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Saturday, 15 March 2008

A flawed vision for Zambia?

Presidential hopeful Professor Chirwa has a vision for Zambia in the 21st century. It includes the following:

“When I am elected, I will re-introduce Zambia Airways which was sold for no prudent reason by the prior government. Zambia Airways was not making any loses at the time of the sale...I have already initiated talks with Sir Richard Branson, the owner of Virgin Airlines, in regards to forming a partnership to create a new national airline for Zambia to and bring back Zambia Airways”
Presumably the Prof wants to directly challenge Zambian Airways? Instead of looking back to what Zambia Airways was, why don't we look at what Zambian Airways and others (e.g. Zambia Skyways) in a properly supported aviation sector. It strikes me that the Prof's vision is not for the 21st century. It appears to be a vision of a bygone age. Even the current government has had the sense to realise that the pursuit of a national airline with some form of tax payers money involved is not a way forward. It is backward.

As I have previously stated there's absolutely no case for a national airline. If Prof Chirwa has any vision for aviation, it should be to focus on creating an enabling environment through greater liberalisation of air travel and reducing the the cost of jet fuel.

Instead of duplicating government efforts to get Richard Branson to look at the Zambian market, the Prof should be spending time finding out why the likes of Virgin and other airlines are not looking at Zambia? The answer surely must be the problems I have mentioned above, and the poor state of our infrastructure.


Our airport infrastructure can definitely do with a lift. Especially provincial airports to enable the development of tourism. We have four international airports managed by National Airports Corporation Limited (NACL) - although with Solwezi Airport due to be built by the mines that make it five (see the post called Solwezi Model). NACL is aiming to fully commercialise its operations (the Zamtel problem) so that it could invest in more infrastructure. Provincial airports come under the Department for Civil Aviation. Encouraging private sector involvement there is critical.

The other critical infrastructure is Airport Traffic Control (ATC) infrastructure which is maintained and operated by NACL. Zambia has a civilian radar system and is limited to procedural air traffic control. Overflight incomes from ATC services are quite low, particularly given the fact that major overflight routes pass through Zambia. Furthermore it is difficult for NACL to negotiate higher fees because we lack adequate surveillance infrastructure. With increased traffic, we will need to invest in new surveillance technology. There's a role for Government to take the lead here - and look at the Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) for example. I am told that this is a cheap technology, easy to maintain and suited for countries in the developing world such as ours. Tanzania has it.

We also need to invest in soft infrastructure - human capital. The Zambian Air Services Training Institute for example must be considered as critical to aviation development. I think the institute should be privatised to allow it to expand and grow. It has good staff and good students. We can become an exporter of pilots in the region if we made it private.

Now in light of all these things we can do, and should be doing, why do we keep ourselves obsessed over a lost airline? Why are we looking back and not forward? There's nothing that I find more disturbing that hearing those that want to offer an alternative vision repeat the same old failed ideologies. Atleast, I must thank Prof Chirwa for atleast articulating his vision for aviation, albeit, a flawed one. Debating ideas is a positive thing, and the Lord knows we need more of that in Zambia.

17 comments:

  1. Now in light of all these things we can do, and should be doing, why do we keep ourselves obsessed over a lost airline?

    One word: prestige.
    I've been involved in some pretty angry debates in my country about such stupidity. The difference being that it wasn't a "vision" by a candidate but an actual government policy that did get implimented thanks to high oil prices.

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  2. I must admit that I got very angry when I read what he was proposing!

    I guess its because with the electorate, its much easier to get them on your side when you speak of "golden eras" of old.

    Explaining a new and forward looking vision takes a bit of grit and bold thinking. Our leaders are certainly lacking in this area.

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  3. And political courage.

    Putting yourself out there and accepting to be judged for your ideas is certainly much harder than pandering. But usually it pays off. If you're that one politician able to say "i told you so".

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  4. I must admit that I got very angry when I read what he was proposing!

