This post provides a few comments and observations on President Rupiah Banda's speech presented during his Press Conference on June 24, 2009 at State House (see President Banda : Press Conference Transcript and President Banda : The Other Transcript).
President Banda has revealed that 50% of government's domestic revenues are spent on 1% of the population, including Ministers, the civil police and soldiers, and wondered how provision for roads, hospitals, schools, energy, and defence and security can be met.
Unfortunately, the measures he announced to address this problem are not enough – that is, rational use of personal-to-holder vehicles, suspension of purchases of luxury vehicles, limitations on trips abroad by government officials, and reduction in the number of workshops held by government ministries.
The following would have made a more meaningful contribution to the resolution of the problem: a drastic reduction in the number of Cabinet Ministers, abolition of the positions of Deputy Minister and District Commissioner, and reduction in the number of Zambia's foreign embassies by having clusters of countries to be served by single embassies.
Salaries and Wages Commission:
The Salaries and Wages Commission proposed by the President to reconcile disparities in salary structures in the public sector is a sheer waste of time and resources. The dissatisfaction among public-sector employees and the 7 unions which represent them is about the inadequacy of compensation. What employees on government payroll want is for the government to provide for the following, which would lead to improvements in their livelihoods:
- Provision for home-ownership and car-ownership schemes, and adequate upward adjustments in their salaries and allowances;
- Provision of free life-saving healthcare to all Zambians that is respectful, that recognizes personal dignity, and that adequately provides for personal privacy;
- Provision of free formal education, abolition of examination fees and Grade 7 and Grade 9 elimination examinations, provision of scholarships for high-school graduates who obtain a Division 1 and low-interest loans for other high-school graduates and working Zambian men and women wishing to pursue further studies in classroom-based or correspondence-based study programs offered within Zambia; and
- Improvement in Zambia's food security through government-financed irrigation dams and canals, cattle re-stocking and disease control, free seeds and fertilizer for 2 years, a seed and fertilizer subsidy at 50% after 2 years, zero value-added tax on agricultural inputs and raw food, promotion of food canning, and promotion of agricultural schemes by municipalities, the civil police, the prison service, the defence forces, and educational and training institutions.
The Fight against Corruption:
It may not be entirely true that revelations of corrupt practices in government have emerged because the President has allowed the investigative wings of the government to exercise their mandates without interference. The President would have been more honest by acknowledging the role played by The Post newspaper in bringing to light the importation of GMO maize, the procurement of hearses, the K10 billion theft at the Ministry of Health, the planned purchase of mobile clinics, Dora Siliya's alleged misdeeds, and the alleged plunder of public resources during President Frederick Chiluba's administration.
Zambians expect their government to apply the elements of good governance in both word and deed. The mere mention by the President that his government believes in transparency and accountability is meaningless without applying these elements of good governance in practice. Transparency, for example, requires members of the public to have access to information about the state, its decision-making mechanisms, and its current and planned projects and programs. The procurement of hearses by the Ministry of Local Government and Housing, which the President has sworn to have had no knowledge of when he has been both Vice President and President, provides a good example of the lack of transparency in government.
Accountability, on the other hand, entails the availability of a mechanism for ensuring that civil servants and public officials are directly accountable and liable for the outcomes of their decisions and actions, and the appropriation of resources assigned to them. The re-appointment of Dora Siliya to a Cabinet post after she was alleged to have defrauded Petauke District Council of K12.5 million in fake refund claims, mishandled the appointment of RP Capital Partners in respect of its valuation and potential sale of Zamtel, and cancellation of a duly awarded contract for the supply, delivery, installation and commissioning of a Zambia Air Traffic Management Surveillance Radar System (ZATM-RADAR) at Lusaka and Livingstone international airports provides a good example of the lack of accountability in government.
There are, of course, other elements of good governance that are not applied by President Banda's government, including the following:
- The existence of non-discriminatory laws and law enforcement organs of the government that are efficient, impartial, independent, and legitimate – an element that is undermined by failure by the police to arrest MMD cadres who have continually harassed journalists, newspaper vendors and other innocent citizens;
- Availability of channels and mechanisms through which the citizenry and non-governmental institutions can have an influence on the actions of public officials, such as the procurement of hearses and mobile clinics; and
- Fostering the development of a free press to facilitate the exposure of unscrupulous activities in institutional settings, such as the K10 billion theft at the Ministry of Health.
The President's call for the strengthening of procurement systems through the enactment of new procurement regulations is weakened by his government's adoption of single-source procurements – particularly with respect to the construction of the Kasumbalesa border post, consideration of a decision to buy a radar system, the evaluation of partial privatization of Zamtel, and consideration of the decision to buy mobile clinics.
The Call for Sacrifice:
The people are sick and tired of being told to make sacrifices from the 1970s to date by successive government regimes. Today, the waists of the majority of Zambians do not have any more room for further belt-tightening! The common people do not really need to make any more sacrifices than they have already made over the years. On the contrary, it is government leaders who need to avoid wasteful spending of meager national resources on maintaining sinecures, for instance, so that they can apply the savings on projects and programs that would bolster socio-economic development and lead to poverty reduction.
It is not fair for the President to ask the poor people to sacrifice any portion of their meager incomes after government leaders had given themselves hefty pay packages late last year through the Presidential Emoluments Amendments Bill and the Ministerial and Parliamentary Offices Emoluments Bill.
In other words, sacrifices need to be made by government leaders – even to the extent of reducing their own pay packages, and/or instituting a freeze on the not-so-essential political appointments.
So, rather than give examples of workers in Ireland and at British Airways who have taken cuts in their salaries, the Zambian government would do well to emulate the example of an African country – that is, Senegal – whose President recently announced a new Bill aimed at cutting salaries and scaling down cabinet size. According to the Bill, the President's salary would be slashed by 30%, government ministers and senators would lose 25%, while members of parliament would have their pay packets cut by 20%.
Increase in ZESCO Tariffs:
The President's backing of ZESCO's proposal to hike electricity tariffs by 66% is unfortunate. Unreasonably high tariffs are likely to fan away skilled personnel and locally based investors to other countries where utility and other costs are relatively lower and more stable. In fact, low and stable utility costs, among other factors, can enable the national government and local governments to lure investors from countries which have relatively high and unstable utility costs, while retaining business operators currently doing business in Zambia.
Besides, the rampant depletion of woodlands occasioned mainly by charcoal burning and fire-wood collection can be reduced greatly through affordable electricity tariffs.
Peace and Stability:
Sustained peace and stability, as the President has observed, are essential in Zambia's quest for heightened socio-economic development. Unfortunately, the politics of disrespect, violence and hooliganism that he says he is opposed to is being practised with impunity by cadres in his own political party.
Recent mass demonstrations by MMD youths in Lusaka and Ndola against continued membership of Ng'andu Magande, Elias Mpondela and Sebastian Kopulande are a case in point. Also, the attack on a newspaper vendor in Solwezi and the regular harassment of journalists by MMD cadres do not augur well for the maintenance of peace and stability in our beloved country.
In conclusion, it is important to remember that meaningful socio-economic development will not come to Zambia like manna from heaven, nor will it come through waking up every day to castigate critics or argue against voices of dissent; rather, it will need to be adequately planned for and diligently pursued.
Henry Kyambalesa (Guest Blogger)
Agenda for Change
Agenda for Change