The COVID-19 crisis has revealed the extent to which public services have been under-funded for a generation across Africa, with women in the poorest communities often having to take the strain and fill the gaps through unpaid care and domestic work. This crisis is however an opportunity for some fundamental changes, with governments looking for structural solutions and new ways forward, in short, to build back better. Zambia’s debt servicing bill amounts to 188% of what it spends on health — nearly twice as much — and 111% of what it spends on health and education combined. These debt payments must be canceled, or at the very least suspended, through to end-2021 to allow for a comprehensive response to COVID-19. Debt payments should never be allowed to compromise the spending on public services needed to deliver on the SDGs. To rebuild public finances, Zambia should rapidly and fairly expand its domestic tax, aiming to increase by at least 5% over 5 years, which would allow a doubling of spending on most public services. Action is also needed to push back on coercive policy advice that has pressured the government in recent years to cut public sector wage bills, undermining the capacity to employ more teachers, doctors, nurses, care workers, and other essential frontline staff. By taking a combination of actions on tax, debt, and austerity the government of Zambia could transform the quality of all public services and start shaping a sustainable economy that cares for both people and the planet.
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