Editor's Comment

Austerity measures bearing fruit

THAT close to K700,000 was saved by Government during this year’s Independence Day investiture ceremony is indeed reassuring that with commitment, determination and consistency, austerity measures can bear much fruit and reshape the economic trajectory of this country.
According to Cabinet Office Permanent Secretary for administration Owen Mugemezulu, this year’s guest list for the investiture ceremony at State House was reduced to 350 from 3,500 last year.
“We scaled down the guest list from 3,500 in 2018 to 350 this year. What happened in 2018 was that we had to engage four hotels, namely the Hostels Board, Fair View, Intercontinental and Pamodzi, to provide catering services,” he said.
Last year, Government is said to have paid over K1.2 million to the four hotels to provide catering services for the 3,500 guests.
However, this year, Government asked the Zambia Air Force (ZAF) to provide catering services at a reduced cost of K333,800.
Instead of engaging Pamodzi Hotel to bake the independence cake at a cost of between K8,000 and K10,000, Cabinet asked State House chefs to do so using their own ingredients.
“Implementation of austerity measures will continue as we hold public events because the committee of permanent secretaries which organises public events looks at costs of items being procured before it gives a go-ahead.
“For example, when a certain group wants to be engaged but is too expensive, we say no,” Mr Mugemezulu said.
Certainly with this kind of attitude by government controlling officers we can safely say the country is making headway in implementation of austerity measures.
It is these isolated actions that collectively create the much-desired impact.
It is a well-known fact that Government introduced austerity measures after realising that there was a lot of unnecessary expenditure on trips, workshops and other miscellaneous activities at the expense of critical areas such as infrastructure development and debt servicing.
The rationale behind austerity measures is to free some resources to address the pressing challenges the country is faced with.
To this effect, government ministries, departments and state-owned enterprises have, among other things, been directed to cut down on unnecessary expenditure.
Among the austerity measures prescribed include a ban on travels and workshops, reduced expenditure on administrative activities and suspension of projects perceived to have less economic value.
For instance, the Ministry of Finance engaged relevant ministries to agree on projects to be slowed down, re-scoped, cancelled or postponed.
The target was to free at least US$500 million annually over the medium term.
Management of leave days for civil servants has also been reviewed to ease pressure on the treasury as a result of commutations.
Fleet management and monitoring has also been enhanced, with fuel consumption restricted to one full tank per week as opposed to two per week as has been the trend over the years.
For a country like Zambia which still has a long way to go on its development journey, these measures are inevitable.
The sooner everyone realises and gets on board, the greater the impact and the better for the country.
Zambia cannot afford to be luxurious and carefree in its expenditure because of the many challenges it is dealing with such as high poverty levels, inadequate infrastructure and debt bill.
The country needs to exercise high levels of prudence to ensure that the meagre resources available are directed to needy and high impact areas which will improve people’s livelihoods and the country’s economy as a whole.
It is therefore elating to hear that austerity measures that have been put in place are slowly but surely bearing fruit.
Putting in place austerity measures and implementing them are two different things.
It is therefore commendable that the controlling officers are doing a good job in implementing these measures.
We particularly commend the committee of permanent secretaries charged with the responsibility to organise public events for the prudent manner in which they managed the Independence celebrations.
Surely feeding so many people in one day cannot be as important as freeing the country from debt or building infrastructure.
The controlling officers have indeed demonstrated that with discipline, austerity measures can produce good results.
The same kind of prudence shown on the Independence celebrations should be extended to other public activities that gobble huge sums of money and yet do not provide economic value.
For instance, there is need to relook into Labour Day celebrations, National Day of Prayer, Anti-Corruption Day and many other such events to see how costs can be drastically reduced.
Although these events are of high significance, the country cannot, for now, afford spending too much on them.

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