By Henry Kyambalesa
Patriotic Front (PF) officials will stop at nothing in their quest to extract votes from any and all segments of Zambian society. They have directly asked chieftains to endorse them. They have directly asked chieftains to persuade citizens in their areas of jurisdiction to support them. They have induced chieftains to support them through donations and gifts of bicycles and other articles of value.
They have handed out cash to individuals and groups of individual at political rallies. They have bribed Cheshire Homes with a bus. They have bribed Copperbelt University Students with a Higer Bus. And they have now introduced a “debt swap” scheme to extract votes from civil servants and their families.
With respect to gifts and donations, recipients should be aware that whatever they are receiving or have received could be plundered from public resources, or they could be sourced from individuals and/or groups of individual whose interests are at variant with the interests of our beloved country. The gifts and donations could also be sourced through “dirty money” obtained from drug trafficking, human smuggling and/or other illegal activities.
So, the “debt swap” initiative is clearly just one of the many schemes mooted by PF officials to sway the public’s attention from the ruling political party’s failure to address the numerous economic problems and crises which have overwhelmed ordinary citizens over the last 10 years.
It is essentially a charade introduced by the PF administration disguised or wrapped in the spirit of facilitating the cancellation of payroll loans owed to the government by any given civil servant in exchange for money owed to the civil servant by the government.
A civil servant may owe money to the government in the form of payroll loans obtained for such purposes as paying hospital fees, purchasing medicines, meeting a family’s subsistence or basic needs, catering for funeral expenses, paying school fees, acquiring an automobile, purchasing a plot of land, and/or purchasing a housing unit.
The government, on the other hand, may owe money to any given civil servant in the form of leave pay, settling-in allowance, long-service bonus, and so forth.
Realistically, the “debt swap” arrangement is neither useful nor beneficial for the following reasons:
(a) It is going to deprive civil servants of expected and budgeted-for income in the form of leave pay, settling-in allowance and/or long-service bonus which they desperately need for paying off loans secured from shylocks and settling other unpaid family expenses.
(b) “Debt swaps” are not a solution to the overwhelming hardships facing civil servants and their families due to insufficient wages and salaries.
(c) Civil servants constitute only a tiny fraction of the country’s 18 million people who have continued to endure unimaginable hardships and who have continued to expect the PF government to create the necessary economic conditions in which they can improve their own lives.
(d) The initiation of the “debt swap” scheme is a clear indication that the government is seriously in debt and is, therefore, incapable of paying the amounts owing to civil servants let alone meeting its other financial obligations. And
(e) “Debt forgiveness” would have been a more useful and beneficial arrangement because it would have provided a bit of relief to civil servants and their families especially if the government would have been in a position to promptly settle the amounts owed to them in the form of leave pay, settling-in allowance, long-service bonus, and so forth.
Instead of spending time, energy and resources strategising on how to extract votes from the citizenry through the “debt swap” arrangement and the showering of donations and gifts of cash, vehicles, bicycles, and mealie meal on chieftains and societal groups, PF officials should have directed their efforts at addressing the extraordinary hardships which have been facing the country and the common people over the last 10 years they have been in power.
The unemployment situation, for example, is not only heartbreaking but unimaginable. As Ambassador Emmanuel Mwamba has noted, only 900,000 people in a country of 18 or so million citizens are employed in the formal sector.
We urgently need a government that will create millions upon millions of jobs in order to give our fellow citizens the opportunity to earn a decent living. I suggested how this can be done in an article entitled “Good News for Zambians.”
In fact, the widespread violence in the country is partly a result of having millions of capable youth roaming the streets without jobs. As an age-old cliché advises us, “An idle mind is the devil’s workshop.”
To exaggerate somewhat, PF officials must have been on vacation over the last 10 years, caring less or not at all about the consistently declining economic conditions in the country. I am even reminded of the following excerpt from one of the reports by Social Watch cited by Bivan Saluseki, which accurately reflects the unimaginable situation in Zambia today as it was several years ago:
“Even though the country has not formally been at war since independence in 1964, prevailing conditions affecting human existence are equivalent to those in a country at war.”
There are, of course, some of our fellow citizens who are gullible enough to grant the PF another 5 years for it to waste merely because of the ruling political party’s stratagems like the “debt swap” scheme that is essentially a hoax, a deception, a transparent ruse.
The UPND Alliance is much more likely to reverse the current socioeconomic decay and backwardness and improve the socioeconomic vistas of our people over the next 5 years because its administration will draw from the knowledge, expertise and experience of leaders from members of the Alliance who, by and large, hail from the country’s 10 provinces. This is actually one of the most important strengths of the UPND Alliance.