Post editorial: Chikwanda is telling some truth, but not the whole truth

Finance minister Alexander Chikwanda on Tuesday told Parliament that there were challenges in the economy.

“…I have presented a true picture of the economy, I don’t want to embellish or glamourise things which are not there. Yes, things are not good, things are not very rosy and it will be dishonest for government to display a very rosy picture. There are challenges in the economy. Challenges which arise from the weaknesses in the global economy which has occasioned a serious downward spiral in the commodity prices and therefore the revenue we get from the mining sector is not forthcoming. But we are working…and we shall continue to pursue policies, which create a conducive and enabling environment for the private sector,” Chikwanda told the House.

Truly, there is no need to be dishonest and try to hide what cannot be hidden. Chikwanda is actually not being driven by an honest spirit in admitting that things are not good in the economy. It is simply because he can’t hide it. The state of the economy is there for all to see.

And the state of the economy is affecting everybody – households and businesses. People don’t need anyone to tell them that the cost of living is skyrocketing because they go to the shops every day to purchase foodstuffs and other necessities. Now they will be lucky to get even half of what they used to buy with K500. They see the prices change every day while their incomes have stagnated. They also know that their employers, including government itself, are not able to increase their salaries or wages. Those who are in self-employment selling this and that have also experienced a huge drop in sales.

Everyone, individual or corporate, is experiencing the same challenges, albeit in different ways. There is nothing one can try to twist, glamourise or embellish. But if Chikwanda was honest, truly honest, he would tell the Zambian people the truth about why we are in this situation.

And he is not telling the truth, the whole truth. Yes, there are problems in the global economy and some of the challenges we are facing as a country can be blamed on that. But at the same time, it is dishonest to try and blame everything on the problems of the global economy and absolve ourselves from any blame. 

Chikwanda cannot claim that everything that has been done here has been done in the most prudent, efficient, effective and orderly manner. We have spent a lot of money lavishly in areas where we shouldn’t have spent it. And this is a fact that cannot be disputed. Part of the problems we face today result from this. Chikwanda and his friends have been warned by many bilateral and multilateral co-operating partners about the dangers of not rationalising their infrastructure development projects.

But they were not ready to listen to anyone because this is where they were getting money for their campaigns, their own pockets and for all sorts of things. And they seem to have been working under the belief that if they cut down on infrastructure expenditure, then they will lose power, they will lose the August elections. They had to impress the electorate with new roads to get their votes and they didn’t care at what cost this came. Today the government coffers are dry because of this uncontrolled and highly extravagant infrastructure expenditure.

Today, Chikwanda is saying they will not prioritise travel expenditure and rightly so. But what Chikwanda is not telling the Zambian people is that although he himself has not been travelling that much, he has failed to convince his boss Edgar Lungu to do the same. Edgar is all over and those around him are moving around in chartered private jets. Who is paying for all this? If it is not government, who is paying and why? 

This government has also been spending too much on automobiles. Every new 4X4 brand, they have it, they have bought it. The government procurement system is a huge drain on the Treasury. It is corrupt to the core. Something that should cost government a million dollars ends up costing five, ten or fifteen million dollars. How is this possible? Corruption!

Today, Chikwanda says very little is coming from the mines, but it is himself who has been giving away money to the mines. All along, Chikwanda was a representative of the mines and not the interests of the Zambian people. He listened more to the complaints or concerns of the transnational mining corporations than to the cries of the Zambian people. When the mines wanted a highly questionable VAT refund of over US$600 million, everyone opposed it other than Chikwanda. And this same Chikwanda was ready to use borrowed money to pay the mining corporations VAT refunds.

The collections are low from the mines because Chikwanda wanted them to be so. He was ready to have the mines get away with paying little and rush to contract debt – Eurobonds – on behalf of the Zambian people. Chikwanda was changing statutory instrument after statutory instrument just to please the mines in a true comprador bourgeoisie fashion. Chikwanda is a representative of capital and not of the people. All the time, his concerns are about investors and not about the people. He talks about investors as if it is a new thing in the Zambian economy; as if the first coloniser of this country was not a foreign investor, Cecil Rhodes and his British South Africa Company.

Look at the way he runs around Aliko Dangote as a ‘chola’ boy! Wherever Dangote wants to go, Chikwanda takes him and opens the door for him. Does Chikwanda do that for the Zambian people, the poor of our country? We shouldn’t cheat ourselves that Chikwanda does all these things for capital for nothing. There is a benefit. That’s how the comprador bourgeoisie survives and prospers – serving the interest of capital.

There is a lot that is wrong in our economy today that has not gone well because of the policies and practices of Chikwanda and his friends. They will never be able to admit it. They will pretend to be honest and sincere about things that we can all see, things they cannot hide. But they will never admit that they have messed up the economy. They will blame everything on the global economy and everyone else but not themselves. Chikwanda is telling some truth, but not the whole truth.

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