the 2021 budget does not seem to be one prepared for an election but for an ordinary year.

He said from an electoral viewpoint, the budget does not inspire confidence in achieving an electoral process that was free of expected disputes due to inefficiencies and incompetencies caused by limited funding to the electoral body.

He said the best description for the 2021 budget is actually that of being a joke of the century.

Chipenzi senses that the government seems to be preparing itself for conflict and unrest with its citizens before, during and post elections looking at the allocation to defence, safety and public order.

“This is why the budget lines for defence, safety and public order consistently remain high since this government assumed power in 2011 and evidence is there to attest to democratic suppression occasioned by such allocations,” he said.

Chipenzi warned that citizens must brace themselves for increased shrinking political, civic and electoral space before, during and after the elections and the suppression and oppression of the citizens’ freedom of association, assembly, movement and expression with high allocation to public order, defence and safety.

He further warned that Zambia Police Service would be “armed to the teeth” to quell and disrupt any dissent and election related activities.

Meanwhile, Chipenzi said it was shameful for the government to attribute the failure to undertake the national census of population and housing to COVID-19.

He said any government that thrives on half-truths risks being exposed to its citizens and, consequently, losing public confidence.

Chipenzi said the Minister of Finance should have been candid enough to admit that limited funding was the cause of the postponement of the holding of the census this year and its possible undertaking of the process next year.

“Further, how legal and constitutional is this postponement because holding of the National Census of Population and Housing every 10 years is dictated by the Constitution, unless this is no longer applicable. There is need for government to clarify on whether or not a national census can be held outside 10 years i.e. out of time,” said Chipenzi.

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