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Wednesday, 24 June 2009

President Banda : Press Conference Transcript

The full transcript of President Rupiah Banda's Press Conference today, as published on the State House website.

Presidential Press Conference 24 June 2009

5 comments:

  1. Interpretation of simian sentiments aside, I thought it was all around a good speech by the President. Certainly there are always specific issues or policies where I might hold a different opinion, but presidents are not really meant to be representatives of the full range of opinions (that's what legislatures are for). The President certainly covered a good number of topics, and in some cases seems to have adopted some policy reforms which may lead to lasting improvements in some key areas of governance.

    Expediting the NCC processes through use of "bully pulpit" persuasion is welcome, and given the sensitivity of relationships between sitting executives and constitutional reforms, a quite appropriate level of involvement without the appearance of undue interference. The President's calls for greater fiscal discipline and recognition of diminished expectations for the economy over the near term are likewise very welcome. Most especially the steps to increase oversight and accountability via the Public Expenditure Management and Financial Accountability Programme.

    The specific changes in the spending behaviour of government offices are important, at least symbolically, and may very well add up to a significant amount of money if taken all together. It will be interesting to see how public servants react to the measures, but I have no doubt that they are well received by the public in general. I did find it somewhat incongruous with the "buck-stops-here" tenor of the rest of his remarks however, when he specifically addressed the matter of government purchase of hearses by disclaiming personal knowledge or responsibility. Personally, I like executives who readily embrace the responsibility for actions taken under their authority by subordinates, at least that's how it works in the private sector for the most part, and is decidedly at play in forming public perceptions.

    The Salaries Commission sounds like an idea which is long overdue, as a step towards professionalization of the civil service in general. Certainly it makes sense to, "reconcile disparities in the salary structures in the public sector." Likewise the mandate for the FRA to concentrate its purchases in the more remote areas of the country seems a common sense reform to me, and will hopefully realign incentives in the grain industry for the better.

    In addressing the problems of government corruption the President brought forward several welcome statements, such as increasing the budget for the ACC and AG, the addition of specialized offices for Serious Fraud and Financial Intelligence, and widespread implementation of Forensic Systems and Procurement Audits. His remarks on Energy and the hard choices between consumer subsidies and infrastructure growth were particularly timely given the stated intention of the government to borrow an additional $800M which will have to be repaid by ratepayers eventually.

    Overall, I think that the speech has to be rated a success, though of course it remains to be seen what if anything tangible will result from the announced initiatives. President Banda certainly managed his stated purpose of addressing accusations of passivity against his office, and I sincerely hope that his government will aid him in actively implementing these reforms.

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  2. Yakima,

    "Expediting the NCC processes through use of "bully pulpit" persuasion is welcome, and given the sensitivity of relationships between sitting executives and constitutional reforms, a quite appropriate level of involvement without the appearance of undue interference. "

    I agree. I calling the NCC to speed up its work is welcome. However, I remain concerned over the whole product of the NCC. Also its unclear how they can speed up the process, without diminishing the quality further.

    "The Salaries Commission sounds like an idea which is long overdue, as a step towards professionalization of the civil service in general. Certainly it makes sense to, "reconcile disparities in the salary structures in the public sector."

    The principle is okay, but there are a couple of problems. The first is the one pointed out by Roy Mwaba which is in Zambia we have many commissions which are poorly funded. Even those which are rarely taken seriously. Commissions therefore become a politicians tool to demonstrate that something was done. When they get down to detail they rarely produce anything, as they get hijacked by interest groups. The second problem is the principle of "parity". The key is to have clear principles of how these wages are set, linked to a broader competitive system for jobs. Its not so much a wage issue but a open competition for jobs problems. It would be good if the Commission addressed that. The third is the Chair - Prof Mwanalushi. I have been involved in various email exchanges with him trying to persuade him to put pressure on the relevant players to release the Indaba Report (produced at cost to the tax payer) than now sits on the President's desk (we have only seen a summary). His responses have not indicated to me that this is a man who believes in good governance and empowering our society. I don't like to call people out, but if the "secret reports" and lack of independent thinking is what he'll bring, I doubt he'll produce much.

    "In addressing the problems of government corruption the President brought forward several welcome statements, such as increasing the budget for the ACC and AG, the addition of specialized offices for Serious Fraud and Financial Intelligence, and widespread implementation of Forensic Systems and Procurement Audits."

    Agreed. It was good to see the audit extended across the piece and the AG to get more funding. I have always thought the key is to repair these "broke institutions". They have correct mandates but are poorly funded.

    One thing that disappointed me was that there was no hint on broader Justice Reforms. I do think something has to be done to our laws if we are to tackle corruption holistically - there are needs to be drastic improvement to ensure cases are not bogged down. I have mentioned this point in the past.

    "His remarks on Energy and the hard choices between consumer subsidies and infrastructure growth were particularly timely given the stated intention of the government to borrow an additional $800M which will have to be repaid by ratepayers eventually."

