The PRSP framework depicts a marked shift in multilateral thinking with greater focus on good governance, civil society engagement, and responsive state institutions.
The focus of PRSPs, according to the World Bank, is on "identifying in a participatory manner the poverty reduction outcomes a country wishes to achieve and the key public actions -
policy changes, institutional reforms, programs, and projects … which are needed to achieve the desired outcomes". Such rhetoric of this new global mantra of poverty reduction has failed to benefit the Zambian population,
as the PRSP has not been responsive enough to plight of the poor. Issues such as participation, country ownership, emerge as compromises, which did not directly lead to poverty reduction in Zambia.
The Zambian PRSP revolves around three main themes: the economic theme, the social theme and the crosscutting theme. Poverty in the document is conceived as a multi-dimensional phenomenon.
It therefore considers not only income poverty but also human poverty that encompass deprivation in health and nutrition, knowledge and security. The main barriers to moving out of poverty are: l
ack of economic growth, high inequality, the debt burden, excessive external dependence, unsatisfactory prioritisation of resources, inadequate social safety nets and HIV/AIDS.
Another important aspect that has been spelt out in the PRSP is the need to reorient the limited resources among sectors in a manner that would be in consonance with PRSP priorities especially in respect of capital projects.
The great dependence on donors to finance almost all of the PRSP is another major risk.
Zambia has proved to be one of the countries where the participation of the civil society in the PRSP process has been exemplary. The advent of the PRSP in 2000 awakened the civil society even more to the importance of its role in the country’s development process and the nature of its interaction with the government.
The Zambian PRSP was prepared with the involvement of a wide spectrum of stakeholders involving donors, the private sector, civil society and the academic community. There were two PRSP processes; the government through the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development (MOFED) managed the primary process,
while civil society ran a parallel process that complemented and fed into the main process. While the civil society’s influence is vast, their impact on overall program is minimal, as the PRSP remains a government and donor driven product. Despite civil society’s exclusion from the technical drafting committee,
the final document incorporates nearly three fourths of the suggestions made by civil society that shows that the Government has come to accept that there is intellectual and professional capacity within the civil society that has not hitherto been tapped adequately.
Although, ensuring a high level of participation in the PRSP process is vital, the additionality of Zambia’s civil society participation in the whole process remains unclear. The PRSP in Zambia is being prepared in the context of the IMF’s Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility (PRGF).
The PRGF has supplanted the former Enhanced Structural Adjustment Facility (ESAF) but it has not substituted the Financial Policy Framework Papers (PFP). All these have been neoliberal in approach and have failed to address the social concerns of the poor.
The culture of consultation remains a donor debt relief requirement and has not been extended to other processes, which include among others - Zambia’s participation in NEPAD, Financing for Development, Transitional National Development Plan (TNDP).
The Zambian government’s lack of political will to implement the PRSP has been confirmed by the failure of the 2003 national budget to address the Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP) as a national priority. Similarly in 2002, civil society views on poverty reduction were not adequately factored in.
The allocation to Poverty Reduction Programmes (PRP) has been cut from K450 billion in the 2002 national budget to K420.7 billion in this year’s budget representing a 6.5 per cent decline in nominal terms and significantly more in real terms if one were to take into account the 26.7 per cent inflation that occurred by the end of last year.
Government also raised the tax-free pay from K150, 000-00 to K160, 000-00 per month even in the face of the ever-rising cost of living. The implication therefore is that it will be impossible to meet the pro-poor programmatic priorities of basic health care; improvement of access to health care; and public health, amongst other priorities as set out in the PRSP.
The PRSP appears to be a not to be a genuine agenda for Zambia’s poverty reduction but a mere tool for soliciting donor funds.
Unlike in many countries, Zambia’s PRSP has preceded its long-term vision document Zambia Vision 2025. The Zambian PRSP shows that a highly proactive and dynamic civil society exists that seems to be ever-eager to interact with government and inform it of its concerns.
For the PRSP to succeed there has to be demonstrable political will and efficient management that will ensure an effective link between allocations, disbursements, actual spending and physical outputs that will eventually translate into welfare outcomes.