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Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Political Lemons

I was recently struck by a statement from former parliamentarian Dora Siliya on debt management : "There is lack of a comprehensive legal framework guiding debt contraction..Zambia will go back into debt trap so government should open up this process....people should be informed whenever debts are contracted" (Source : The Post)

Many of us argued for a debt management bill for many years now. Ms Siliya laughed off the idea when she was a minister and MP in the MMD government. Now she has rightly realised that it was a good idea. The question is simple : what has changed? What has changed is that she has now realised the folly that pervades our national thinking.

Many Zambians suffers from a delusion I have long called the "dedicated fellow hypothesis". The false delusion among many Zambians is that we simply need politicians with a good heart and everything will be fine. In other words we need a moral champion. When some of us have called for a debt management bill every government (PF and MMD) has responded with "just trust us we know what we are doing". And many Zambians have bought this lie.

We have bought this lie on some many issues it is mind boggling. Politicians are the active agents of our national poverty. We can't afford to trust politicians because we are all sinners with an inherent propensity to cheat and lie given the opportunity. It is part of what reformed theology calls "total depravity". In fact my guess is that politicians are more morally depraved than the average person. The reason is that politics suffer from what economists call "adverse selection".

Many people believe all politicians are corrupt. And since we can't usually tell a very corrupt politician from a less bad one, morally good people don't want to enter politics. Why associate with the morally corrupt politicians? Morally good politicians also suffer terribly in politics. Can you imagine the pressure? So usually they don't last or become converted in a negative way. In short our politics is a classic market for lemons, with only the bad eggs left. Of course there are some rare good politicians - just as in a second car market you can find a good car if you take very long to look, but on average all the cars tend to be bad lemons.

Trust in our politics cannot be restored by just "praying" and hoping that one day a noble leader will arrive and change everything. What it needs is an active improvement in our institutions. It is better to have an agreed borrowing framework than rely on Alexander Chikwanda's discretion. There's also need for us not merely to identify potentially morally good people who can enter politics, but actively encourage and support such individuals when they are in the political arena. Only through that way can we help move the political field towards one biased towards having good politicians. It is a matter of changing the country towards a better equilibrium.  

Chola Mukanga | Economist | Writer
Copyright © Zambian Economist 2013

1 comment:

  1. I've heard that there's a report by the parliamentary committee on estimates has recommended that the government put in place mechanisms that will allow the Minister of Finance to circulate the draft budget to key stakeholders before presentation.


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