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Tuesday, 31 March 2009

A real agenda for the indaba?

A thoughtful article by Pete Henriot which sets out eight key issues that should be addressed at the upcoming indaba, these naturally go beyond what the government has in mind :

An agenda for the indaba, Fr Pete Henriot, The Post (subscription), Commentary :

Another national Indaba? For what purpose? With what agenda? Who will attend? What will it cost? What will be the follow-up?

These are the questions in the air now, as the government has announced a very large gathering – all MPs, many invited organisations and individuals – to discuss Zambia’s response to the many challenges raised by the global economic crisis (GEC).

Some Zambians may have plenty of hope and pray that such a gathering will have a more specific outcome than the one held in 2003. That one had little or no significant follow-up that the general public knows about, despite four days of extended conversations with a large group around a huge agenda. Some have favourably greeted the opportunity to participate in the Indaba (hopefully not because of any “sitting allowances”!), while others have expressed pessimistic skepticism or outright boycott.

We should be learning more about the event in the next few days (with hopes that The Post will still be around and allowed to publish so that we can get a wider view of what people are saying than appears to be the prescribed position of the government’s print and electronic media!). Here are a few obvious topics that should take the highest places in any list of agenda items for the Indaba if effective responses are to be made to the impacts of the GEC.

First and foremost, the disturbing impoverishment figures shown in official government reports and demonstrated in the JCTR’s Basic Needs Basket surveys must be addressed. Yes, some figures such as infant and maternal mortality have improved – though still showing very sad conditions. But certainly it is a scandal and a moral tragedy to have so much poverty (65 per cent of our people living below the poverty line) in a country of such immense and rich resources forty-five years after Independence. Whatever one’s political party affiliation is, that is a judgment that surely would not be denied.

Moreover, the great gap between rich and poor and between urban and rural is unacceptable. The Gini-coefficient (a measurement of inequality) is 52 – and that indicates gross inequality.

Surely the search to deal effectively and equitably with this fact of the impoverishment of the majority of Zambian citizens has to be the number one agenda item for any planned Indaba.

Second, the challenge of corruption which is cancerously, destroying structures and relationships and hence undermining any sustainable development in Zambia must feature high on the Indaba agenda. The government’s recently announced Anti-Corruption Policy should be distributed to all participants and enter into all the discussions. Grand, middle and petty corruption must be more readily and effectively dealt with.

Yes, recent arrests, prosecutions and imprisonments of some government officials are encouraging. But what about the continual revelations of the Auditor General’s reports? How many persons have actually been arrested, prosecuted and imprisoned – or at least dismissed or suspended – because of these clear revelations?
Ways to implement the Anti-Corruption Policy and to find new ways of dealing with this deadly disease must be very high on any realistic Indaba agenda.

Third, there is a very great need to build public confidence in the process, content and output of the National Constitutional Conference (NCC) if we are ever to have the much promised “constitution to stand the test of time.” There can be no denying the fact that there is widespread cynicism across party lines and in the wider public that the NCC is not delivering on the promises offered by the hard work of the Mung’omba Commission – promises about electoral reform, correction of presidential powers, up-dating of the Bill of Rights to include Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ESCR), commitment to popular approval of the Constitution through a national referendum, etc.

Therefore, high on the agenda of the Indaba must be the recognition that a new Constitution is essential to integral and sustainable development in Zambia.

Fourth, open and honest discussion of the situation of the mines will surely occupy an important place on the Indaba’s agenda. Is the Zambian citizenry really getting the full picture of what is happening at this very moment on the Copperbelt, for example, in Luanshya? I’ve been told by people actually living there that asset stripping is going on. Is that true or not?

Last week the Wall Street Journal reported that the suffering of the people in Luanshya is growing greater every day. What are the government’s plans?

Certainly the Indaba should openly debate the wisdom of removal of the windfall taxes at the very moment that copper prices are on the rise. Will the government listen and respond to voices questioning that decision?

Fifth, the Indaba should take a good hard look at the social dimensions of the proposed Multi-Facility Economic Zones (MFEZ). What are the environmental impacts of setting up these zones, e.g., close to Lusaka? What are the guarantees of good wages, safe working conditions and rights of union organising – especially if these Zones are largely occupied by investors from countries that don’t have good records on these strong justice demands on the part of workers?

Sixth, very high on the Indaba agenda must be agricultural policy in Zambia. Can discussions and recommendations at the Indaba demand higher budget priority for rural development, help sort out the mismanagement and general dissatisfaction of the Fertiliser Support Programme (FSP), and reinforce the government’s commitment to keep Zambia GMO-free?

The Millers Association of Zambia has just announced that this week the price of mealie-meal would again be on the rise - K65,000 per 25kg of Breakfast Meal in Lusaka. Higher elsewhere? Even higher later on? Something isn’t working right with agricultural policy when a lack of diversification of food stuffs means that more and more Zambians will be hungry in the days ahead.

Seventh, the agenda of the Indaba is supposed to deal with major economic development issues like the six items listed above. But it is clear that education and health issues are major contributions – for better or for worse – to economic development in Zambia. We simply won’t have a good economy in Zambia unless we have well educated and healthy Zambians! Some good steps might have been taken in Budget 2009, but much, much more needs to be done. Let the Indaba be genuinely concerned about the status of education and health care across the country, coming up with clear and manageable recommendations.

Eighth, environmental issues must also be high on the Indaba agenda. More that “turning off the lights” is required by our people and our government if global warming, droughts and floods are to be faced. The ecological challenges to the economy in Zambia are great. Let the Indaba have a green face for all that it might discuss and recommend!

So we should know by this time next week who got invited to this big event and whether the time, energy and expense will have been worth it. Much depends on the agenda chosen, the openness experienced and the follow-up designed!

1 comment:

  1. Valid points raised by Fr. Henriot.
    The reason these indabas do not produce any lasting resolutions is that it is practically impossible to produce any meaningful actions in such a short period of time. It seems like the delegates will be going into the indaba without any background briefing papers and no access to the agenda. We should take a leaf from this week's G20 summit in London (though it is unlikely to produce anything spectacular). Work for this summit started a couple of months ago and officials at various levels have been ironing out issues before the leaders meet this week. We need a similar approach for the indaba.
    The PANEL


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