The Civil Society has suggested that ailing President Michael Sata goes on leave of absence from official duty to attend to his ‘challenges.’
The CSO’s have also described President Sata’s recent trip to New York where he failed to attend any meeting at the United Nations as a national embarrassment and disaster pointing out that the trip was unnecessary.
They further expressed concern at Sata’s physical appearance when he opened parliament and noted that despite the government insisting that the President was well, it was clear that something was wrong with him.
They have since made suggestions on several national matters top of which is for President Sata to go on leave so that he attends to his sickness which has kept him away from the public.
They noted that President Sata needs to ‘regroup’ and get to his usual vibrant self.
They have also raised concerns on VAT rule number 18, education, national debt and the constitution.
Below is the full statement.
JOINT CSO STATEMENT ON THE STATE OF NATION
Colleagues from the media,
Representatives from civil society and non-governmental organisations
Shall I simply say distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen
Welcome to this media briefing.
Action Aid Zambia, the Civil Society for Poverty Reduction, the Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection, the Non-Governmental Organisations Coordinating Council and the Zambia Council for Social Development are pleased to present to you their collective view on the state of the nation. Over the course of the last few weeks we have noted with serious concern some developments in a number of areas of our nation. We believe it is incumbent upon us to comment on some of the important matters currently affecting the nation in order to urge our national leaders and other relevant authorities to act in the interest of the nation. We present our views as organisations that are in regular contact with ordinary Zambians. The views expressed below come from those we serve and as their representatives we pass them onto our leaders for urgent attention and action. Below we highlight some key topical national issues that are of concern to many Zambians.
As civil society organisations, we are greatly concerned about the wellbeing of our Head of State. We have been saddened by the callous nature with which his absence from public life has been handled. This has resulted in public ridicule of our President with among other things, embarrassing coverage in international media on the status of our President.
As CSOs, we were disturbed by the appearance and demeanour of out Head of State during the official opening of Parliament on September 19, 2014. We have been left wondering why the President was subjected to such an ordeal and question the sensitivity and sincerity of our cabinet on this action.
We further note that his trip soon after the opening of Parliament to New York was unnecessary and a disaster in view of the ensuing negative publicity.
We believe that the situation of the head of state can be handled more humanely and with dignity. We therefore make the following suggestion:
That the President immediately takes leave of absence from official duty for a specified period of time to address whatever challenges have inhibited his public appearance. The nation has been repeatedly informed that the President is well and as we are not medical experts, we cannot question this, however, the appearance and demeanour of the President during his last public appearance seems to suggest that something is not right. Our President was not his usual vibrant and energetic self and so it may well be that the Head of State needs to regroup so that he is back to his usual vibrant self.
We further suggest that the government comes clean on the prevailing situation with our President. This will allow government to continue operating with less public pressure and if indeed our President does need any kind of support, this can be provided without raising too much public spectacle and will restore the dignity that our presidency seems to have lost due to numerous speculations at home and abroad. If this is done, we believe that Zambians, who are by and large tolerant and respectful, will be understanding and will avail the support that the President needs. This will curtail demands calling on cabinet to constitute medical board, or indeed calls for government to prove that the President is well or is indeed alive, which we believe must be emotionally draining for the President himself, his family, government and for the many Zambians who love and support our head of state.
VAT rule No. 18
Having recognised the provisions of the VAT rule No. 18 which we believe aims at addressing information asymmetry and promote transparency with respect to whether the exports were actually exported and the actual prices of the exports. We call on the government to firstly treat this matter with the seriousness and urgency it deserves devoid of any political and personal interest. The mining firms in-turn should demonstrate on a case by case basis the challenges they are facing in meeting the requirements as required by the rule. Where there is justification for Zero rating their exports, this should be done in a transparent manner through ZRA publishing the justifications.
Moving forward, if the government is to amend the rule as reported in the media, it should ensure the process is widely consultative bringing on board all relevant stakeholders to ensure transparency and allow for all the parties to appreciate the reasoning behind any amendments
The current fiasco on bursaries at UNZA cannot go without comment. As CSOs, we acknowledge the statement issued by the Minister of Education to include a few more students on the bursary scheme. We also wish to further acknowledge that while government has the responsibility to create an enabling environment for citizens to access tertiary education, government also has the primary responsibility of ensuring the survival and development of its citizens where these are threatened. In a country with high levels of poverty and unemployment, government has every responsibility to support the development rights of its citizens and education is one of them
It is sad that our education system is now being manipulated to deny ordinary citizens, particularly those living in poverty, their right to education and development and therefore denying them an opportunity to break the cycle of poverty. It is small wonder that poverty statics in Africa have remained unchanged over the last 2 decades while other continents such as Asia have made some marked improvement in reducing levels of poverty.