    As I noted in a recent blog, I just do not think borrowing for ZESCO given its current structure is convincing, especially given our current rising debt position. Again here the need is for a broader energy strategy rather than a ZESCO strategy.

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  3. Cho,

    I don't disagree, I think that I just had lower expectations ;)

    Certainly there is no point in establishing a salaries commission to "reconcile disparities" within the public sector if it cannot comprehensively enforce the results. I think that we are to presume under the Big-Man model, that because the President himself and not some underling is promising it, that we can then be assured that the rest of government will fall in line. Of course I am not the right person to defend this particular model for governance, so I will leave it there for someone else to pick up the defense.

    The NCC has been more often willing to go against the stated position of the sitting government than I had expected and feared that they might, especially recently, and by my observation there does seem to be some degree of internal core consensus at work in their recent deliberations (as reported). It may yet turn out that the document produced requires serious revision within a decade due to foreseeable flaws, or indeed that as a whole it may be unworthy of ratification by the population as a true guiding document for society, however a significant proportion of NCC members have at least expressed their willingness to hear from interested parties of any persuasion, and claim to be considering all issues with an unbiased eye and true concern for their stated constituencies. At this point in the process, as long as the deliberations appear to be proceeding with due consideration but without undue delay, it should be carried through to completion, and whatever tangible and publicly acceptable result applied to the hopeful benefit of the country.

    Speaking of which, have they covered Judicial reforms at all yet? It is hard to understand from afar how the agenda is structured, and which items are to be decided next. Such opacity seems to me not only vexing, but unnecessary and counterproductive given the ultimate goal of widespread public internalization of the Constitution as social contract and code of conduct. Even with the limited publishing facilities of a colony in the late 18th century, the Federalists managed to publish over a hundred editorial essays describing in detail the reasoning behind each and every provision of the US Constitution; and the Anti-Federalists published another fifty or so in criticisms that formed the basis for the Bill of Rights. That debate was crucial to the complete formation of a lasting social contract that continues to operate almost unmodified now hundreds of years later to the great satisfaction of the citizens (the last serious yet failed attempt to amend the US Constitution was over punishments for presumed unpatriotic "flag burning").

    I am pleased that many NCC members recognize their responsibilities to hear the petitions of those who reach their ears, however I would implore them if they are reading this to go one step further and actively seek out the opinion of those who may not be aware that you would listen to them. There are many with a stake in the country's future who believe that they are too insignificant, or unfortunately but bluntly, that you are too corrupt, for them to be listened to seriously. I doubt that they are all that hard to find, just take a walk, or ask the next person who refills your drink in a restaurant what neighborhood they live in. Allow yourselves to be moved by understanding the experiences of as wide a range as possible of the people -- now, so that the document you produce will resonate with their needs later. The ability of unelected bodies to be truly representative will always be in doubt, but that doubt can be assuaged by meaningful public engagement initiated by NCC member,s whereby they can effectively take on board and utilize feedback from ordinary citizens, if not to alter their decisions where appropriate, then at least to more fully and persuasively explain their reasoning so as to gain acceptance from resistant elements of the population.

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  4. Cho,

    These clauses adopted by the NCC seem to be rather immediate remedies to perceived difficulties in the current circumstance, and may not prove to have quite the lasting utility that we hope for from Constitutional documents.

    The first clause, on the establishment and jurisdiction of a specialized Constitutional Court, with sole and final jurisdiction over any and all cases which they themselves deem to be within their jurisdiction, might serve to streamline the processing of certain backlogged cases currently before the judiciary. It will do so however at the cost of unleashing an unelected and unchecked group of individuals (barring another round of formal constitutional revision), who will have no guidance from the deliberation and ruling of lower courts, and from whose own rulings there can be no appeal to any other authority. This decision seems to go against the grain of normal judicial priority, which places certainty and due process above swiftness or economy. Although it is no doubt tempting for the NCC members to believe that their own works should be subject to a single dedicated court without interference, they may find themselves sadly disappointed someday when the only persons entitled to interpret their original intent are ignoring it.

    Which brings us to the second clause mentioned, in which it is determined that judges should be eligible for retirement at the age of 65, and that retirement be mandatory after age 70. Apparently it was not deemed relevant how long the person in question had already been on the bench, so hopefully we will not see a slew of largely ceremonial appointments of judges who then retire with constitutionally mandated benefits shortly thereafter. The stated logic behind the clause is that older judges should retire so that younger judges can take over, which ignores the possibility that future age demographics and working lifespans may differ radically from the current circumstance. To simply conclude that one can simply rewrite the clause at the appropriate time once demographics have changed is to ignore the question of how to avoid changes at inappropriate times. The NCC would likely have been better off passing a clause that provided authority for a universal mandatory retirement age for judges, to be determined by an Act of Parliament.

    I find these reports troubling, as they do not reveal the establishment of a clear framework of checks and balances, which is what I would expect of a serious constitutional revision.

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