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Defence Spending Up, Development Spending Down!

The way that really startling news reaches us can often be surprising.

Take Page 8 of the Business Weekly Review of May 26 and its article on the BDF’s purchase of four helicopters for P1.3 Billion.

Personally, I cannot understand why the BDF would need even one of these particular helicopters, let alone four, but that is an issue which others should pursue. My attention instead was caught by the comments that appeared in the tail-end of this article. 

 I quote, “in what defence insiders say is an indication of the Government’s commitment to major defence procurements in the coming few years, Finance and Economic Development Minister Kenneth Matambo has revealed that all developmental spending will be drastically reduced while defence spending will stay the same under the coming five year plan.

Matambo’s NDP 11 states that the next development spending programme, which covers the coming five financial years to 2023 reveals lean times lie ahead in Government finances, especially in respect of development spending.

The plan projects drastic falls in Government development spending from 2020 with spending dropping to below current levels. At the tail-end of the nation’s planning and into the next, Matambo revealed a plan that would drastically scale down every other spending except for the Office of the President and the Ministry of Defence, Justice and Security, both offices being the bastion of defence and security spending.” Unquote.

The context in which the Minister made these comments is unclear, but they did nevertheless come as a major shock to me. We can note that reference was made to the Plan in its draft form.

But if the Executive has already approved these drastic changes, it is invariably a routine that the National Assembly will do likewise.

  In this one instance, however, there might be a hope that they will not do so because it must occur to all members that the changes proposed represent a dramatic reversal of the BDP’s own longstanding tenets. In addition it can be assumed that they negate the new Vision document and will surely make it the only country in the world, perhaps apart from Saudi Arabia, to spend more on defence than development? But why would the Executive have approved such an extraordinary, mind-boggling change of priorities and policy?  The country has no enemies and rightly prides itself on the past 50 years of peace.

Now, without warning, it is committing itself to 20 years of belligerence and aggression. How will news of this change

be received other than with alarm by the country’s immediate neighbours?

Who in this country can gain from increased defence and security spending apart from those who negotiate the purchases and enjoy the enormous commissions? What could have convinced the Executive that defence and security should now be made more deserving priorities than education and health? What has convinced it that the country’s public services need to be reduced in real terms in order to buy military equipment for which it has no articulated need? The questions go on and on. Making long term commitments of this kind means that the BDP and its leadership is confident that there can be no possibility of meaningful political change in the next 20 years and that HH Masisi as the new President is to be denied the freedom of maneuver for which new incumbents usually crave. 

 Instead he will have been pre-programmed and locked into policy positions which he might be unable to change. It is an extraordinary scenario.

But how might the members of the National Assembly react to the new Plan and its dramatic change of priorities? BDP MPs may simply fall in line - which seems to be the norm – or, for this once, might they realise that the Plan and its dramatically changed priorities will inevitably damage all their constituencies and individually reduce their own chances of re-election? But then, of course, precisely the same considerations will apply to the BDP itself.

Can this believe that these dramatic priority changes will be welcomed throughout the country and thus ensure its victory in the next election?

Can it really believe that the way to win this election is to demonstrate that it cares more for military and security hardware than it does for the welfare of people with their many varied needs?

And what about the opposition parties? Will they ring every possible alarm bell now that they have been alerted to the Government’s formula for the next 20 years?

Will they be aware that even if they happen to win the next election they might find themselves unable to break legally binding commitments for military procurements for which the country has no possible use? 

I can only hope that I have woefully misunderstood or that the Business Weekly has got it all wrong and that Minister Matambo’s plan is, in reality, to decrease military and increase development spending.


Etcetera II



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