We are also concerned that although more resources were allocated to the education sector in the 2014 budget, most of these resources have been channelled to infrastructure development, particularly for tertiary education. While this is commendable, we regrettably note that there is a clear lack of prioritisation and sustaining of basic education development and the country risks losing gains made so far in education. Our reviews, for instance, show that a number of schools in rural areas have not received any grants in the last 3 years, a situation that is not only undesirable but unacceptable.
Coupled with these problems, Rural Schools still remain understaffed in some cases with 1 teacher manning a school and teaching from 1 to 7. Junior secondary education remains a disaster in rural districts where weekly boarding is still experienced, 50 Years after independence. This disadvantages the girl child in many ways and if this is not addressed urgently, the fight against early marriages will be futile. Junior Secondary further lacks qualified specialised teachers and are still handed by primary trained teachers. This has compromised the quality of education at this level.
It is therefore our recommendation that:
Government balances infrastructure development with other need areas such as teacher deployment and enhancing bursary schemes for current qualified and eligible students in all tertiary education as spelt out in the PF Manifesto in which the party committed itself to “provide a bursary scheme for tertiary education for all pupils who qualify to public institutions of higher learning”;
Allocate more resources to primary school sub sector which is currently not charging any school fees in compliance to Free Education Policy announced by government in February, 2002. Those schools running up to grade 7 have difficulties to manage schools due to erratic government grants;
Ministry of Education funds should be allocated and disbursed in accordance with the principles of efficiency and equity, taking account of the situation of the poor and vulnerable. Better budgeting would enhance efficiency. In order to achieve this, the Ministry should move gradually towards the introduction of results based budgeting. This will result in Ministry funds being allocated and disbursed more in accordance with the actual needs of the society, and less in accordance with an incrementally designed annual budget.
Given that the ability of families and communities to contribute more than at present to the costs of education is limited by the widespread poverty in the country, the Ministry should set in place strict measures that will make the access to support of the poor, the disabled, girls, or other vulnerable groups more easier.
Improve the efficiency of the funds allocated to the sector through better management and strict financial discipline and accounting.
Health amenities are amongst the fundamental factors defining the level of human development. The advancement of healthy lifestyles, disease prevention, timely and quality treatment, rehabilitation and palliative care are all part of the continuum of health services vital for “long and healthy” lives. Most healthy practitioners will argue that healthy populations are generally more productive and employable. In contrast, widespread ill health can curtail the capacities of affected individuals, households and communities. A vicious cycle of disease, ill health, low productivity, low incomes, poor nutrition, more diseases, etc. if they occur, may wear down any meaningful chances for positive health outcomes. Hence health is central and key for sustainable development to take place. At the moment our health institutions are death traps both in urban and rural areas.
Like in other sectors, there have been ambitious plans for infrastructure development for new health facilities. For example, government has planned to contract 650 health centres across the country, including some districts hospitals. While this is a good move, we are concerned that our existing health facilities are in a deplorable state, with inadequate health personnel, bed capacity and
medicines. This does not leave out the Highest Referral Hospital, the University Teaching Hospital (UTH). Today, a number of patients sleep on the floor, worse still in maternity wards. 50 Years after independence, our referral system still leaves much to be desired. As noted earlier majority of our population leaves in abject poverty and extra costs associated to health will worsen their situation. Without consideration of the new facilities which are being constructed, the Zambian Health Systems has been operating below 50 percent capacity in terms of Human Resources. This entails that new facilities will further worsen this condition. In rural areas, this situation is worse.
In terms of budgetary allocation, the ministry of health has been receiving lower budgetary allocations, falling far below the recommended 15 percent Abujah declaration.
We propose that our government
Prioritises training, recruitment, deployment and retention of Health Personnel. An attempt to freeze employment in this sector will be a disservice to the nation. This will gradually fills the gap of shortages currently being experienced in our health facilities
Provides adequate administrative budgetary allocation to the health sector to help deal with non-capital expenditure necessary to improve health services
Enhance accountability and transparency of medicine management in all the health institutions. It will be important for CSO and citizens to take keen interest to monitor how the drugs are being dispensed.
The perennial challenges surrounding our agriculture sector, particularly maize marketing, continues to be a source of concern. Although the country has experienced growth in the production of maize, research results indicate that, unfortunately, this may have come at the cost of increased inequality among households in rural areas. Research also shows that the cost of maize production has increased and unfortunately the price set by FRA does not compensate farmers for the costs incurred during production. While it is appreciated that setting a much higher maize floor price may not necessarily be the answer to address this due to the several negative and positive implications, we feel that due consideration must therefore be given to the real costs of production. We would therefore like to propose the following measures aimed to create a stable and supportive environment for the small scale farmers:
Promoting the identification and adoption of practices and technologies that save labour and identifying labour-productivity-enhancing technologies through research and development to help to make maize production profitable for Zambian farmers even at lower producer prices.
Invest in lowering transaction costs by investing in the right infrastructure such as feeder roads, increased ICT facilities, and storage facilities to increase profits for the farmers.
