By Francis Chigunta
THERE presently appears to be an information gap on President Rupiah Banda’s performance in his first year in office.
In some sections of the private media, a calculated smear campaign has been waged to incessantly and constantly attack and ridicule President Banda’s leadership to de-legitimize him in the eyes of the Zambian people.
Yet, President Banda’s first one year in office has seen Zambia record impressive political governance, economic and social development gains.
This article briefly highlights the major achievements of Zambia’s fourth Republican president after one year in office within the constraints posed by the global economic crisis and an acrimonious and confrontational political situation in Zambia.
A serious issue of concern is the apparent information gap on President Banda’s key gains that his Government has scored within a period of one year.
This article is an attempt to address this concern and it specifically seeks to highlight President Banda’s major contributions to good political governance and socio-economic development in Zambia and the challenges that his administration has faced.
Global economic crisis and challenges for Zambia
President Banda came to power when the world was reeling from the effects of the global financial meltdown which had now mutated into a global economic crisis of unprecedented historical proportions.
The global economic crisis had a major influence on the state of the national economy. The slide in the world price of Zambia’s main export, copper, from US$8,000 to just over $2,000 a tone cast a shadow over the country’s political governance and economic prospects.
As a consequence, Zambia’s growth prospects seem to have diminished, such that projected gross domestic product (GDP) or total national output growth was revised downwards to 4.3 per cent or less.
The sharp increases in the food and oil prices, the collapse in the price of copper and other commodities, compounded by the global financial crisis, placed enormous pressure on many households, especially the low-income groups.
As the crisis deepened, there was closure of some mines, the scaling back of operations and investments and job losses in the mining sector. An estimated 10,000 workers lost their jobs in the mining and related sectors since last year.
With declining copper earnings, this was threatening to be a serious governance challenge for the newly elected Rupiah Banda administration.
Polical governace gains
Despite the challenges posed by the global financial and economic crisis, President Banda’s administration has shown strong committment to promoting good governance in the country. In this respect, the Government has undertaken the following within President Banda’s first year in offiice.
Strengthening corruption fight
President Banda understands very well that corruption is one of the key threats to achieving sustainable development. For this reason, he has consistently re-affirmed his Government’s resolve to fight corruption, and has taken measures to strengthen the anti-corruption institutional framework within his first year in office.
To this effect, the following have been done or achieved:
- President Banda officially launched the National Anti Corruption Policy (NACP) on 26th August, 2009. This is Zambia’s first anti-corruption policy;
- To operationalise the anti-corruption policy, the Government is now working on an implementation strategy and plan;
- The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) Act is also being revised to incorporate good governance practices contained in the international anti-corruption instruments to which Zambia is a signatory; and,
- To strengthen the ACC further, the Government has disbanded the Task Force on Corruption.
These policy measures mean that there is currently an elaborate anti-corruption institutional framework in place. The challenge is for all Zambians to work with President Banda’s Government in implementing the anti-corruption policy.
President Banda has also announced that:
- A serious frauds unit be established under the strengthened Anti-Corruption Commission to specifically investigate complex corruption cases. This will take over the functions of the defunct Task Force on Corruption; and
- A financial intelligence unit, which will be an independent institution to monitor suspicious financial transactions, be set up immediately.
In addition, President Banda has directed that:
- Forensic systems and procurement audits be undertaken in the major spending ministries, provinces and spending agencies to ensure that weaknesses are identified and addressed;
- The funding to the office of the Auditor General (AG) and the ACC be increased; and,
- The procurement systems be strengthened so that the loopholes can be closed through the enactment of the new procurement regulations.
The Government has further taken the following measures:
- Established integrity committees in some key public service institutions prone to corruption, such as ZRA, Ministry of Lands, Immigration Department, Patents and Companies Registration Office;
- Developed a code of ethics for the public service. Each sector or ministry is expected to adopt these codes and adapt them to address specific governance issues in their sector or ministry; and,
- Developed clients or service charters to improve on efficiency of service delivery. ZRA and the Ministry of Lands have since developed charters and they are being disseminated.
The potential impact of these measures on the socio-economic environment in the country is likely to be positive. There is likely to be increased confidence in the systems of governance.
This situation is likely to result in efficient service delivery, growth and poverty reduction. However, there are still some challenges in addressing corruption, as President Banda observed recently.
Constitutional Review Process
Despite criticism, the constitutional review process has continued. Deliberations show that the National Constitutional Conference (NCC) is coming up with useful and ingenious constitutional provisions on the political and economic governance of Zambia.
In particular, the NCC has made very good suggestions on the management of public resources, separation of powers and how to run an efficient public service.
African Peer Review Mechanism
The Banda presidency has shown further commitment to the promotion of good governance in Zambia by kick-starting the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM). A key requirement for the implementation of the APRM – which is the establishment of a National Governing Council (NGC) – has been met. The NGC is now fully operational and is spearheading the implementation of the APRM process in Zambia.
The Millennium Challenge Account
President Banda has shown further commitment to the promotion of good governance in Zambia by adhering to governance standards in the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA). This is an intiative of the American Government which will enable Zambia evaluate its governance record. Zambia has qualified to this account and is now elegible to receive funding to promote good governance.
The country has already benefited from the MCA funding of US$22.7 million on attaining eligibility due to the measures taken in preventing corruption in several Government institutions such as the Ministry of Lands, Immigration Department, Zambia Development Agency and the Patents and PACRO.
Improving relations with cooperating partners
President Banda should be commended for restoring donor confidence in Zambia. Early in the year, the revelations of financial mismanagement in the Ministry of Health saw several cooperating partners withhold their support to the health sector.
However, over the last few months, donors have positively responded to the measures put in place by President Banda’s Government to tighten fiscal prudence and improve financial management in the public sector.
