By Prince J. Ndoyi
As a young person I seek to express my deep sense of concern and shock on the revelation that our government has contracted a loan to a tune of US$30 MILLION from China for the MODERNISATION of Mulungushi International Conference Center in readiness for the 2022 African Union (AU) Heads of State summit.
Our government has chosen to modernise a conference facility meant for a few days summit amidst soaring accommodation challenges in our high learning institutions. Much as we appreciate that this is an INTEREST FREE loan, it still remains debt being poured into yet another bottomless pit.
Numerous questions arise, whether this is in itself a priority? Will this amount of money pay dividends in the future and if the amount to be spent is reasonable only to temporarily beautify the conference center? Of course government officials are quick to respond that this will be a valuable investment in the future and that aside being an investment, hosting the Summit will improve the image of Zambia and prove to the international scene that it is financially capable to host big events.
The truth of the matter is that we have a broke government, and spending that much in addition to many other expenditures in a bid to host the summit, is somewhat a misplaced priority. Is It worth it? Of what benefit and advantage of hosting such high profile summit is it to the Zambian people?
Our almost immediate reaction, is an ernest appeal to our listening government to instead redirect the 30Million USD Loan to modernise Mulungushi Conference Center, towards reducing the never ending accommodation crises at all our public learning institutions.
30 million US dollars is too colossal an amount to be poured into an infrastructure which a fortnight later after the event will be turned into a WHITE ELEPHANT like many other govt conferencing facilities.
Government is behaving like a groom, who walks into a bank to borrow millions of dollars only to splash his lovely bride with a luxurious wedding and exotic honey moon overseas. Only to come back broke into a rented house. To me this also suggests that our approach with development aid might be misguided.
We are reminded that on 12th December, 2008, the MMD government during President Rupiah Banda’s administration announced its withdraw on the offer to host the 2011 All Africa games. At the time, late founding president of Patriotic Front exerted gruesome pressure on RB. The late cited president Banda to have lacked priorities for electing to host games at the expense of the starving majority Zambians.
And government listened, through chief government spokesperson Ronnie Shikapwasha on the said date the Zambian government made a sound decision to forgo the hosting of the games.
Therefore, I call upon President Lungu to reconsider redirecting this loan into key and critical priority infrastructure areas such as accommodation for students or those meant to enhance food security in the wake of tougher economic times ahead.
I am of the strong considered view that Mulungushi International Conference Center is good enough to host any summit bearing in mind our economic challenges. As a country we cannot pretend among fellow African leaders facing similar financial and economic challenges, for some even worse than us, by recklessly spending debt monies only to satisfy an appearance.
If by assessment Mulungushi Conference Center requires urgent renovations to host the summit, government can either forego the hosting of this summit inturn saving us from this unnecessary expenditure. Or government can instead save its revenue monies over a period of time, since the summit will only be held in 2022 and time is on our side.
Going forward govt must deliberately decide to identify priority areas for development financing which must include food production, hospitals, schools, water and sanitation and roads. Government should re-prioritized its spending plans for the 2018 to 2021 Medium Expenditure Framework to concentrate on a few important infrastructure.
Government should develop an Infrastructure Priority List like it is done in many other countries, listing prioritised nationally significant investments to help guide our ministers as they travel to seek development aid, to avoid shooting at an empty sky. This will equally provide the much needed guidance on specific infrastructure investments that will underpin Zambia’s continued prosperity, to avoid appearing haphazard in our development approach.
Zambia today is confronted with many challenges, ranging from inadequate and unaffordable housing, inadequate bed spaces at all public high learning institutions among others and any such attractive loans must be quickly identified for these areas.
Despite witnessing exceptional growth in development finance in recent years, Zambia is still faced with the arduous task of mobilizing adequate resources to fund its growth and future transformation agenda. Given the paucity of external development assistance, and low commodity prices for our goods and services, its needless to say that Zambia has to awaken to the fact that it must rely on its own financial resources for sustainable development.
In closing I want to say that as a young person, I have elected to throw up my hands in despair when decisions to do with debts contracted on our behalf, which are future liabilities most likely to be repaid by ourselves, appear not to be properly and prudently applied. And I call upon my fellow young people to do the same, to rise above all manner of partisan persuasion but to instead see the bigger picture. This is a debt burden to be carried by us, therefore its equally our duty to advise appropriately.
Some of us who have already begun to break the silence of the night have found that the calling to speak for others is often a vocation of agony, but we must speak. We must speak with all the humility that is appropriate to our limited vision, but we must speak.