7 November 2001

Poverty issues should guide government spending - Church

The Catholic Church in Zambia has called on the government to let poverty alleviation strategies guide the way it spends money. "While we support government's efforts in development, we challenge it to use the Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP) as a guide line in this year's budget," the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) said in a statement on Nov 6.- The PRSP is joint approach by the government, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund - with local civil society input - aimed at reducing poverty.

A spokeswoman for the CCJP in Lusaka told IRIN that the statement reflected the kinds of issues that it would like to see raised in the country's 2002 budget, which is normally presented during the first quarter. "We present this pre-budget statement to the government to consider during its budget preparations for the year 2002, especially in the social sectors," the statement said.

The CCJP said that although it acknowledged that economic growth was necessary, it was not "sufficient" to reduce poverty. "Irrespective of the depressed global economy, Zambia's own domestic economy is in tatters, with the closure of two banks. People who saved with these banks have not been paid their dues, bringing suffering to whole households. Oil prices are high, causing an increase in the price of goods and services, and a decrease in living standards," said the CCJP.

It urged the government to exercise "fiscal discipline" and to hold mid-term reviews, and increase its budgetary allocation to social welfare and social programmes especially in the fields of health and education. The CCJP added that greater attention had to be given to agriculture because of its importance in creating employment and promoting food security.

"The CCJP recommends that the budget be rural based, and that relief money be used for women and children's projects. The budget should now be focused on the needs of the poor, and ensure that there is equity and equality in the distribution of the wealth of the nation," said the statement.

The CCJP also renewed its call on international financial institutions to completely cancel Zambia's debt. "The worsening poverty situation has been attributed to the huge external debt. The continuous payment of the interest has meant reduced social, health and education facilities," the statement said. (IRIN)

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