By Hon Yotam Mtayachalo MP for Chama North
First and foremost I’m compelled to respond as a former labour leader and as well as a representative of the people to the statement attributed to my friend Mr Chishimba Nkole who is Zambia Congress of Trade Unions President (ZCTU) in which he is quoted urging the government not to succumb to pressure to reintroduce fuel subsidies in view of skyrocketing price of crude oil on the international market.
This statement is shocking to say the least because it ought not to come from a seasoned trade union leader because the removal of fuel subsidies affect more the working class and the most vulnerable in society because those who controls the means of production merely transfer the cost to consumers.
Further Mr Nkole should realize that the high cost of fuel triggers the high cost of living and doing business in the country and as such employers are reluctant to increase salaries and wages because of increased overhead costs which affect their profit margins.
By and large the cost of basic needs have skyrocketed in the last few months hence eroding the purchasing power of the workers which I feel should worry the labour movement more importantly that there is no corresponding increase in salaries and wages especially in the public sector.
Furthermore the Zambia Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) should be alive to the fact that almost all countries in the world have maintained fuel or energy subsidies including oil exporting countries such as Angola ($3.5bn) Nigeria ($26bn) and Saudi Arabia ($45bn) just to mention but a few in order to protect jobs and forestall the high cost of living and doing business besides these countries have higher per capita incomes than Zambia as the majority of zambians live on less than 50cents per day.
Therefore who are we not to cushion the negative impact brought about by the escalating price of crude oil on the international market and as such leaving everything to market forces to determine the price of fuel which is cost reflective may lead to far reaching negative economic consequences and needless to say that it may give rise to industrial unrests and political instability because the price of goods and services would be beyond the reach of many ordinary Zambians.
In conclusion as long as the price of crude oil continues to skyrocket to unsustainable levels in light of the raging conflict between Russia and Ukraine,the government may be left with no option but to reintroduce fuel subsidies or suspend certain taxes on fuel and perhaps eliminate middle men in the supply chain for the purpose of ensuring that petroleum products are affordable to the majority of citizens because the energy sector is key to the economic development of the country and as such the government has an obligation to protect it’s citizens from the high cost of living and doing business in the country by putting in place intervention measures.