By Michael Chishala
I wish to express my deep sympathies with the predicament you are in Sir. You have inherited a poisoned chalice. A nation in a mess that is reeling from the from high cost of living, an escalating debt burden, corruption, poverty, a litany of broken promises, a delayed constitution process, a labour movement about to stage mass demonstrations, a culture of political intolerance, violence among cadres, total confusion politically, and many other things too numerous to mention. I really feel for you Sir.
You are in the unenviable position of inheriting a broke government that is barely limping along while your citizens expect you to perform miracles and take them out of their misery. You shall spend your two-year presidency fire-fighting and doing extensive damage control. You need to stop the bleeding immediately which is far easier said than done.
Allow me Sir to suggest some ideas for you to consider in your efforts to stabilize the nation and take it back to the path of prosperity that it was derailed from.
1. Please Sir, I beg of you to curtail your own extensive powers which have caused all sorts of problems. Lord Dalberg Acton said that:
“Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority; still more when you superadd the tendency of the certainty of corruption by authority. Despotic power is always accompanied by corruption of morality”
The Civil Service was unfortunately deeply politicized by first president Kenneth Kaunda. The power to appoint Permanent Secretaries has been abused by your predecessors who have often appointed less than qualified people. The Civil Service is the engine of any nation and when is it full of cadres, you cannot expect anything but incompetence.
Please hand over that power to a competent body. Trust me, it will do you good because now you shall have a properly functioning Civil Service full of career Civil Servants that shall span several governments. There shall be less disruptions and better continuity. It will not be possible to intimidate the PS’s and they shall be professional. This will reflect well on your government.
Judicial appointments, Service Chiefs and other Heads should either be appointed by competent bodies or subjected to parliamentary oversight. The Auditor General, Anti-Corruption Commission Director-General, Police chief, etc should not be in your pocket to hire and fire at will and to be instructed to harass political opponents anyhow. All political parties have suffered as a result of this, including your own.
You need to give up the power to gazette and degazette chiefs. Let that authority be under the House of Chiefs or some other competent body. You must also stay away from creating new districts and provinces anyhow, including naming or renaming important places and structures. Imagine the costs each time a new president comes in.
2. You won’t like this, but you should take away from your Minister of Information and Broadcasting the power to grant radio and TV licenses. Leave it with the Independent Broadcasting Authority which you have to ensure is truly independent. I know this is scary because you are probably thinking of what would happen if a media owner with an axe to grind is granted a nationwide broadcasting licence.
Don’t worry. If they are being malicious, people will see through their lies. You will have state media and other independent media houses on your side anyway. It is actually good for you to be criticized so that you improve and the people will love you and defend you against unjust accusations from hostile media houses. By the way, you don’t need two state newspapers. Sell off Daily Mail.
3. You need to urgently implement far-reaching judicial reforms. It is more than ludicrous that after 50 years, we have less than a thousand lawyers in this country with practicing certificates because of strange happenings at Zambia Institute of Advanced Legal Education where the pass rate is about 4%. It is probably easier to pass Physics at University of Zambia than at ZIALE.
One lawyer to over 14,000 people makes no sense. If we could compute the opportunity cost in delayed legal cases and reduced investor confidence because of our weak legal system, I suspect the figure would be frightening. One of the things used to rank nations on Economic Freedom is the legal framework. Nations with a strong Judiciary tend to grow faster that those without. A strong legal system with minimum corruption is necessary to facilitate more trade and business between strangers and to keep law and order, all of which are necessary for strong economic growth.
4. A few weeks ago, you promised us you would enact the new constitution by 2016 before the next elections. We both know that the current draft constitution with its 300+ articles cannot be enacted by 2016 because it contains amendments to the Bill of Rights which requires a referendum to pass. A Referendum requires a lot of time and money to organize and costs almost the same as a full election. The first year of your term you cannot alter the budget you have inherited. Your second year shall be spent campaigning for 2016 so there is very little room to manoeuvre.