    He is a technician and an engineer. :) I guess that is what is to be expected.

    What is needed in my humble opinion, is polies that address the major, fundamental issues with Zambia's economy.

    - mass unemployment
    - massive lack of use of agricultural land
    - absence and decay of infrastructure (which his emphasis on the railways does in part address - in an economy so heavily dependent on the export of millions of tonnes of raw materials, getting those off the roads and onto rail would make a big difference to the damage done to the roads, as well as create some employment)

    Maybe we can get back to Professor Chirwa on that. (I just e-mailed him.)

    And of course I still have my manifesto to serve as a think piece.

    Cho,

    Not to change the subject, but do you have any experience setting up a business in Zambia?

    I always try to get all the information as I can before I make a move.

    I'm looking at setting up a low overhead, high reward agricultural business, growing spices and the like for export. The business will be very labour intensive, and I intend to pay out most of the profits as salaries.

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  5. Random African,

    And political courage.

    Putting yourself out there and accepting to be judged for your ideas is certainly much harder than pandering. But usually it pays off. If you're that one politician able to say "i told you so".


    Absolutely. Which is probably why so few ideas come out of the MMD. Perhaps it is just safer to let policies come down from the IMF/WB, who are pulling the financial purse strings anyway.

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  6. Which is probably why so few ideas come out of the MMD. Perhaps it is just safer to let policies come down from the IMF/WB, who are pulling the financial purse strings anyway.

    Well, the great thing about hiding behind IMF/WB/donors is that it allows the government to argue that they're driven by necessity. Which is a convinient way to avoid responsibility.

    But the saddest thing in my humble opinion is that it's either IMF/WB or "let's revive Zambia Airways" or "let me copy and paste whatever Oxfam recommends". No one really has any political courage.

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  7. "Not to change the subject, but do you have any experience setting up a business in Zambia?" - Mrk

    Some experience.
    My nephew now owns Brickworld Zambia a new company which is making bricks in Solwezi. Very lucrative. Being my nephew, I am a non-Executive board member!

    You simply need to register your name. I have some forms for that lying somewhere. After that its all driven by you.

    Your idea sounds interesting, might be worth getting views from some agriculture experts. My older brother is an agricultural scientist at Mount Makulu. Currently completing his PHd with Natal University. Also there are one or two others in Zambia who could advise. But from the books you have read, you probably have it all figured out. In which case its the case of proceeding with the venture.

    Have you got a plot of land? I assume you'll be moving forward as "foreign investor" in order to take the tax breaks! lol!

    "But the saddest thing in my humble opinion is that it's either IMF/WB or "let's revive Zambia Airways" or "let me copy and paste whatever Oxfam recommends". No one really has any political courage." - Random

    Is it courage, or is it lack of know how? It strikes me that what the IMF/WB/ DfiD have is technical expertise, albeit driven by domestic polical imperatives. Most developing nations such as ours simply have no think tanks and aren't having the sort of deeper dialogue among analysts to realy present policy makers with choice. The excuse is that policy makers don't listen! I think they can if credible options are put in front of them.

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  8. Most developing nations such as ours simply have no think tanks and aren't having the sort of deeper dialogue among analysts to realy present policy makers with choice. The excuse is that policy makers don't listen! I think they can if credible options are put in front of them.

    Well yeah to an extend. I don't know if the absence of think-tanks causes a lack of reflexion or a lack of public reflexion.
    After all, there are technocrats from the developing nations working for the UN-related orgs or in governments, central banks and stuff. So they have the technical know-how but they don't do advocacy, or they do it a limited way (within those orgs).
    One thing that strikes me when i look at the history of post-colonial Africa is how changes were induced by large trends and how homogenous policies have been. We got independent at the same time, socialized at the same time, liberalized at the same time. Openly anti-communist regimes nationalized as much as socialist/marxist/african socialist ones but openly marxist countries also had an important private sector... Because single-party regimes successfully internalized debates, there have been a few sacred crow that NO ONE dares touching which only reinforces their sacredness.

