By Sean Tembo – PeP President
1. Every well-meaning Zambian is agreeable that things are very bad right now. The economy is crumbling with companies closing operations almost every day. The prices for goods and services are increasing on a weekly basis. There is a total breakdown in the rule of law whereby ruling party cadres are more powerful than the Police or the Military. Corruption in all its forms has reached unprecedented levels. In other words, President Edgar Lungu has failed to properly lead this nation and 12th of August presents an opportunity to the Zambian people to withdraw their mandate and replace Mr Lungu with someone else. Someone who can turnaround our economy. Someone who can bring back the rule of law and respect for institutions. Someone who can stamp out corruption. But who is that someone?
2. A number of people that l have spoken to see Mr Hakainde Hichilema (HH) as the person who has the most potential to remove President Lungu from the presidency, come 12th of August this year. And l agree completely. There is no question about it. In as much as there are a number of vibrant aspiring leaders that have mushroomed in the past five years or so, there is no question that political support takes time to trickle down across the nation and form the necessary critical mass needed to unseat a ruling party. On the other hand, HH has been leading his UPND for the past 15 years now, which gives him an upper hand in this year’s race. Of course, that is not to say that anyone else has no chance. We all have a chance, it’s only that HH has a greater chance by virtue of his prolonged stay in the political arena.
3. But what kind of administration would an HH presidency be and how different would it be from the current PF administration under Mr Lungu? Let us narrow it down to specific aspects of governance. Firstly, we all know that the biggest emergency that we have as a country right now is to turnaround our economy. This consists of generating enough money to repay our huge loans that we are currently saddled up with, increasing our economic productivity so that we can turn the page from the current recession and record positive growth in our gross domestic product (GDP). When our GDP grows, it means that individual enterprises in the economy are growing, which then means that employment opportunities are also expanding because enterprises need manpower whenever they’re expanding their operations. Turning around our economy will also require a huge reduction in corrupt activities so that the public money which is currently ending up in the pockets of individuals can end up in the national treasury. The question then is; what is HH’s plan for turning around our ailing economy, should the Zambian people give him a mandate to be Republican President after 12th August? Well, based on what he has shared with the public so far, HH believes that the best way to turnaround our ailing economy is to get a loan from the International Monitory Fund (IMF) and also go on an IMF programme.
4. Personally, l have been on record publicly disagreeing with Mr Hichilema regarding his proposal to get an IMF loan and put this country on an IMF programme as a way of turning around our ailing economy. Because of my public disagreements with HH on this matter and a few other matters, some of his supporters have been accusing me of attacking their president. But there is a huge difference between attacking someone and disagreeing with someone on a matter of national interest. I wish to make it categorically clear that l have never attacked Mr Hichilema. I merely disagree with him on specific issues of national interest. However, the feeling that l get from his members and supporters is that whatever plans for this nation that HH shares with the public from time to time, should never be questioned by anyone. And yet, should HH become President after 12th August, and should he implement his plans for turning around our economy, every citizen will be affected. So if l will be personally affected by the plans that HH intends to implement for this country, then why shouldn’t l be allowed to publicly disagree with such plans? Why should my public disagreement be deemed to be attack?
5. The public may wish to remember that the main reason why we are in this economic quagmire in the first place is because the ruling PF refused to listen to advice from any quarters from the world go. When we told them to stop borrowing too much, the laughed at us. When we told them to reign in their cadres and respect the rule of law, the scoffed at us. When we advised them to avoid haphazard economic policies, the accused us of attacking them. The end result is that we have this economy that is on the blink of collapse, with a major debt default already under our belt and the majority of our citizens in deeper poverty than they were in 2011. All because the PF has been an arrogant Government that has been unwilling to listen to anyone else. So when l see the same levels of arrogance in Mr Hichilema, l genuinely doubt whether his Government would be any different from current PF Government. Would it be a case of jumping from the frying pan to the fire?
6. The public may also wish to note that Mr Hichilema’s plan of borrowing from the IMF as a solution to turnaround our economy is exactly the same as that of the PF administration. From the time that Mutati was Minister of Finance, the PF tried to borrow US$1.6 billion from the IMF, which was subsequently revised to US$1.8 billion, then more recently l understand they submitted an application for US$2.4 billion to the IMF. HH proposes to borrow about US$3 billion from the IMF, should he become President. My argument against HH’s proposed IMF route is that if this country’s biggest problem at the moment is over-borrowing, then how can the solution be additional borrowing? So far, HH has not answered my question and my view is that he has opted to adopt the generic IMF solution because he is unable to think outside the box. In other words, HH’s competence is no better than that of the current PF Government. If the good citizens of this Republic are not careful, they shall be jumping from a rotten Government to another rotten Government. Whenever an opportunity for change presents itself, it should always be seen as an opportunity to improve. Change is meaningless if it does not bring about improvement.
7. But others may argue, and rightly so for that matter, to say what is Sean Tembo’s economic turnaround plan, since am pouring cold water on HH’s IMF route, which also happens to the PF’s current plan? Well, should the Zambian people be gracious enough to make me Republican President on 12th August this year, our plan for turning around our ailing economy is already well documented in the PeP Alternative Economic Recovery Plan (AERP) which will be unveiled on 18th February 2021. The PeP plan does not involve any additional borrowing, unlike the UPND and PF plans. To the contrary, our economic turnaround plan is premised on five critical actions; number one, sealing off all tax and non-tax revenue leakages so that every single Ngwee which the Government is entitled to ends up in the national treasury and not in the pocket of any individual. Secondly, reducing corruption in the public procurement process by at least 90 percent, so that Government gets value for every Ngwee spent. Thirdly, hiring only properly qualified and experienced personnel in all decision-making positions based only on competence and without regard to tribe, region, gender, political affiliation or physical appearance, so as to significantly enhance the quality of decisions at all levels of Government. Number four; developing and implementing stable economic policies that will create a conducive environment for private enterprises to thrive and prosper, thereby creating the much needed jobs. Last but not least; empowering citizens to engage in entrepreneurial activities at all levels of the economic value-chain, by extending affordable financing solutions and mentorship services.
8. I genuinely do not believe that an IMF package has the potential to turnaround our economic fortunes as a nation, even if we were to implement it to the letter. The biggest disadvantage of an IMF package is that you essentially relinquish autonomy and sovereignty in terms of your ability to formulate your own social-economic policies as a nation. Decisions about our country’s development will be made by a Board of Directors sitting in Washington D.C. How can such people sitting so far away surely understand the needs of our people, even if they really wanted to act in good faith? It can’t. Those of you who were old enough at that time surely remember how the IMF’s Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) ravaged this country in the 1990s. Why should we have to go through that all over again? I wish to submit that this country will never develop for as long as we, the citizens of this Republic continue to hold the mistaken belief that a citizen of another country would have Zambia’s best interests at heart and would assist us to develop. The only people that can develop this nation is ourselves; Zambians. Not the IMF. Not the World Bank. Not the AfDB. Not SADC. Not anyone but ourselves. And it should begin with a belief in ourselves that we can do it. Therefore, any individual who does not believe in the ability of Zambians to develop Zambia has no business aspiring to lead this nation.