By CHUSA SICHONE -
ZAMBIA has signed a K230 million financing agreement with Finland and Sweden to support social protection over a three-year period.
Finance Minister Felix Mutati signed the agreement on Zambia’s behalf while Swedish Ambassador to Zambia Henrik Cederin and Finnish envoy Timo Olkkonen signed on behalf of their countries in Lusaka yesterday.
The two envoys said their governments decided to support Zambia’s social protection following the successes that the Social Cash Transfer Scheme (SCTS) had recorded so far in, among other things,
reducing poverty levels in the country.
Mr Olkkonen said the signing of the agreement concretised the continued support Finland offered to the social protection reforms in Zambia.
“We have seen the social protection agenda move forward and receive more attention from the Zambian Government over the past years.
“We are very happy about the prominence the Government gives to social protection in its Budget proposal for next year,” he said.
Mr Olkkonen said the SCTS had grown from a pilot programme to cover more than 200,000 households and that a functioning social protection addressed high poverty levels and increasing inequality, among other challenges Zambia faced.
He said the evidence was there to prove that the SCTS had helped in the significant reduction in the poverty gap as children were able to go to school and it supported economic activity.
Mr Cederin said Sweden had been Zambia’s strong and stable partner since 1965 and that it was continuing its support for the country in a number of areas and was happy to channel additional funding to social protection.
Mr Cederin said the success the SCTS had recorded the 2017 budgetary allocation and Government’s political will to increase the beneficiaries of the scheme from the current 242,000 households as the
reason Sweden decided to assist with about K178 million towards the total finance agreement funding.
Mr Mutati, in thanking the Swedish and Finnish governments, said the signing of the financing agreement marked a critical milestone towards the Zambia Plus economic recovery programme of involving efforts of the Government and cooperating partners to enable the country move forward.
“We can’t recover as a nation without dealing with the vulnerable. As Government, our simple message is that every person counts and no one are more important than the other and that is why we think social protection remains central to our economic recovery programme,” the minister said.
And in a recent interview, Zambia’s Deputy Ambassador to Sweden, Anthony Mukwita said that economic diplomacy between Zambia and Sweden was on the upswing.
Mr Mukwita said the continued warm relations would soon translate in greater job creation and poverty reduction also encouraged by President Lungu’s high level engagement of the Scandinavian country.