By Kalima Nkonde
President Lungu recently complained that he receives a lot of criticism and not credited with any achievements. As an economic and finance commentator, I have never found anything compelling from the economic point of view, which i can support with numbers, to praise the President for as most of the economic indicators that I outlined in my last article “ Is the economy stupid, Mr. President,” are all bad. However, I thought he had a point. I remembered a philosophy saying which states that a human being cannot always be wrong because even a watch or clock which does not work is right twice in 24hours!
On the basis that President Lungu has been criticized left, right and centre, I decided to write this article as objectively as possible to outline some of his major achievements today, the 25th August,2015, which marks his seven months in office and share my thoughts with bloggers.
My analysis will be based on the state of things before he took over and how they are now. The comparison with the late President Sata is inevitable. I hope there will no people who will say that you do not talk about the dead! Unfortunately, when you decide to hold public office, you will be talked about positively or negatively even after your are dead! I personally think that most of the President’s achievements are more political than economic, qualitative rather than quantitative. I know some members of the Opposition and their supporters may disagree with my views and they are at liberty to do so as we are living in a democracy and people are entitled to their own opinions.
As Zambians, we have to learn to disagree without necessarily being disagreeable. Insulting when you disagree with somebody belongs to the jungle and is lack of intellect! Civil debate is what intellect, maturity and civilisation is all about! I believe I have the credibility and integrity to outline the President’s achievements since I have been very critical of the PF Government’s performance on the economy although I have always suggested solutions to them. I am not an arm chair critic but a rational, objective and empathetic commentator and I hope people see me in that light and notice the difference.
I would like to state that, in all fairness to President Lungu as an individual, and not the PF as a Party, most of the damage to the PF brand was done because of the decisions that were made under the Presidency of the late Michael Chilufya Sata. Although Zambians have got short memories, we were warned by two past Presidents, who knew candidate Michael Chilufya Sata well – Presidents Kaunda and Chiluba. They are both on record as having said that Mr. Sata was not Presidential material and he worked best under supervision. In my view, they were vindicated in the three years that he presided on the affairs of our nation! His three year rule was an economic, diplomatic and political disaster!
Zambians under President Lungu are enjoying relative freedom than under President Sata. In his speech in 1941, US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt popularly known as FDR, said the word freedom means more than elections. Democracy should be based on four essential freedoms- Freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear. It is my view that President Sata’s leadership denied Zambians, to a large extent freedom of speech and freedom from fear! As Dorah Siliya correctly observed during her press conference , “ Never before, at least in my adult life, have I seen people’s liberties being infringed upon as in the last three years. The panga carrying xenophobic attacks in South Africa shock us, but they remind us of the path our country almost took, with panga carrying cadres on the street of Lusaka and in various bye elections!” I would challenge the current cabinet ministers including the President himself and other government officials to raise their hands if they never lived in fear! They all feared something and President Sata ! If truth be told, we were under a budding dictatorship and fear did start to grip our nation slowly.
President Edgar Lungu has changed that. The opposition are campaigning freely now and the public order act is not being abused to deny them permits! This commentator was not posting any critical economic analysis under President Sata’s presidency for fear of being hunted down like the Bangladesh bloggers who have been killed for their views. This writer lived under President Kaunda’s socialist one party state dictatorship in the 1970s and 80s – which people like Davies Chama inexplicably misses and would like to reintroduce in Zambia, God forbid! We know how the Special Branch – State intelligence service, Office of the President, Kamucheka, shushus, call them what you want, infiltrated work places, secondary schools, colleges, churches, seminaries etc to spy on innocent citizens who were critical of President Kaunda and his UNIP regime! Zambia was slowly drifting to those bad old days! Zimbabweans are living under such a regime right now and it is neither funny nor amusing!
Composition of the Cabinet
The composition of the Cabinet is another plus for President Edgar Lungu. Zambia was a polarized country before President Lungu took over as some provinces felt left out by not being represented in Cabinet. The political temperature prior to the 20th January,2015 elections was very high and the country was very divided ; mostly on tribal and regional lines. This is not the case now. I personally believe that President Lungu is not a tribalist and before the Chama fiasco and his “slip of the tongue” comment of “Wako ni Wako” in the Eastern province bye election, which slightly damaged his credentials as a non tribal leader; his stock was rising as a unifier! In general, any body who grew up on the Copperbelt like President Lungu never turned out to be tribalist as nobody really cared where one came from as they all spoke the same language, went to the same schools, went to same warefare halls, supported football teams of their choice and selection for scholarships ,jobs and in sport was purely one merit.
