Oxfam says the country’s 2017-2018 budget has prioritised funding bureaucracy at the expense of the poor.
A report analysing the budget review process which Oxfam has shared with The Nation notes that a chunk of funding has gone towards supporting institutions such as the presidency and the National Assembly.
The report, titled The 2017/18 Mid-Year Budget Review Leaves the Poor Behind and Casts Doubt over Government’s Commitment to Fight Corruption, compares allocations in government institutions and specific development programmes.
It notes, for example, a 500 percent increase in votes such as unforeseen expenditure, which is managed by Cabinet and is disbursed without Parliament approval.
The National Assembly allocation has an 8 percent increase while the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC)’s vote has increased by 9.5 percent with development allocations for Ministry of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare vote decreasing by 12 percent.
The report further cites reductions to support rendered to the country’s anti-corruption efforts as a worrying sign amid worsening corruption in the country, noting disparities between the legislative rhetoric and material outcomes in the corruption fight.
“Over the past decade, corruption has been identified as a costly diversion of scarce resources and an impediment to development effectiveness; yet this Mid-Year Budget has potential to render anti-corruption agencies dysfunctional through budget cuts. The budgetary allocations of both the Anti-Corruption Bureau and Office of the Ombudsman have seen a cut,” it reads in part.
It adds: “The way government has revised the allocations of some votes shows a startling lack of allocative efficiency—social sector ministries have missed out. If measured against the objective of poverty reduction, it clearly shows that the priorities in the Mid-Year Budget Review have gone to non-development, less growth oriented and less strategic votes that will not maximise public benefits.”
The report further notes that poverty reduction has been an explicit overarching objective in the country since independence and that the 2017-18 Mid-Year Budget Review has been a point of disappointment.
Reads part of the report: “The below the target performance of the revenues and grants signals the fact that if the trend continues the provision of public services to society will be a massive challenge for the government and may pose serious difficulty to the formation of human capital in the country. The revenues were projected at K478.02bn and at mid-year only achieved a total sum of K434bn. “
Oxfam says insufficient public spending through allocations for social sectors such as education and health means government was disregarding its social contract with the citizenry.
In an interview, Oxfam governance programme manager Lusungu Dzimkambani said the Mid-Year Budget Review indicates that the key issues in fighting poverty such as health have not been prioritised.
“When we look at that, we note that this is against government’s own poverty reduction agenda,” added Dzimkambani.
She added that the process of allocating K4billion to MPs lacks transparency and said it is yet to be seen whether the channel used to deliver the funds will be managed in a transparent way to fight poverty.
“There is a lot of inaccuracy and incomplete information regarding these and it is not possible to reliably assess whether decision-making by government has been in the public interest.
“However, the way the Legislature has acted over this matter indicates that this poor decision-making may be, at best, made with a short-term focus or, at worst, made in the self-interest of politicians who have the incentives to operate in a particular fashion,” said Dzimkambani.
Reacting to the report, Minister of Information and Communications Technology, who is also government spokesperson, Nicholas Dausi said while government notes the issues raised by Oxfam, the funding to some programmes have decreased as government seeks to fast-track some major development projects.
He said: “We are currently engaged in major projects such as the new cancer centre, new roads and will soon kick start work on the Mombera University, all of which required that government channels a concerted amount of funds.
Dausi added that government was working hard to achieve financial prudence despite the observed challenges by Oxfam.
The Oxfam report comes as controversy rages on over how Parliament allocated a K4 billion “windfall” to all members of Parliament to be used for yet to be identified development projects.