Almost all the donors who had delayed their funding during the first half of 2009 have disbursed their commitment or indicated their willingness to do so.
According to Ministry of Finance and National Planning (MoFNP) sources, the total disbursements for General Budget Support, Sector Budget Support and Sector Wide Approaches (SWAPs) stands at US$301.16 million or K1.518 trillion against the year commitments of US$344.9 million or K1.6 trillion.
This represents a disbursement rate of 83.6 per cent. The remaining balances are expected to be disbursed before the end of the year. The donors have also pledged to contribute budget support to the 2010 budget.
The major focus of President Banda’s Government is to promote employment and wealth creation through sustained growth and economic diversification. Against a hostile global environment, thr Government has done remarkably well in managing the economy to mitigate the adverse impact of the global economic crisis.
MoFNP, IMF and other sources highlight the following as the noted achievements by President President’s Government:
- Prudent macro-economic management as reflected in the resilience shown during the recent global economic crisis;
- Strong recovery and growth have been registered in strategic economic sectors;
- The mining sector has been resuscitated, with thousands of jobs saved;
- Projected GDP growth of 6.3 per cent for 2009;
- Projected drop in inflation to around 10 per cent from almost 15 per cent last year;
- Effective handling of spending pressures in 2009 and low risk of debt distress;
- Record international reserves standing at abour four and a half months of import cover;
- Ongoing reforms related to the treasury single account and in the integrated financial management and inforamtion system; and,
- Launch of the Chirundu one-stop shop border facility to facilitate intra-regional trade.
It should be noted that, at an estimated 6.3 per cent, this will be one of the highest growth rates in the history of Zambia. Next year, even stronger growth in the economy is expected.
A recent International Monetary Fund assessment confirms this. All Zambians, regardless of political affiliation, must be proud of this achievement.
Given the current global recession, not many countries in the world today can boast of this level of growth.
President Banda’s Government has also initiated the process of transforming the telecommunications sector with a view to improving service delivery and reducing communication costs in the country.
Similarly, the Communications Authority of Zambia (CAZ) has been transformed into the Zambia Information and Communications Technology Authority (ZICTA). The change is in an effort to address various challenges and new developments in the information and communications technology (ICT) sector.
To crown it all, the Mchinji railway between Zambia and Malawi was completed.
For the first in the history of this country, President Banda’s Government has changed the budget cycle to ensure that development projects are implemented within a period of 12 months as opposed to nine months.
This change is significant and will be critical to effective project implementation in this country.
It should, however, be stressed that, at the height of the global economic crisis, President Banda’s Government faced a number of challenges in implementing the budget.
Among the key challenges were:
- Domestic revenue collection has fallen below the projected levels. This is negatively impacting on the implementation of priority programmes;
- Pressure to pay wages above the budgeted amounts;
- Payments for the purchase and import of maize to ensure adequate supplies of maize meal;
- Payments to stabilise the prices of food and petroleum supplies; and,
- Delay and, in some cases, withdrawal of financial support by cooperating partners.
Despite these challenges, the Government managed to run the affairs of the country reasonably well. The memoranda of understanding for major investment and development activity signed with Malaysia, South Africa and other countries is an indication of President Banda’s serious commitment to the promotion of economic development in Zambia.
Although the past year was characterised by shortfalls in revenue moblisation, from both domestic and foreign sources, the Government continued to provide basic social services to the people.
The evidence from the ministries of Health and Education indicates that the Government continued to construct health centres and schools throughout the year.
However, the withdraw of donor funding had a damaging impact on Government’s ability to meet its social obligations. Commendably, donors have now resumed funding of these sectors, especially health.
Despite the numerous gains by President Banda in his first year in office, there is no doubt that the he faced numerous challenges. An appreciation of the challenges that President Banda has faced in promoting economic development and an improvement in the living standards of Zambians should necessarily take account of the political economy context in which the country finds itself today.
The political climate in Zambia since 2002, but especially since 2008, has been rather acrimonious, confrontational and lacking trust. The political atmosphere is pregnant with acrimony and confrontation.
A coalition of the disaffected has been formed comprising sections of the private media, leading opposition figures, civil society groups and some Church leaders to de-campaign the Banda Government.
In some sections of the private media, as noted at the outset, a calculated smear campaign has been waged to incessantly and constantly attack and ridicule President Banda’s leadership and achievements to de-legitimise him in the eyes of the Zambian people.
The President has been portrayed as a weak and intolerant leader who is bent on holding onto power at all costs. But, as the preceding sections, President Banda has achieved more during his first year in office than his detractors are willing to admit.
As several analysts observe, the current acrimonious and confrontational political situation in Zambia has serious implications for Government’s efforts to come up with, and implement, durable solutions to deep-seated problems affecting the economy and society.
The ultimate losers are the Zambian people, as so much effort is invested in fighting unnecessary battles in the media.
Economically, despite President Banda’s strides in maintaining prudent economic management, there is still the challenge to ensure that the current growth is broad-based and translates into a significant improvement in the living standards of the people.
There is no doubt that President Banda is aware of this and will begin to address the challenge in 2010 and beyond.
Despite some unfounded criticism levelled against, and even lack of appreciation of, President Rupiah Banda’s major achievements within his first year in office, there is no doubt that a lot has been achieved in Zambia.
The several programmes that President Banda’s Government has put in place, which include prudent economic management, new policy measures to fight corruption and the creation of a conducive environment for business, have not only won the President accolades from the IMF, World Bank and cooperating partners, but have helped Zambia weather the global economic crisis storm.
The challenge is for the Government to publicise these achievements to the general public, while it continues to strengthen policy implementation to redress any apparent weaknesses in this area.
(The author, Dr Francis Chigunta is the Chief Policy Analyst for Political Affairs, State House)