The Zambian government on Monday defended its decision to increase salaries for traditional leaders, with critics saying it was ill-timed and meant to woo support from the traditional leaders in the run up to this year's polls.
Last week, the government announced that it has increased salaries for traditional leaders from 4,000 Zambian Kwacha (about 370 U.S. dollars) to 15,000 Kwacha.
But the decision has sparked outrage from stakeholders who are questioning where the government has gotten the money during the time it was facing tight fiscal challenges.
Anti-corruption watch group, Transparency International Zambia (TIZ) said the move was ill-timed and that making such a move during an election period may be interpreted as an attempt to manipulate the chiefs.
Lee Habasonda, the TIZ president said the salary increments should have been awarded much earlier or after the general election.
Opposition political parties have described the move as a desperate attempt by the ruling Patriotic Front to canvass votes and win the support of the traditional leaders ahead of the August 11 polls.
But Chiefs and Traditional Affairs Minister Joseph Katema has defended the move, saying it was not a political gimmick to hoodwink chiefs into influencing their subjects to vote for the ruling party.
He said the increment of chiefs' salaries was already budgeted for in the 2016 budget but that the implementation was delayed as the ministry was waiting for the availability of funds from the Ministry of Finance.
"This increment is not outside the budget. The budget line was formulated and approved by parliament. People ought to realize that the government doesn't cease to function even when there are elections. We are making disbursements now because this is when the money has been released," he is quoted as saying by HOT FM radio.