8 December 2012

Zambia: PF Stance On First Lady Funding Unprecedented

THE summary expenditure report released in Lusaka on resource allocation to the Office of the First Lady must rest the debate as it has clearly illustrated the trend of financing in the past.

In particular, the report shows financing activity between 2006 and 2011, a period under the MMD, now an opposition party.

Last year's allocation stood at K1,368,362,627 while in 2010 the Government allocated K2,505,763,217.98 to that office.

In 2009, the Government allocated K1,443,170,521.50 while the year before, funding was to the tune of K493,408,200.

In 2007, K1,568,501,695 was allocated to the Office of the First Lady while in 2006 Government released K1,294,764,425.

During that period, United Party for National Development president Hakainde Hichilema and Non-Governmental Organisation Coordinating Council (NGOCC) chairperson Beatrice Grillo, who have spoken loudly on this matter, did not complain.

What has changed now?

As we stated last week, the Office of the First Lady has assumed a more transparent disposition.

Parliament which also has members of the opposition approved the K1.5 billion to enhance accountability and transparency.

Vice-President Guy Scott had made it clear during debate in Parliament that the decision was meant to enhance transparency in the way the Office of the First Lady would operate.

Since the funding went through Parliament approval, there is absolutely no illegality in allocating money to the First Lady's office.

This has merely enhanced transparency in financial allocations and expenditure which in the past was shrouded in secrecy.

Support services to the Office of the First Lady the world over are funded by the Government and one wonders why allocating a specific figure to this office has become illegal.

The First Lady has support staff and motor vehicles for use during assignments within Lusaka and out of station within the country. How is travel funded? Certainly not from personal money!

A specific budget line has been created to facilitate the undertaking of national assignments on behalf of the President. This must be funded from the very vote.

The fact that expenditure in the Office of the First Lady will be subjected to audit confirms the seriousness with which the Government is handling transparency and accountability in all operations.

It is ironical that NGOCC which preaches the importance of empowering women could come out to strongly oppose funding to an office held by a woman, who is a strong advocate of protection of women and children against any form of abuse.

If NGOCC was born to facilitate networking at national, regional and international levels, how could it start opposing transparency and accountability? Is NGOCC able to share with the nation the expenditure, in detail, of the past First Ladies?

It is no wonder the Zambia National Women's Lobby has disassociated itself from NGOCC's stance to oppose funding to the Office of the First Lady.

The fact that this important component of State House has a specific budget line will give leverage to opposition parties, NGOs, and other interest groups to interrogate expenditure.

Interest groups will have an opportunity to examine the Auditor General's report on the Office of the First Lady.

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