ZAMBIA WILL COLLAPSE UNDER PF LEADERSHIP; IT’S TIME FOR CHANGE
Statement by Dr Yobert K. Shamapande
We have a ruling Patriotic Front (PF) that doesn’t seem to grasp the depth of the Zambian people’s real suffering and anguish. Last Saturday, on 21 May, we listened to PF launch of its manifesto for the August elections at Heroes Stadium amid pomp and circumstance. Apart from the selection of Vice President Inonge Wina as President Edgar Lungu’s running mate, nothing else of significance came out of that gathering, except for the usual political platitudes of saying “we have done wonders in developing infrastructure…”. Where is the PF vision to get Zambia across the river? Where is its concrete programme, if re-elected into office, to tackle abject poverty, mitigate the suffering, and bring down the run away cost of living with unaffordable prices of food, medicines, housing, fuel, transport etc? PF had nothing to say about the life-and-death issues facing this country.
It’s time for change! I want to call upon the Zambian voters to give Hakainde Hichilema and his UPND team a chance to repair our broken country. Hichilema, I believe, has the qualifications, the temperament and, more importantly, a concrete practical programme to uplift our people’s lives and take this country to greater heights again. Zambians have given late President Michael Sata’s (MHSRIP) PF more than ample time to deliver, to fulfil their promises made in 2011 but has failed miserably
I never take any political stand lightly. Here is my central argument: — Zambia today is in distress, facing dire economic times as people’s suffering deepens because of the failed PF policies of the past five years. We have seen a collapsed Kwacha and skyrocketing inflation with devastating consequences on the people’s living conditions, with rising prices of mealie meal, kapenta, housing, fuel, transport, education, healthcare, and every essential for the survival of the vast majority of Zambians; daily power blackouts like never before seen in this country resulting from punitive load shedding; massive unemployment especially among the young people; job shedding in the mining industry; escalating poverty levels ravaging millions; ill health, severe hunger, homelessness and squalor; a return of street children displaying truly distressing scenes of human struggles for survival on the urban streets; shattered education with children out of school because parents cannot afford school fees; crumbling health care services whereby major hospitals like the UTH look like war zones; soaring budget deficits; a crippling national debt; critical deterioration and erosion of human rights and fundamental democratic and civil freedoms of assembly, expression and association, and more – all hitting the hardest within the past five years. The question for every Zambian voter on 11 August has to be: Where will Zambia be if the PF neglect is allowed to continue for five more years?
But why has the PF governance failed so lamentably to get this country moving and deal with the critical struggles facing our people on a daily basis? Fundamentally, I see three reasons: — The first is that from its inception, PF operated on a deceptive political premise of the “donchi kubeba” false promises; second reason, is that PF lacked a coherent development agenda – like the “new deal” vision espoused by late President Levy Mwanawasa (MHSRIP) – around which to rally the national energy. It tended instead to focus on the trivialities mainly driven by the political cadre mentality of power play; and third, PF lacked the leadership to define consistent policy imperatives and strategies for macroeconomic management necessary for nation building.
Here is what I mean.
The “donchi kubeba” emphasis, frankly made PF to propagate a big lie in 2011 — that somehow PF would develop Zambia in ninety days; that poverty and deprivation would be reduced in ninety days; that mass unemployment would be eliminated while job opportunities created in ninety days thereby putting “more money in people’s pockets”; that PF would deliver a people driven constitution within ninety days; that the PF would fix the broken education and healthcare services within ninety days; and so on and so forth.
Nothing could be further from the truth. That was political gimmickry pure and simple. PF failed on every front. It had no definitive, implementable plans to cure Zambia’s ills. In reality, a serious development agenda defies gimmickry; it is a demanding endeavour that requires making tough choices, resource targeting with timetables, painstaking planning and strategic thinking – all attributes seriously missing in the current PF regime.
On trivialities, since 2011 PF has created a highly toxic and antagonistic governance environment driven by cadre-ism and political intolerance. The clear manifestation is in its ruthless pursuit of perceived opponents, any dissenting voices questioning the poor direction of the country. It is baffling that PF, which came to power with so much people’s goodwill, should squander that political capital not on development efforts but on inflicting suffering on the people by stifling their democratic expression. For instance, this PF government has, with unsurpassed enthusiasm, applied the archaic Public Order Act to muzzle debate and people’s democratic and civil rights to assemble and speech. Until recently, few Zambians had ever heard of the Public Order Act because it was largely relegated to a dormant colonial instrument.