Here is an idea; suppose you lifted out of the current draft constitution the top ten or so sections that have caused the biggest problems and you turn them into separate bills that you can present to parliament for enacting. It would be faster and cheaper and since those sections have already been exhaustively debated before by MPs as part of the National Constitution Conference that late President Levy Mwanawasa set up, it shall be easier to enact them as amendments to the current Constitution. The important sections are:
a) 50%+1 electoral system for the presidency
b) Presidential Running Mate
c) Public Order Act
d) Cabinet from outside Parliament
e) Fixing date of elections and swearing in of president-elect
f) Decentralization and Devolution of power to provinces
g) Dual Citizenship
h) Proportional representation in parliament and fresh delimitation of electoral constituencies
i) Media freedom
j) Freedom of Information
k) Banning of parliamentary defectors from contesting seats for the life of that parliament
l) Security of tenure for Judges and other constitutional officers
5. Cut the size of government. Do you really need 70 Ministers? Does a Ministry need two Deputy Ministers? Do we actually need 20 line ministries? What real difference does the Ministry of Gender or Chiefs & Traditional Affairs really make? Why is a ministry necessary for everything? Can’t they just be small nimble departments like the Department of Immigration? Do we really need 200,000 Civil Servants for this small economy who are consuming 75% of local revenues? Please close down some ministries and take advantage of technology to reduce manpower.
6. Reduce taxes please. Why should I be paying a total aggregated tax of about half my income? It always feels like daylight robbery, especially when I see your ministers in expensive vehicles of which they have two or three. I don’t understand why our Corporation Tax at 35% is the fifth highest in the world, beating even the African average. Try to get it down to about 25% at a minimum. Try to also cut VAT to 10% and have a uniform import duty rate. You should also consider a flat income tax. Variable tax rates just complicate things and are more costly to administer.
7. We need transparency in government. Can you please publish on a website every month how you are spending the money we pay through taxes. We want to know how much money has been spent out of the budgeted amounts. We also want to easily see how money is being stolen, misappropriated or left doing nothing. It is good for you to do this because we shall love you for it.
8. Can we modernise our politics please. Do you really need to be welcomed by a bunch of Ministers at the airport each time you arrive? Don’t they have work to do? Are those big women who dance for you at the airport really necessary? We all know you are the Don so there is no need to make sure you show us how much power you have. A little humility doesn’t hurt.
9. Please make it easier to do business and do your best to remove artificial barriers to business competition. For example, we are still stuck with only three extremely pathetic cellphone companies because your predecessors refused to give Vodacom and other companies licenses. Of course this advantages the current players and they have no incentive to be better because there isn’t enough competition. You cannot imagine how pissed off I get when a simple thing like a balance enquiry fails.
You need to give an independent ZICTA the power to issue telephone and internet provider licences which should be very cheap, in the region of K20,000. I should be able to register and start a new business within a day. I should not spend a month to get all the licenses I need to start a timber company or a hotel. Slow processes like that just make me take out a brown envelope.
Why is there only one place where I can take my car for fitness in Lusaka? It is a recipe for corruption. Can’t you accredit ten to twenty companies to do it for you? Why can’t I register my car fully in Nakonde or Chirundu? Must I come all the way to Lusaka just to have a number plate on my imported car when technology has advanced? This principle of decentralized services can be applied to many other things such as NRC, Drivers Licence and Passport issuing. Use a franchise system.
10. Each time you are making major policy decisions (eg subsidies, privatization or maize marketing), get smart people to argue on both sides of an issue so that you make better quality decisions. I would suggest you consider setting up a Think Tank of smart people to do research and present arguments. To be a good president, you must be dispassionate and apply a ruthless evidence-based approach that incorporates Monitoring & Evaluation. It does not matter how good an idea sounds. It must be tested thoroughly by debate which is backed up by evidence. So for example, the minimum wage seems like a great idea until you read the research about its negative effects on economies. Even after implementing an idea, it needs periodic analysis and evaluation to make sure it works.
Finally, good luck to you Sir and I hope you do far much better than our previous five presidents.
Yours in the service of the nation,