The Saga of Mobile Hospitals
By Henry Kyambalesa
The recent castigation of critics of mobile hospitals by President Rupiah Banda that the issue is none of their business should be openly condemned by all citizens who care about the future of our beloved country.I surely thought President Banda’s decision to purchase mobile hospitals from the China National Aero Technology Import and Export Corporation was shelved after it generated so much controversy in the country! It has now become clear that President Banda is not only stubborn and arrogant; he also lacks good judgment. For how can a leader who has good judgment completely ignore the voices of so many citizens who are against the purchase of the US$53 million mobile hospitals through a loan from EX-IM Bank of China?
“In a sense, we’re talking about … sending smart white boys in to tell them how to run their countries.”
It is irresponsible, wasteful and unwise for President Banda to buy mobile hospitals which are likely to last only a few years, given the poor state of roads in rural areas. Also, there are a lot of rural communities today where there are no motorable roads. Moreover, it is hard to imagine how the mobile clinics will be used – would they be driven around in rural communities on a regular basis in the hope of finding a sick person?
Further, it will be very difficult to control the potential abuse of the mobile facilities and their contents. Besides, the recurrent costs of maintaining the mobile hospitals will be prohibitive after spending the following amounts (extracted from The Post Online article of April 27, 2009 entitled “Donors Question Government’s $53 Million Deal”) which are required to seal the two-year contract:
36,260,356 Cost of the 9 Mobile Clinics
3,300,000 Spare Parts for 2 Years
6,000,000 Medicines and Medical Appliances
5,144,650 Chinese Engineers and Medical Staff
50,705,006 (+ tax)
As any genuine development economist would advise, loans, if there is really a pressing need to obtain them, should ideally be used to support the production and/or exportation of trade-able goods. However, the US$53 million loan would still have made sense if it was secured to cater for the following:
(a) Provision of free healthcare for all Zambians;
(b) Construction of more permanent healthcare facilities nationwide;
(c) Provision of adequate medicines, medical equipment and ambulances;
(d) Financing of research designed to find cures for HIV/AIDS, cancer, tuberculosis, and other deadly diseases; and
(e) Hiring, retention and training of health personnel.
The mobile hospitals are, at best, a luxury Zambia cannot afford. No doubt, the procurement of such temporary facilities is going to be the most conspicuous case of misapplication of resources by a Republican president thus far. It is a clear case of misplaced priorities! Sooner or later, the President and/or members of his inner circle will be crossing national borders for medical treatment or check-ups after wasting the US$53 million!
And they want to rule Zambia beyond 2011 up to 2030 whether we like it or not—arrogant, stubborn, belligerent, and condescending as they are! That will surely be a testimony to the statement attributed to Dr. Frederick Chiluba by the late Dean Mung’omba that Zambians are docile!
The gross mismanagement of resources, among other forms of incompetence by the MMD government, reminds me of the following words of an anonymous official in an unnamed donor country quoted by L. Timberlake in his 1986 book: “In a sense, we’re talking about … sending smart white boys in to tell them how to run their countries.”
President Banda wants to continue to mortgage our country and the future of our children and grandchildren through such loans. He does not seem to see anything wrong with our country’s over-dependence on loans and donor funding to provide for public services and facilities.
He needs to trim the highly bloated government going through public expenditures line by line, program by program, agency by agency, department by department, and ministry by ministry in order to eliminate unnecessary application of public funds. There is a need for the government to perform existing and planned government functions with a smaller number of Cabinet Ministers, and to abolish the positions of Deputy Minister and District Commissioner.
Also, there is a need for him to reduce the number of Zambia’s foreign missions by having clusters of countries to be served by single embassies, and to initiate restrictions on leaders’ trips to foreign countries and the sizes of delegations on such trips.
The US$53 million deal has all the characteristics of an attempt by President Banda to use the mobile clinics as a campaign tool for the 2011 general elections, designed to woo voters in rural areas. He could win the Republican presidency, but he won’t be there to make a contribution to the re-payment of the loan!
And how does one explain the prominence of single-source procurement by the President during the short period he has been in office, if it is not to reap personal or political benefits from the deals involved? What is the use of having a procurement authority and technocrats in government ministries whose function is merely the acquisition of machinery, equipment and services that are prescribed by ministers or State House?
There is a need for Chinese government officials to guard against encouraging President Banda to borrow lavishly from their country’s state companies to finance projects which are conceived without consultation with Parliament and the Zambia Public Procurement Authority. He clearly wants to secure the US$53 million loan to buy mobile hospitals mainly to win the rural vote in the 2011 elections, and they will do well not to participate in this furtive scheme if they are interested in cementing the existing cordial relations between their country and the people of Zambia.
No sleep for my Motherland!