    In short, I say "courage" because the politician or the economist who would publish op-eds arguing against Zambia Airways AGAIN and AGAIN will at least at the beginning go against the popular opinion. And it takes courage to not pander.

    (which is why the free-marketers who write almost exclusively about high-level political corruption annoy me)

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  9. I guess you are still left with the question : why do people lack courage or appear to lack courage?

    ....the answer leads you back to "incentives". The truth is that bulking the trend has little pay-off....that is why many people don't do it...

    If I can succeed to get people to focus on issues that matter, the pay-offs are high...but the problem is that the probability of getting people to change their thinking is too low... leading to a low expected benefit.. compare that to my personal costs....and its not looking good...

    The bottom line is that we have a classic market failure, that cannot be solved by appealing to courage, but by changing the underlying incentives...one way we could do that is public funding for think tanks..that are focused specifically on developing policies..another way is to incentivise greater political competition among parties..this could generate demand for real analysis to underpine political positioning...

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  10. Public funding for think-tanks ? Oh HELL NO !
    You may as well try to promote open debates in a single-party state !

    Incentivising greater political competition ? hmmm..That's something hard to do. I don't even know if there's a lack of competition between them as of right now. It is possible that the excessive competition, or the excessive cost of loosing (winner takes all systems) makes political differentiation more risky. And ideological differenciation between parties is what we want, right ?

    And I'm still hesitant to think it's an incentive problem. It leaves public intellectuals off the hook too easily. Marx, Keynes or Friedman took risks and most importantly put their ideas before their immediate self interest.

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  11. Well if its not an "incentives" problem then you need a "metaphysical" explanation...courage and all these other words hint at the "nature of man".... I don't think they help move the dialogue forward...atleast not until behavioural economics becomes sufficiently advanced!

    So suppose it is an "incentives" problem, then the real question is what can be done to incentivise emergency of ideological differences among parties??...

    I posed two possibilities...

    Public finance of think tanks....you have dismissed this idea without necessarily saying "why". Remember I said public funding, not full public funding. Doesn't this happen in the West already????? A number of centres at universities have emerged through such funding..

    Political competition...your main point is that this is HARD....Why do you think this is HARD? What constraints do you see that would make political competition difficult to instill?

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  12. You're right, it doesn't help move the dialogue forward :-)

    So let me clarify.

    First of all, I was talking of "political" courage (or boldness) which is not so metaphysical of a concept. But let's forget about that for now.

    So we want diversity in political thought and policy proposals etc.. And we want that diversity to be public (as i mention earlier, single-party states were built to make those debates private rather than suppress them totally).

    So what are the incentives to public express a divergent opinion ? Well, for one, there's the "gotcha/iwasright" aspect. Me and you and MrK blog and comment and reply partly because we want to be right. Then there's the potential rewards. One can win nobel prizes by attacking the keynesian consensus or become president of Zambia for opposing the one-party rule. Or get book deals, or become part of a think tank, or be hired by an university or start a new discipline.
    The issue of course is that none of those are sure shots. The diverging thinker could end up ostracized, mocked, poor and all that. And there are serious disincentives. One could loose his job, one could be arrested, killed, one could have to live in exile or loose an election for disagreeing. So would increasing the incentives have more effect than decreasing the desincentives ?

    That depends on the situation, doesn't it ?

    As far as public finance of think tank, well, it depends on how it's done. Obviously the issue could be to give the government the capacity to repress thoughts it doesn't like. But a system in which the attribution of the funds can't be influenced wouldn't have those issues. Private financing on the other end have diversity of interests as an advantage. After all think mining companies, mining labour unions and Mr K would probably not fund the same think tank.
    So yeah on public funding, depending on the incentives..