On the larger political discourse, no one has escaped the PF wrath. Members of the opposition have obviously borne the brunt of been charged over and over with frivolous offences or subjected to harassment and brutal violence in attempts to intimidate them into silence. Traditional leaders were not spared. The Chitimukulu of the Bemba people, was thrust into a limbo without being gazetted for years because PF disliked his politics. At one time, PF Secretary General Davis Chama ranted despicable insults against the Tonga people that despite their polygamous culture they would never have the numbers to elect a Zambian President in 100 years, implying that there is such a thing as one ethnic group in Zambia electing a president single-handily. Electing our leaders in this country has always taken a coalition of ethnic and regional groups and that’s the way it will always be!
Intolerance against diverse views has even ripped at the heart of PF itself. At one point, President Lungu warned dissenting voices in his own party who disliked his leadership to leave the country or else. Indeed he has threatened opponents who dare disagree with him of applying his “long stick” or of “crushing” them. As a result some PF founding members and those with divergent opinions have either been silenced or quit the PF altogether to join forces mainly with UPND. Meanwhile, independent media have been threatened of closure or are constantly harassed with defamation charges. Some online publications have been virtually disrupted. In the health sector, when young hospital nurses dared to demand for liveable wages, PF government threw them out of employment en masse thereby inflicting further damage on the already troubled health care services. Similarly, students at UNZA and CBU who sought restoration of basic food allowances the PF government had terminated had doors violently slammed shut in their faces sending the critical academic engagements at the two institutions of higher learning into disarray.
By all accounts, PF’s most disastrous performance has been in economic management. In the short order of five years of PF rule, the Zambian economy is in shambles; it has stagnated and unable to absorb new labour. Amid incredible policy inconsistencies about mineral taxation, about how to prop up the Kwacha, about price controls etc. we have seen unprecedented budget deficits, a collapsing Kwacha leading to unbearable cost of living crisis, and a huge accumulation of external debt. I know, PF has desperately tried to point to some successes but there are none. The infrastructure projects PF is trumpeting, actually started under late President Mwanawasa during the MMD era and were only completing or maturing during the PF time. In any event, government’s good works speak for themselves as people feel the impact. They do not need any propaganda machines to advertise them. Unfortunately for PF, it is a victim of its own misdeeds by operating on misguided priorities and complete extravagance. True to the culture of the leadership that gets into politics to “eat” rather than to serve the people, PF’s first priority in government was not to restore the economy or fix the broken education or repair the healthcare services, but by Statutory Instrument number 17 of 2012 to reward the President and his ministers with hefty salary and allowance increments. Overnight, late President Michael Sata’s salary plus allowances more than doubled to K407, 000 per annum from K164,000 received by his predecessor Rupiah Banda. That trend of greed and misguided focus sadly continued. With barely one month in office President Edgar Lungu, rather than fix and develop the local health care infrastructure, dashed out of the country to seek better medical treatment elsewhere broad, marking yet another sad demonstration that Zambia will never achieve quality healthcare services as long as leadership continues to engage in medical tourism! Further, by Statutory Instrument 19 of March 2016, PF’s President Lungu has also just hiked his own salary to K565,000 per annum as well as those for his ministers, and they were paid retroactively to January 2016. Meanwhile, PF has continued to preside over the most bloated bureaucracy of some seventy cabinet, provincial and deputy ministers who consume a massive payroll bill. Beyond that, PF sought to expand its electoral space. It has induced countless parliamentary by-elections, configured new provinces, districts and other structures that have demanded large budgetary allocations at the expense of helping the real needy.. There is no doubt, therefore, that if PF were to be re-elected on August 11, among the first priorities will be to increase their salaries and allowances again as well as to escalate the same wasteful ventures of the past five years. Where on earth have we seen a display of such unbridled greed and extravagance in a country’s leadership? The hypocrisy accompanying such actions and greed is equally troubling. While the PF government officials hiked their salaries and allowances, they turned around and imposed freezes on civil service employment and salary increments, in an environment plagued by massive unemployment, severe income inequalities and rising cost of living.
