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Jesuit Scholars in Zambia among Persons Championing Transparency in Debt Management

The Logo of the Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection (JCTR). Credit: JCTR

Members of the Civil Society Organization (CSO) Debt Alliance in Zambia who include officials of the Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection (JCTR) are advocating for transparency in the management of Zambia’s national debt.

In a statement issued Thursday, October 14, CSO Debt Alliance officials say access to information in the Southern African nation has been “historically” irregular and opaque to the citizens.  

“There is need to align parliamentary oversight in debt contraction, increase transparency and accountability and develop borrowing plans before contracting debt,” say officials of the entity that seeks to improve public debt management in Zambia.

“Revise the legal framework guiding debt to ensure that there is adequate oversight of debt contraction as well as provisions for transparency and accountability,” they say. 

President Hakainde-Hichilema government needs to “ensure the inclusion of civil society actors in public finance management processes and debates, particularly around key social sectors to ensure that decisions, policy reforms, and subsequent actions are well informed and consultative”, the officials say.

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In their October 14 statement, CSO Alliance members express concern about inflation and the increase of debt owed to foreign creditors. 

"Recent reports from the Ministry of Finance indicate that there has been an increase of about US$2 billion in debt owed to foreign creditors in the year of 2021 with external debt cited to be US$14.48 billion. The increased debt stock may have implications on the fiscal deficit which stood at 14.4 percent of GDP at the end of 2020," they say. 

They add, "Inflation still remains high at 22.1 percent as at end - September 2021 despite the significant appreciation of the Kwacha over the past quarter." 

In December last year, Zambia's former President, Edgar Lungu, launched the Economic Recovery Program (ERP) to salvage the nation's financial state, which declined due to the impact of the COVID–19. 

The ERP, which is to be implemented between 2020 and 2023, has the objectives of restoring macroeconomic stability, safeguarding social protection programs, diversifying and restoring growth of the economy, doing away with domestic dues, and avoiding accumulation of new arrears. 

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In their collective statement, JCTR officials and other members of the CSO Alliance say the ERP has achieved various milestones. 

"Since the launch of the ERP, the target to raise international reserves to over three months of import cover by 2023 had been met within the first year with the IMFs special Drawing Rights (SDRs) bolstering reserves to 5.4 months (US$ 2.9 billion) of import cover as at end - August 2021,"they say. 

However, they add, "the Zambian economy remains far from attaining the outstanding targets stipulated in the program whilst inhabiting a huge debt burden that had been burgeoning well before the COVID-19 pandemic." 

For this reason, CSO alliance members who question if the ERP is in line with the new government's agenda recommend its full implementation. 

"The recent changes in the political arena have called into question ERP and whether or not it aligns with the plans of the new Government," they say. 

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The officials add that the President Hichilema-led government needs to "adopt the contents presented in the ERP and consequently develop a workable implementation plan that will facilitate attainment of debt sustainability and restore economic growth."