Zambia’s standing in foreign countries
Zambia’s standing in foreign countries has tremendously improved under President Lungu. A number of Presidents including President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya, President Mutharika of Malawi, President Kikwete of Tanzania, President Mugabe of Zimbabwe have visited our country within the first seven months of his Presidency! He has also visited a number of countries including almost all SADC countries. This has lifted Zambia’s standing in international circles. It was not the same under President Sata. Do we remember how President Sata embarrassed President George W. Bush of the USA by incorrectly accusing his ancestors as being imperialist/ colonialist! Also, how he mocked President Zuma’s bald head at the OUA summit? Do we remember how he insulted Batswana of having few small malls and how he refused to eat at a State banquet? There were many more diplomatic goofs that he committed that dented Zambia’s image! Zambia was a pariah nation and other countries avoided coming to Zambia and President Lungu has changed all that!
Bank of Zambia
The appointment of Dr. Danny Kalyalya and the bringing back Dr. Bwalya Ng’andu to the Central Bank was a laudable decision. The Central bank is an institution that you do not play around with and deploy cadres otherwise you end up destroying the economy as the monetary policy will be compromised. The Governor of the Central has to understand macro economics to the hilt. He has to be respected by his peers, the financial community and the Bretton woods institution like the IMF and World bank. Under President Sata, the Central bank lost credibility after the departure of Dr Caleb Fundanga and Dr Bwalya Ngandu and their replacements did not measure up to the same level of expertise and they did not instill confidence in the financial markets. In my books, the above appointments were smart and a big plus to President Lungu.
Although the building of some of the infrastructure projects are to a large extent politically motivated and populist in nature and without discernible economic value, the fact remains that infrastructure projects in totality, have changed the faces of cities, townships and rural areas. Needless to say that infrastructure projects will come at a great cost to all Zambians in the next few years and to future generations when the negative impact of excessive public debt which has funded them starts to be felt. I will demonstrate the impact of excessive debt in my future articles. I would have given President Lungu and the PF full marks and more credit if the infrastructure development projects were done sequentially, prioritized, properly costed and not rushed for political expediency. In addition, I would have given them a lot of credit if the projects were funded by tax revenues from the Mines like Botswana and Namibia instead of the easy borrowings from the international World debt(bond) market through Eurobonds. I nevertheless give President Lungu some credit for the appointment of Lucky Mulusa to help monitor and evaluate the implementation of infrastructure projects. This was an excellent decision.
The Zambian judiciary’s credibility in the eyes of the public has been very poor. It has been perceived as inefficient and corrupt. The appointment of Mrs Ireen Mambilima, the well respected Judge and former Chairman of the Electoral Commission of Zambia as the Chief justice marked the beginning of the cleaning up of the name of this important arm of government. This is closely connected with the rule of law. In my view, President Lungu has slowly started bringing back the rule of law rather than the rule of the jungle. Zambia was slowly becoming a lawless society. I give the President credit, for example, the non tolerance of cadres grabbing land and building on other people’s land illegally. During President Lungu’s presidency, there have been so many demolitions of illegal structures and this has sent a clear message to cadres that you do not just build on somebody’s land on basis that you belong to the ruling Party! It may have looked inhuman to demolish houses but we will never develop if we are not going to be a country of laws. I also believe that President Lungu has not been interfering in the legal processes and court cases like his predecessor . Judges are not in fear of being fired or transferred if they rule against the government or the Party or their supporter. The suspension of Judges and the establishment of the infamous Chikopa tribunal under President Sata is a case in point with regard to interfering with the judiciary.