With the rapidly dwindling government revenues, however, PF realised the folly of its extravagance. It turned to borrowing in order to feed its excessive, unbudgeted spending. To start, PF unilaterally raised the country’s borrowing limit or debt ceiling three times in two years, from K13 billion in 2011 to K20 billion by 2013, then K35 billion and K60 billion today. Thereafter, it borrowed like there was no tomorrow from a combination of external and local sources and mostly for consumption purposes. As a result, Zambia’s foreign debt once around US$3.5 billion in 2011 has now ballooned to US$10 billion and counting. No wonder rating agencies such as Moody’s have downgraded Zambia’s creditworthiness because the country is losing the capacity to service its debt. Sadly, Zambia is back to square one — has slipped back into deep indebtedness or debt trap that had haunted us in the 1980s and 1990s. Whatever happened to the teamwork masterfully guided by late President Mwanawasa, Emmanuel Kasonde, Ng’andu Magande, who exercised utmost prudence and fiscal discipline and fought gallantly to extricate Zambia from debt complications?
I contend, that Zambia cannot survive five more years of this PF governance. PF excesses and incompetence have created or exacerbated the festering of a highly hostile economic environment on the ground with escalating human tragedies of 80 to 90 per cent of the society wallowing in abject poverty; high cost of living conditions unsurvivable for many; widespread food insecurity, malnutrition, homelessness; high unemployment levels; widening income inequalities, broken education; rising illiteracy, dysfunctional healthcare and all. Where is the PF humanitarian instinct and compassion in this?
So where do we go from here – survive or perish? There is a saying that the best way to predict the future is to create it. August 11 elections should give every Zambian an opportunity to create that future for a better life – not just to survive but to prosper as well! . Elections are not an empty exercise. They are not about choosing a political party or a particular candidate we like. Elections are an opportunity to force the kind of policies in the direction we want and deserve as a people for a better future.
I posit that there are three pillars to creating the survival programme for a better Zambia that these elections present. The first pillar is that we must become a demanding society. We must create or elect a truly functional, responsive, and competent government to address the people’s needs. By government here I mean that institution we collectively elect to deliver on fulfilling our imperative human aspirations that we cannot accomplish individually. For instance, we need government efforts to fight widespread poverty, to stabilize the kwacha; promote employment, rebuild education, healthcare services and establish proper social protections for the most needy; we need a competent government to save us from rampant power blackouts, erratic policies, official greed, reckless borrowing and so on. PF is not such a government. There is simply too much suffering in Zambia now to rely on leadership whose first duty is to stuff more money into their pockets!
Second pillar: let us create or elect a new leader in Hakainde Hichilema, to chart a new course and save our society from the elements. Let’s try UPND this time whose leader Hichilema is not keen on increasing his salary; he is not keen on getting a government-provided retirement house. But he is genuinely keen and wants to serve the people. Final pillar – Zambians must come to a national consensus about creating or defining the national project – we must actively engage our government in identifying clear priorities, targets and timetables to deliver on, especially in the areas of high human impact like food security, employment creation, revamping education, repairing healthcare and providing social protections for the most vulnerable – the retirees, children, elderly, infirm, people with disabilities and others. We can no longer afford the docility of leaving all critical decisions to a few elected officials. Let us persistently prod: — What will it take and when will the oppressive prices of mealie meal, housing, transport, fuel, come down? What will it take and when will power blackouts stop in Zambia? What will it take and when will illiteracy be eliminated from our midst? What is the plan and when will maternity deaths for Zambian women end? And when will Zambia’s sick find relief from overcrowded hospital and clinic facilities and gain access to affordable medicines?
To intervene and find solutions to these human problems is what we elect leaders for. PF was given a chance to solve these issues but failed and has now run out of ideas. In the final analysis, Zambians need and deserve a government that is a servant of the people, not their master! I want to challenge especially the young generation of Zambians to bring forth such a new government on 11 August 2016 by voting in numbers for change. Zambia’s destiny and that of their generation rests entirely in their hands – not ours!
Dr. Shamapande was a candidate for President of Zambia in the 2001 elections; he is now in development consultancy.