Chipimo says looming bye-election will cost country K60 b in unbudgeted expenditure



Tuesday 20 November 2012

It has been said that politics has strange bedfellows but few things can be stranger than what we are currently being forced to witness as citizens of a nation with very serious developmental challenges. It is nothing short of alarming that in the midst of crushing poverty, persistent and increasing load-shedding, widespread lack of access to clean water, poor infrastructure in peri-urban and rural areas, appalling health services, deep-rooted corruption and massive unemployment, we can have a so-called pro-poor administration advocating the defection of MP’s from the ranks of the Opposition in order to trigger by-elections at enormous expense to our treasury.

Officially, each by-election costs the country in excess of K6 billion. Holding 10 by-elections (which is where we may end up before the second half of next year) could therefore amount to a staggering K60 billion in unbudgeted expenditure. To put this in context, K60 billion is more than the money allocated to supporting youth empowerment programmes through skills training in this year’s budget. K60 billion is 20 per cent of the funding allocated to the procurement of maize this year through the Food Reserve Agency (even though we know that the Government will end up spending four times as much). K60 billion exceeds half the average amount allocated for the refurbishment of the main hospitals in Lusaka, Ndola and Kitwe next year. Clearly, K60 billion is money that we cannot afford to be spending on unnecessary, politically induced by-elections.

NAREP strongly condemns any unprincipled stand by Opposition members of parliament to cross the floor in order to protect their Deputy Ministerial positions. The argument that they are somehow performing a role in the national interest is baseless. Deputy Ministers are nothing more than glorified spokespersons for their line Ministries, which is why the NAREP manifesto clearly asserts that their number will be drastically reduced under a NAREP administration and their role will be reviewed to determine their relevance in a results-oriented and performance-based administration. The most prominent public role of the Deputy Minister appears to be that of reading speeches and making statements on behalf of the Minister. No Deputy Minister sits in Cabinet (other than by way of specific invitation) even when his or her Minister is out of station and often they are made to play a minimal role in administrative matters to justify their existence. In fact, if every Deputy Minister took unpaid leave for one month, handed in their vehicles and voluntarily withdrew all benefits and entitlements, we would probably achieve a net monthly saving – by that action alone – of nearly K400,000,000 (yes, four hundred million kwacha each month)!

In an attempt to brush off the critics of this seemingly insatiable lust for power, we are told (if the press is to be believed) that the expensive game of tug-of-war between the PF and the MMD is nothing other than the price of democracy. It makes a very sad reading when a Party that campaigned on a pro-poor platform callously seeks to justify its appetite for power by arguing that democracy is expensive. How can a Party that preached intolerance towards the excesses of the previous regime today abandon the concerns of the people and shift its attention and priority to consolidating political power by engineering unnecessary by-elections? The PF’s fight should not be against the MMD – or any other Opposition Party for that matter.  Their fight and their priority actions should be against the high levels of unemployment and rampant poverty among all vulnerable groups, particularly our youths and women countrywide. It is unacceptable that our farmers, retirees, pensioners and suppliers are rarely paid on time unless they have political connections while senior government officials parade themselves confidently in front of the cameras to defend their mediocrity and neglect.

With the rains fast approaching, the current administration should concentrate on preparing for the perennial flooding, cholera outbreaks and food shortages that we can expect to experience yet again. Holding dark corner meetings to prepare for the takeover of Parliament is not the reason that governments are elected into office. The average Zambian starts his or her day worrying about how to put their next meal on the table while some senior PF leaders seem fully preoccupied with illicitly consolidating power. They would do well to remember the wisdom of Abraham Lincoln: “You can fool some of the people some of the time; you can even fool most of the people most of the time but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time”. It may not be today, but Zambians will hold the PF government accountable for their 90 day promises of job creation, lower taxes, a people-driven constitution and more money in the pocket. Leading a nation should be considered a privilege. The PF seems to want to convert that privilege into a right. But with a 25 kilogramme bag of mealie-meal now costing in excess of K70,000 in some parts of the Copperbelt, the patience of the people is fast running out and there is no appetite for a return to the one party state style of politics. The lame excuse that the increase in the nation’s staple commodity price is as a result of product being smuggled into the Congo will provide little comfort to a bruised and battered population that rightly expects more from its leadership.

NAREP calls upon all stakeholders to condemn the hijacking of parliament and speak out in defence of democracy, good governance and the importance of a strong opposition. We may not always agree with one another but we must respect the importance of maintaining and protecting a stable democracy and a robust platform for competing ideas. Our very differences of opinion are what will make our democracy strong, not a weakened legislature rubber stamping the wishes of a negligent executive. NAREP believes that a strong Opposition within and outside parliament at this stage of our development is critical to ensuring constructive checks and balances for the growth and advancement of our great nation. Let us not give a few discontented elements within the PF administration the freedom to justify their lust for power by allowing them to lay claim to the notion that democracy comes at a price. Democracy might well be expensive but nothing will be more costly to the advancement of our national interests than misguided leadership whose sole aim is to consolidate power at any price.

May God’s grace be with Zambia.

Elias C. Chipimo, Jr

President, National Restoration Party (NAREP)

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