Nov 22, 2012

On 1st Ladies and Budgets



There’s a debate raging among Zambians about parliament’s recent decision to allocate K1.5b (US $285,709) in the 2013 budget to the office of the First Lady. The first bone of contention is that there is no official office for the First Lady under the Zambian constitution. All previous presidents’ spouses have undertaken various charitable initiatives but at no point has there been specific budget allocation for these activities.

The current government has argued that they are trying to be transparent because money has been spent in the past just not in the open as they are doing by going through parliament to get the budgetary authority. While I commend them for bringing the issue for discussion, I am not entirely sure why this isn’t coupled with a proposal to make the office an official one. It seems to the rational thing to do in my mind.

How can you ask the people of Zambia to fork over K1.5b to the president’s spouse when we don’t know how the money will be spent, who will approve and audit the expenditures, who are accountable for any misuse, and so forth? I understand the role of a president’s spouse isn’t merely one of a host(ess) in this day and age. Many are involved in projects locally and regionally which require funding for travel but as I understand it these expenses are typically covered by the funds allocated to State House annually. Why the additional funds?

I have vacillated back and forth about an official office for the president’s spouse. I’m against it because when I think about it almost all the goodwill activities undertaken by this person often complement and run parallel to work being done by a specific ministry, government agency or non-governmental organisation. It doesn’t make sense to replicate services when this ‘office’ does not have a clear mandate.

Furthermore, we’ve also seen how charitable activities undertaken by first ladies are used as tools for political purposes. Example: in the build up to a bye-election the organisation and its famous patron are seen handing out food, medicines, bicycles, etc and when the politicians swoop in to campaign the voters are primed and ready to repay the goodwill with their “YES” vote at the polls.

So, do we want to further institutionalize patronage using money that could otherwise be spent on services that benefit a larger portion of the population? My answer is no though I am willing to hear contrary arguments. 

2 comments:

On whether it is necessary, at this juncture of our economic development (strained fiscus trying to serve numerous pressing needs) I would say no. However, given that the money has already been allocated (whether we like it or not), I think we should focus on implementing checks and balances for how this money is spent.

If Sata's spouce needs this money to run around may be Guy Scott's wife should be given the cash too. Or give it to Given Lubindas or finance minister's.
I agree that the so called important work that Christine Kaseba is doing is already being done by other ministries

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