By Nkonkomalimba Kafunda
Covidiots, in the guise of law enforcement officers, enforcing the various restrictions on social and other gathering as announced by president Lungu in Zambia’s fight against the covid 19 pandemic are taking advantage of innocent citizens whose only crime, if at all it can be defined as such, is thirst quenching.
The police are unashamedly traversing the capital, looking for bribes from those found in the unfortunate position of holding a glass, a bottle and other containers designed to aide and abet the process of intoxication.
For Zambians, already suffering from half a decade of economic malaise, having a drink amidst draconian public health policies is a necessary much needed, much looked forward to, relief. It should not be used as a means of extorting money by a corrupt police force of erstwhile unruly PF cadres, now transformed into false respectability by a uniform and an AK 47.
Not surprisingly, the ‘total shut down’ ordered by government has been routinely ignored. It has been business though not as usual for liqueur outlets who have just adjusted their selling mode,as they are still selling albeit not from their counters but from concealed cool boxes, cartons of spirits, even handbags with guzzlers sitting in cars playing music and generally enjoying jollification without a viral care in the world.
The problem is you can not quarantine inequality. The haves can afford to stay home for extended periods of time without any economic activity but they are in the minority. The rest, the have nots, have to sell to earn money to feed their families, pay utilities, rent and all manner of recurrent expenditures.
Without a social safety net, people are bound to starve if their source of already meager income is further curtailed by a government which seems hell bent on impressing the international community on the measures they have taken to fight Covid 19, regardless of the severity of the outbreak or in this case the lack of severity, comparatively speaking.
In his second address to the nation on the crisis, the President repeated what measures had already been announced by his Finance minister, top among them the release of K2.5 million to pay off domestic debt owed to suppliers of goods and services to government as well as long suffering pensioners. As a percentage of the over K60 billion domestic debt owed by government this is a drop in the ocean, a mockery.
In reality, instead of offering relief to people who have lost their livelihoods, the government is just paying what they already owe, and have been owing for ridiculously long periods to the business community. The K10 billion relief fund first announced by the central bank governor is yet to be seen as access conditions are rather murky and opaque. Can a bar owner at Chelston market access this fund? Can a restaurant owner at town centre market benefit? I don’t think so.
Finally if banks can waive interest on overdrafts and loans we are yet to see, will landlords defer or forgo rentals? Such acts of benevolence and altruism are rare but possible but then someone or some institution should somehow mitigate these losses. That is why in democracies we elect governments whose major pre-occupation should be the welfare of all their people. We shall wait and see because this virus has come to stay and how governments react in regards to the welfare of their people will make or break administrations.