Political violence during elections has also gone down substantially though it has not been eliminated completely under President Lungu. The President needs to come out very strongly on this issue as he did when HH was attacked on the Copperbelt. There are some sections of society who still believe that the President deep down tolerates political violence committed by PF cadres. The basis of this perception is his statement in Kapiri Mposhi during the Presidential bye lection compaign in January,2015 where, Candidate Lungu said PF had the numbers and could wipe out UPND in a physical fight! This statement does not stand him in good stead and so he needs to do more to remove this perception. He cannot expect the Opposition to correct the violence! He is the one in charge and has the instruments of power. The Police should be instructed to arrest those involved in violence. He should also warn his Party leaders, who are the political violence War lords because they sponsor the youths that they will not be protected by him and the party.
The Constitution making process has moved tremendously under his watch compared to the situation when President Sata and Wynter Kabimba was Justice minister. If stakeholders were to be objective, President Lungu has done quite well on this score and the donor community including the American embassy and the British High Commission are in support of his approach of passing all amendments to the constitution except the bill of rights, which will be subject to the referendum in 2016. It is the most practical and cost effective approach and one hopes it will not be abused by PF Members of Parliament under instructions from the Party bosses. We, the independents, are giving the President the benefit of the doubt with regard to his sincerity on the constitution process. In my view, a smart person will ensure that the Constitution passes may be with minor amendments because it will leave a long lasting legacy and President Lungu will make a name for himself as posterity will judge him generously hundreds of years to come. It will be on record that the PF under President Lungu were the ones who passed a people driven constitution which all other parties failed to do for 50 years ! This legacy is better than the superficial infrastructure projects which are short term and people will soon forget! Who remembers KK’s infrastructure projects! Most intellectuals remember him as a dictactor who ruined the economy and whose overstay resulted in Zambia having mediocre Presidents thereafter apart from President Mwanawasa unlike Tanzania, Botswana and Namibia.
The royalty tax and VAT Rule 18
One other achievement is that the President resolved the royalty tax and VAT rule 18 impasse with the mines which saved over 5,000 jobs. I personally feel a better deal would have been negotiated with the mines so that the tax legislation was not reversed almost in its entirety without the mines meeting government half way. How do you move from 20% to 9% and 6% respectively! This was poor negotiation skills. Zambia never got anything in return for the reversal. In my view, as part of the negotiations, we should have given the mines some non tax conditions before reducing the royalty tax. We should have had a give and take situation but the mines got what they wanted 100% and we got nothing! The Government should have asked the mines, for example, to ask their suppliers abroad to set up shop in Zambia and partner with Zambians so that industries that are dependent on the mines could be set up in Solwezi and Kalumbila and create jobs there. Mopani Copper Mines (MCM) has done that by facilitating the formation of ZINPRO Zambia Limited a joint venture between Shawonga Enterprises Limited of Zambia and ZINPRO Engineering of South Africa who have partnered to specialise in shaft and structural steel rehabilitation works. ZINPRO Zambia has been engaged by MCM to undertake massive refurbishment of the shaft infrastructure.
In conclusion, I think I have outlined the major achievements that President Lungu has made during his seven months of being in charge. But like I have said before, he needs to laser focus on the economy. I have given him and his government some advise in my previous postings on the social media. I, however, have not talked about the perception that he tolerates corruption as he hardly talks about it. We never hear a word of it from him and yet the PF campaigned on the platform of getting rid of corruption! Or was it just President Sata’s agenda and it died with him! It is my hope that the President is not copying from President Banda ‘s play book who was reported by Wikileaks of 5 October,2009 to have postponed tackling corruption until after he won the next five year term which he never did! According to wikeleaks, when President Banda was asked by the Vice President of the World bank in New York why he appeared to be tolerant of corruption and did not take a robust anti corruption stance, he is said to have answered that “ he had multiple constituencies to satisfy and he is being pulled in different directions” and he would do something about corruption after winning the five year mandate in 2011.
The writer is a product of the early 1980s University of Zambia- Ndola Campus called UNZANDO then (now Copperbelt University ) and he is a financial management expert and a Chartered Accountant by profession. He returned back home two years ago with a hope of contributing in a small way to the country through rational economic debate based on his exposure and by using his entrepreneurial skills to invest in Zambia. He has lived in the diaspora in England, South Africa and Botswana for over 25 years and most of that time as an investor. He is an independent and non partisan commentator.