    As far as political competition, well it gets complex. Competition can make parties play safe. After all, none of them want to loose and therefore will tend to reduce the risks. So I think to increase differentiation, you sort have to make political parties more loyal to their base. That can mean increasing the possibility of challenger/insurgent parties/candidacies. But in the context of Africa, rewarding non-victories is more crucial. I think the problem is that the principled party that openly owns up its convinctions will make enemies. And making enemies increases chances of loosing and if the cost of loosing is huge, the party will have incentives to be less principled.
    I guess what I'm trying to say is that the incentive to ideological differentiation among political parties is to make loosing more tolerable.

    Now, I'm one of the people who think that parliamentary democracies reward looser more than presidential democracies (there's one president but majorities are a percentage thing). I also think that first past the post, single constituency electoral system reward loosers far less than Two-Round voting or proportionnal seat allocation (compare the composition of parliaments in UK and the Netherlands) because proportional systems leave room for insurgents/challengers.

    But still, what as of right now stops a zambian economist from publishing an op-ed arguing for a more careful approach to mining taxation ? Are there so many disincentives ? Is it a lack of incentives ?

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  13. Your argument on political competition is sound. I agree that reward rewarding losers also is critical. The problem perhaps lie in the fact that mechanisms such as PR which deliver those advantages have their own limitations e.g. geographical considerations, unstable governments etc.

    Its a balancing act!

    On public funding you suggest that:

    "As far as public finance of think tank, well, it depends on how it's done. Obviously the issue could be to give the government the capacity to repress thoughts it doesn't like. But a system in which the attribution of the funds can't be influenced wouldn't have those issues. ….so yeah on public funding, depending on the incentives..

    The problem with your assessment is that it assumes that private funding has no element of "capture". We know that not to be true, simply by observing the media. A private funded newspaper is sometimes worse than a government funded one. Private papers often pursue personal agendas and without proper regard for wider issues. The same applies to think tanks.

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  14. The problem perhaps lie in the fact that mechanisms such as PR which deliver those advantages have their own limitations e.g. geographical considerations, unstable governments etc.

    Yes, unstability is the biggest flaw of PR. However, I'm of the opinion that stability of governments is overated.
    As far as geographical considerations, one can have sub-national multi-member constituencies.. Regions and provinces for instance. The good thing about that option is that you can even force parties to be national by using a threshold.

    Personally, I liked the system used to elected the Somaliland and Angola parliaments.
    http://africanelections.tripod.com/ao_detail.html#1992_National_Assembly_Election
    http://africanelections.tripod.com/somaliland_detail.html#2005_House_of_Representatives_Election

    Somaliland is even more interesting because it was Open-List PR which sort of encouraged parties to be coherent..

    The problem with your assessment is that it assumes that private funding has no element of "capture".

    No. I assumed private funding would cause some level of "capture". The difference being that private interests are inherently diverse so the think tank would reflect that diversity.
    There's only one government.

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  15. Yes, unstability is the biggest flaw of PR. However, I'm of the opinion that stability of governments is overated… As far as geographical considerations, one can have sub-national multi-member constituencies.

    Not sure I agree with that.
    I think that an effective system is one which carefully balances "perpetual contestability" with "perpetual incumbency". There are obvious benefits from both, and perhaps it’s a question of "fitness for purpose" to know which one is need at any given time.

    I discussed this issue at some length with Yakima (who floats in and out the blog these days, as he gets his restaurant business up to speed) on the blog and the question of geographic considerations - Monkey Business

    The Angolan system seems interesting though it is unclear how national circle seats are allocated. The Somaliland approach is basically the same as the new Zimbabwe senate approach.

    The draft Zambian constitution (currently under discussion in the National Constitution Conference) proses an hybrid of PR and FPTP system. This is likely to be approved. We concluded that had some flaws.

    A more appropriate approach to resolving the geographic and political flaws of the PR is to ensure the Head of State is separate from Head of Government. Crucially, you need to decentralise power from the centre so that people have more control over decisions. The proposal is not perfect, since decentralisation of power has its own flaws. But what it does increasse the probability of a workable PR.

