By Henry Kyambalesa
We should be proud that at 47 years of age, our beloved country has continued to be a land of lasting peace and stability. We should, therefore, make an earnest effort to build on Dr. Kenneth D. Kaunda’s concept of “One Zambia, One Nation” in order to create a society in which political, ethnic, cultural, racial, and religious diversity is genuinely appreciated, tolerated and celebrated.
In this Press Release, I wish to share my views concerning the role of government in independent Zambia. In this endeavor, let us first briefly examine a point of view advocated by the founders of the free enterprise ideology, that a government should have very limited functions.
In their view, “That government is best which governs least.” Essentially, they advocated for a government whose functions are limited to the following: protecting private property, providing for public safety and security, enforcing business and other forms of contracts among individuals and/or institutions, inducing (rather than performing) commercial and industrial activities, and, among other things, facilitating the provision of quality education and health care.
There are, however, many factors which may lead to an increase in the functions of a country’s national government, such as the following: increases in the country’s population, an unprecedented number of demands by various interest groups for government involvement in addressing their needs, and, among other things, problems brought about by a multitude of human-induced and natural calamities.
There is no doubt that these and other factors can put pressure on a government to expand existing public services and facilities and/or to introduce new ones. Franklin D. Roosevelt, United States president between 1933 and 1945, must have had these and/or other similar kinds of factors in mind when he said: “As new conditions and problems arise beyond the power of men and women to meet as individuals, it becomes the duty of … government[s] … to find new remedies with which to meet them.”
Nevertheless, the proper governmental role in a free-market economy, as Michael E. Porter once advised in an article entitled “The Competitive Advantage of Nations,” which appeared in the Harvard Business Review of March-April 1990, should be that of serving as “a catalyst and challenger … to encourage—or even push—companies to raise their aspirations and move to higher levels of competitive performance.”
42nd President of the United States of America, Mr. William J. Clinton, espoused this point of view in general terms when he stipulated his Administration’s desire in the State of the Union Address of January 27, 1998 thus: “[We need to] build a government that [functions as] … a catalyst for new ideas, and, most of all, a government that gives … people the tools they need to make the most of their own lives.”
In serving the business community and other segments of society as a “catalyst and challenger,” a government needs to provide adequately for various kinds of guarantees, inducements and essential services and facilities, such as the following:
1) A well?developed transportation infrastructure and adequate transportation services to industrial, commercial, and residential areas to ease or facilitate the distribution of production inputs and finished products;
2) Adequate public services (including police protection, fire protection, public utilities, and decent housing), as well as telecommunications, educational, vocational, health, and recreational facilities;
3) Equitable sales, corporate, and other taxes, as well as tax concessions and inducements that are more attractive than those in alternative countries or regions which investors are likely to consider for investment;
4) Political and civic leaders who are fair and honest in their dealings with private business institutions, and stable economic policies (including a formal assurance against nationalisation and/or expropriation of privately owned business undertakings by the national government);
5) Political and civic leaders who are genuine and resolute in their fight against the scourge of corruption in governmental and non-governmental settings;
6) Less bureaucratic licensing, import, export, and other procedures, and adequate information about investment and marketing problems and opportunities in the various sectors of a country’s economy and in cross-border markets;
7) A system of justice that is fair, impartial and independent in both word and deed; and
8) A social safety net designed to adequately cater to the needs of economically disadvantaged members of society that is not subject to political meddling or manipulation.
These inducements, services, facilities, and guarantees, among a host of other things, can enable economic units, for example, to operate more efficiently and eventually deliver economic and social outputs to society at reasonable costs and prices.
As Alassane Ouattara (current president of Ivory Coast) once advised in an article entitled “Africa: An Agenda for the 21st Century,” which appeared in Volume 36/Number 1 of Finance and Development of March 1999, therefore, there is an urgent need for national leaders to re-define the roles of their governments away from direct involvement in commercial and industrial activities toward the provision of inducements, guarantees and essential public services and facilities to their primary stakeholders.
Given the many positive changes currently being introduced by the Patriotic Front administration, our beloved country seems to be destined for a brighter future. Together, we can realize the benefits of independence, democracy and economic liberalization, and we can succeed in our quest to create a more democratic, more peaceful, more prosperous, more egalitarian, and more environmentally sustainable society.