‘Clown on cloud nine’

‘But what is most worrying is the attitude of the political leadership. All seems to be business as usual. We have a President who, amidst all these problems, is the happiest, most relaxed and most satisfied. His only discernible preoccupation seems to be merriment -visiting all sorts of places, drinking and dancing like aC. We have enough professional dancers to entertain us. What we lack is serious political leadership. We have Amayenge, Green Labels Band, Mampi, Danny, MC Wabwino and so on and so forth. Probably, it is this invasion of their space and apparent lack of political leadership that is today making so many dancers, singers and musicians try to become politicians and contest elections in their own right.’

We seem to be very vulnerable as a country today. We are walking a tightrope and any missed step, we are in serious trouble. We have left ourselves very thin on everything. Truly, no one can predict the future. But there are things we must plan for, contingencies we must make. On Thursday last week, energy minister Dora Siliya revealed that the government is stressed over the US$1.2 billion required to pay for the much needed interventions to cushion the power deficit this year. “Our contingency is to make sure that even if [Kariba Dam] shuts down, there must be power coming and this power is going to cost the country US$1.2 billion. That is where the issues of the tariffs came in, how are we going to share this cost? Now, this money, the government has to meet many needs – power, roads, schools, food – so how do we share this cost?” asks Dora. We may need to import power worth US$1.2 billion this year. Where is the money going to come from? On November 26, 2015, Edgar Lungu announced at a State House press conference: “In the wake of reduced power generation, the Government has had to import emergency power in 2015 to sustain the country’s economic activities. Between September 2015 and the end of the year, Government will have spent over US$40 million for emergency electricity imports. Again, this is unaffordable. To reduce the pressure on the Treasury, I direct the Ministry of Energy and Water Development, Energy Regulation Board and Zesco to: Implement the new electricity tariff schedule and progressively move to full cost-reflective tariffs thereafter; and Ensure that back-to-back contracts are put in place between the providers of the emergency power to Zesco and the mining companies that consume the bulk of the power.” And a week ago, this same Edgar, after facing pressure from the public, ordered a reduction of electricity tariffs. The question is: where is the money that was supposed to be raised from increased tariffs going to come from with this reduction? We have also been warned by Jervis Zimba, one of the country’s farmers and a former president of the Zambia National Farmers Union, that the country faces a devastating hunger situation this year should there be no coordinated approach to the current dry spell. What worries us most is th

at we have sold a lot of maize to Zimbabwe and other neighbouring countries, leaving ourselves vulnerable. Why did we do this when we knew very well that the weather pattern has become very unpredictable? Our simple and only explanation is that the maize exports are benefitting our decision makers. The maize they are exporting and making huge profits from is produced using huge subsidies from the taxpayer. It will be inexcusable for us to import maize from other countries or continents this year. We have also quickly depleted the country’s debt capacity. We have used our borrowing capacities recklessly, leaving nothing or very little for the rainy day. If calamity strikes today, it will be very difficult for us to borrow. And if we manage to borrow, it will be at a very high cost because we are increasingly becoming too risky to lend to. We are wasting a lot of borrowed money on infrastructure projects whose economic and social impact is very low. We have been advised by many co-operating partners, including the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, to rationalise our infrastructure expenditure. But this advice has been falling on deaf ears. Why? It is simply because the decision makers are directly benefitting financially and otherwise from these projects. If they stop spending money on infrastructure projects, their pockets will run dry and their political prospects will diminish. In this world, things are complicated and decided by many factors. We should therefore try to balance and rationalise everything we are doing. We need to change the way we conduct or manage public affairs. We have a population of about 15 million now and we are failing to cope and provide the necessary social services. What will happen when this population increases to 30 million in the next 15 years? And this is the reality we will not be able to escape. In 15 years, the population of Zambia will be about 30 million. And 15 years is not very far away. In the next five years, we will be hitting almost 20 million.

Look at the energy requirements! Look at the water and sanitation situation! Look at the education and health services! Look at the food security! And look at the behaviour and lack of seriousness of the political leadership of the country! If we don’t quickly change the way we are managing the affairs of our country, we are headed for disaster. And we shouldn’t cheat ourselves that we are on the right path to development. The little infrastructure additions we are seeing as a result of excessive borrowing will soon become an eyesore because we will fail even to repair things when they start falling apart. Don’t forget that we had many tarred roads in this country that eventually turned into gravel roads because we could not maintain them as such; we started grading tarred roads for them to be passable. This is likely to happen again because things are not being properly planned and implemented. The concerns raised by Dora should cause us sleepless nights. Where are we going to raise the US$1.2 billion required to import electricity? And already, this power load-shedding has terribly hit our production capacity as a country. And if we are not producing enough, where is the money going to come from to meet increased expenditure?

But what is most worrying is the attitude of the political leadership. All seems to be business as usual. We have a President who, amidst all these problems, is the happiest, most relaxed and most satisfied. His only discernable preoccupation seems to be merriment -visiting all sorts of places, drinking and dancing like a clown on cloud nine. We have enough professional dancers to entertain us. What we lack is serious political leadership. We have Amayenge, Green Labels Band, Mampi, Danny, MC Wabwino and so on and so forth. Probably, it is this invasion of their space and apparent lack of political leadership that is today making so many dancers, singers and musicians try to become politicians and contest elections in their own right.

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