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Tuesday, 9 November 2010

The 2010 Human Development Report (Guest Blog)

According to the 2010 edition of the Human Development Index, the quality of life in three countries—that is, Zambia, Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of the Congo—has slid backward, while many people around the world have experienced dramatic improvements in education, health, economic well-being, and other key aspects of their lives.

The decline in the socio-economic well-being of Zambians has, by and large, been a culmination of several factors described in a nut shell below.

Dependency on Copper:

Zambia’s initial failure to diversify eco nomic activities away from the mining industry has subject ed the nati onal economy to the vagaries of steep de creases in copper prices and produc tion levels, which, together with low mining taxes, has resulted in dwindling government revenues to cater for essential public services and infrastructure.

Petroleum Prices:

Unprecedented hikes in petroleum pri ces by the Organi zation of Petroleum Exporting Coun tries (OPEC) in 1973/74 and 1979 /80 resul ted in a steep rise in the price of imported oil from US$2.50 to US$35 per barrel, thereby draining the public trea sury and making it difficult for the government to meet the basic needs and expectations of citizens.

Mismanagement:

Rampant economic and public-sector mis man agem ent re sulted in di version of human, financial and other national resources to unpro­duc tive projects and progra ms. For example, the creation of the Central Committee (a somewhat parallel structure to the National Assembly) and the position of Prime Minister that followed the introduction of a one-party State in 1972 contributed greatly to the misappropriation of public resources.

Other examples of the mismanagement of national resources in the country include the following: the creation of sinecures like the position of District Commissioner, unnecessary expansion of ministerial and deputy ministerial positions, excessive number and staffing of the country’s foreign missions, the recommendation by the National Constitutional Conference (NCC) to increase the size of the National Assembly from 158 to 280 members, procurement of the over-priced hearses and the controversial mobile hospitals, and the excessive and costly foreign trips by the Republican president.

National Service Program:

The compulsory recruitment of Grade 12 students to undergo military training and engage in agricultural production activities between 1975 and 1980 at Zambia National Service (ZNS) camps (as mandated by ZNS Act No. 121 of 1972) contributed to the draining of public coffers. A lot of money was wasted on ZNS personnel, the construction of facilities to accommodate Grade 12 graduates, payments of stipends to the graduates, and on procurements of food, uniforms, semi-automatic rifles (SARs), and live ammunition and blanks for training purposes.

Postponement of Adjustment:

The postponement of macro-economic adju st ment by the United National Independence Party (UNIP) government on May 1, 1987—which would have enabled us to crea te a competi tive and more pro ductive socio-economic sys tem—exacer bated the socio-economic problems facing the country.

Cost-Sharing Schemes:

The introduction of cost-sharing arrangements in the dispensation of educational and healthcare services during the late 1980s has continued to make education and healthcare less accessible to a lot of citizens. The unprecedented numbers of street children and the lower life expectancy obtaining in the country today bear witness to this fact.

Socialist Policies:

UNIP’s socialist policies barred both local and foreign private inves tors from certain commer cial and indus trial sec tors of the countr y's econo my and recom mended the crea tion of state compa nies to operate in such sectors of the economy from the late 1960s to 1991. The poli cies—which former presi dent, Dr. Kenneth D. Kaunda, promul gated through his April 1968, August 1969 and Novem ber 1970 speeches to the UNIP Nation al Coun cil—ushered in an era of state enter prises.

Naturally, the monopolistic position enjoyed by state companies in the country’s economy culminat ed in com placence and gross ineffi­cien cy be cause, in the absence of competi tion, they appar ently found it unneces sary to seek innovative ways and means of improv ing the quality and qua ntity of their product offerings. The rampant commodity shortages which the coun try experie nced du ring the late 1970s and the 1980s were largely a direct result of the soci alist policies of the government of the day.

I leave the solutions to our beloved country’s predicament for another day. More than ever before, we need to pursue radical and comprehensive policies, projects and programs that will make it possible for us to remove the “s” from what seems to be the “curse” against our beloved country.

In passing, heightened and sustained socio-economic deve lop ment will not come to Zambia like manna from heaven; it will need to be adequa tely planned for and diligent ly pursued. And this will need to start with our acknowledgment of the problems facing us rather than refuting the conclusions of the Human Development Index published by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) about our country as “highly misleading.” The Index has become one of the world’s most trusted indicators of the socio-economic well-being of citizens in the 135 or so countries it currently covers.

There is no doubt that access to healthcare services, basic material necessi ties of life and education and training has become almost impossi ble to well over 65% of Zambians. In fact, socio-economic conditions during the first 10 years of our country’s independence were at least good enough for a country that could be said to have been born with a copper spoon in its mouth!

Henry Kyambalesa
(Guest Blogger)

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