Promote improved agronomic practices and meaningful extension messages
Ensure the availability of fertilizer at the appropriate time, hence improving the application of fertilizer which is critical for reducing costs of production.
Another concern noted in the agriculture sector is the fact that the country is literally resorting to „orrowing to eat‟– if recent reports of governments‟intention to borrow to support the maize procurement exercise are true. While it is noted that the agriculture sector has not performed very well due to its failure to significantly create employment opportunities and assure food security, it is widely recognized that this failure has been as a result of under-provision of public investments and poor policies for over a decade now. It is therefore a shared view that Zambia‟ objective of achieving
accelerated growth in the agriculture sector needs to be backed by adequate public resources but this should not be at the risk of borrowing. Considering that Zambia has not invested a lot in developing its own agricultural base to drive the economy and that the government has not come to grips with the real problems facing agriculture, we cannot therefore afford as a country to incur debt in this sector. We believe that Zambia has the potential of developing its own resources required for the sector. However, a new approach is needed to agricultural development that goes beyond what has become an unhelpful and increasingly artificial push to grow the sector. Government must understand that farming is changing and as such it is time for government to refocus the priorities and target support appropriately. To do this we call on government to engage more seriously in dialogue with industry stakeholders.
We note with serious concerns that the PF‟ appetite for borrowing continues unabated. There is need to match the level of ambition of infrastructure development with revenue generation to enhance sustainability of such projects. Government‟ heavy dependence on borrowing without a clear plan to generate more revenue to repay the debts and at the same time sustain infrastructure is a dangerous path to thread.
Whilst we are not against borrowing for good reasons, we nonetheless call for fiscal discipline if we are to reign in the now customary budget deficits. Consequently because of these budget deficits government has two options either to print money which will spur inflation or borrow. The PF have opted to borrow instead. As a result our total external debt has shot to over US $4 billion US dollars. The PF have been arguing that Zambia is still with the acceptable range of debt sustainability ratios of around 19 per cent. But we are arguing that this is an easier and costly option to the future generation. Why don‟ we do the hard work of capturing the informal sector to mainstream tax net?
Our debt contraction needs to be managed well to avoid going back to being a highly indebted country.
Enactment of the New Republic Constitution
We wish to remind the Zambian people, everywhere they are, that enactment of the New Constitution must remain top on the Zambia development path. We must all be nationalistic and support all well-meaning Zambians calling for enactment of a People Driven Constitution through a Referendum. We can only echo the calls of others for government to ensure that the country gets a fitting constitution so that Zambians should not just commemorate, but truly celebrate our independence. The fact that we have been self-governing for the last 50 years surely must count for some something.
Over the past nine months, we have gone to the battle field and we seem not to be making significant progress. This is because, the Patriotic Front (PF) government has NOT just U Turned on its promises of giving to the Zambian people a new People Driven Constitution but also repudiated its obligation to build a democratic society where people are governed by collectively acceptable Constitution that serves as a torch in the dictatorial legal environment, with clear foot prints of the Colonial Masters. As Civil Society groups, we remain unwavering in our resolve to press for a new People Driven Constitution and a process that remains inclusive and transparent. This time round, this process cannot be just a „egal project‟ it must be as a process that determines how Zambia‟ people will live and develop. Our leaders and the people must understand that we do not just need good men and women
to govern our Country but we need a good constitution that shall protect and guide our development agenda. We have witnessed high inequalities and poverty levels, with country‟ wealth in hands of few individuals, mainly political elites and foreign Investors while the majority Zambian continues to wallow in abject poverty. Corruption has been the order of the day! To our surprise all cooperating partners that purport to champion Human Rights have remained in terraces as spectators and have withheld support to members of the Grand Coalition! We wish to remind all well-meaning Cooperating Partners within and outside the country that Zambia needs a New People Driven Constitution that will guarantee Human Rights and Equality for all. This is the true meaning of development!
As Zambia commemorates its 50 years of independence, we need to take stock of the challenges that continue to besiege us as a nation, such as rampant corruption and misappropriation of public resources. Successive governments, including the Patriotic Front, have promised to deal decisively with corruption but sadly, the opposite has happened – corruption has escalated and is now entrenched as part of the Zambian culture where is it acceptable as a „urvival initiative and motive for political offices.‟As the government continues the large number of infrastructure projects that are prone to abuse and where corruption is rumoured to be thriving, there is need to ensure more transparency and accountability in the procurement process and award of tenders, strengthening controls and enhance monitoring and oversight of not just the procurement and tender processes, but implementation of projects as well.
God Bless You!
Lewis Mwape- Executive Secretary
Zambia Council for Social Development (ZCSD)
Mwila Mulumbi- Executive Director
Civil Society for Poverty Reduction (CSPR)
Engwase B. Mwale- Executive Director
Non-Governmental Coordinating Council (NGOCC)
Pamela Chisanga- Country Director
Actionaid Zambia (AAZ)
Fr. Leonard Chiti- Director
Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection (JCTR)