By Chamwe Kaira
President Hakainde Hichilema is the wealthiest Zambian President since independence in 1964. The president’s status as a millionaire is undisputed. He is listed as one of Zambia’s biggest ranchers and has many other business interests both at home and abroad.
In the 2016 general elections, the president declared the value of his assets and liabilities at K73 million and many argued that time that the president was worth more than that. The Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) has not released the 2021 presidential candidate elections.
Hichilema follows the success of other millionaires who have been elected Heads of State around the world. In 2016, Donald Trump became the first billionaire President of the United States. The other rich men who successfully won elections include Silvio Berlusconi of Italy and closer to home, Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa.
The President’s supporters have often cited his millionaire status and his New Kasama mansion as a sign that Hichilema was seeking the presidency to serve the nation and not to enrich himself.
Hichilema has promised a departure from corruption and abuse of public resources. In his inaugural speech, Hichilema said the scourge of corruption had eroded much-needed resources and robbed the country of growth opportunities. Like other Zambian presidents before him, he said there will be zero-tolerance to corruption. He said his government is determined to free the country from the ills of mismanagement and malpractice and promote that which is better.
But having a rich president does not guarantee that his government will be spared from scandals. Armando Emílio Guebuza, the third president of Mozambique is one of the richest men in that country. But his reign was without controversy. His son and 18 others are on trial over a US$2bn scandal and are facing charges of blackmail, embezzlement, and money laundering. The scandal led donors including the IMF to cut funding for the country and the economy to collapse.
It is important that Hichilema publicly declare his assets and business interests if his promises of a ‘New Dawn’ are going to go beyond mere rhetoric. There will be questions regarding his business interests especially when it comes to public procurement. For example, will companies that he has interest in bid for government tenders? How will the president ensure that policies and incentives by his government are not meant to benefit his interests and that of his business partners? The other question is will Hichilema’s businessman partners bid for government tenders and other incentives without raising questions about conflict of interest?
Hichilema must take an example from Ramaphosa who upon taking public office disinvested from directorships in his companies and transferred his family interests in blind trusts.
Investopedia describes a blind trust as a trust established by the owner (or trustor) giving another party (the trustee) full control of the trust. The trustee has full discretion over the assets and investments while being charged with managing the assets and any income generated in the trust. The trustor can terminate the trust, but otherwise exercises no control over the actions taken within the trust and receives no reports from the trustees while the blind trust is in force. Blind trusts are often established in situations when individuals want to avoid conflicts of interest.
Chamwe Kaira is a journalist interested in writing about economic issues and how they affect society. [email protected]