    The question of a second strong chamber of course is one I support. But for different reasons, which I set out in the blog A Cultural Approach to Zambia's Development


    " No. I assumed private funding would cause some level of "capture". The difference being that private interests are inherently diverse so the think tank would reflect that diversity. There's only one government."

    Yes governments are "horizontally" less diverse but "vertically" very much diverse. Governments change all the time, their priorities shift and so forth.
    Unless your point is that the probability of private sector capture is less given the feasible set of players, relative to government funding. But there's no evidence to suggest increasing the feasible set of players necessarily reduces their ability to capture any think tank. We also have to remember that we are essentially talking about a "missing market", so the notion of a wide feasible set of private players EAGER to invest in a think tank is itself question. So diversity argument simply falls.

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  16. In Angola, the national constituency seats are allocated proportionally to the total national vote. The odd thing in their system is the fact that each province has an equal number of provincial circle seats. I guess their national assembly mixes traditionnal attributes of upper and lower chambers.

    I don't know about Somaliland and Zimbabwe senate using the same system. I thought they had an equal number of single-member constituencies.

    In Somaliland, each region is a multimember constituency but the real quirk is the open-list part. Voters actually vote for candidates, not lists. And then the the total number of votes for party determines the number of seats each party gets and the individual votes determines which candidates get those seats.

    It is a complicated system, although less complicated than Instant Run-Off/Preferential Voting but has the advantage of forcing the creation of parties and not just personnal elections machine.


    Do you have a link to the draft zambian constitution or the relevant passages ? Or more simply, is it an Angola-like system with a number of seats being FTTP and a number seats being PR ?

    I'm highly suspicious of strong higher chambers, especially since in the African context the word "chief" automatically comes in. That opens a huge can of worms on status definition and huge possibility for un-democratic behavior. And Botswana does well with a consultative house of chiefs.


    We also have to remember that we are essentially talking about a "missing market", so the notion of a wide feasible set of private players EAGER to invest in a think tank is itself question. So diversity argument simply falls.

    First of all, I said "private", not private sector. Trade unions for instance have as much incentive to produce economic proposals as owners.

    Also, I'm no trying to avoid the capture of individual think tanks. I actually expect that such capture would lead to more diversity of think tanks rather than within think tanks.

    I don't think the current lack of think tanks proves there is no potential wide set of players willing to invest in some. To an extend, It's easy to imagine a chain reaction in which "players" would create their own think tanks in reaction to other think tanks promoting interests different from theirs. Or tax laws could be change to make contributions deductible.

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  17. The Draft Constitution proposes an hybrid of the constituency electoral system and PR. You can access it here. Basically most seats will be allocayed via constituencies, but additional seats will available through proportional representation based on the share of parties from the national vote.

    "I'm highly suspicious of strong higher chambers, especially since in the African context the word "chief" automatically comes in. That opens a huge can of worms on status definition and huge possibility for un-democratic behavior."

    I see no huge can of worms anywhere. Yes, my model sacrifices a bit of democracy, but it ensures that we have a coherent to development. At the end of the day, you can rely on artificial top-down institutions that work imperfectly with existing bottom-up institutions, or you can do what I propose which harmonises the two. I would welcome a considered critique of the approach from you though, if you get a chance to read through the blog properly :) I am working to develop it into an extensive paper.

    "To an extent, It's easy to imagine a chain reaction in which "players" would create their own think tanks in reaction to other think tanks promoting interests different from theirs."

    I agree, but my concern is how to start the chain reaction :) This is why it is a missing market. Its not that the market can't exist, it can, its just missing...its a case of finding it! I never suggested public funding should be eternal. How did you think early think tanks in Europe started? They got a few pounds from government, that led to some more emerging. Eventually private players step in and so forth.

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