By Nkonkomalimba Kafunda
Today August 24 marks two years since the ascension to power of the United Party for National Development and it’s mercurial leader Hakainde Hichilema and presents an opportunity to give a general overview of how the party has fared thus far.
Riding on a wave of popular resentment, HH as he is known to both friend and foe, convincingly annihilated Edgar Lungu and his Patriotic Front at polls held on August 12, 2021.
Over the past two years the ‘New dawn’ as the administration christened itself has made strides to correct inherited ills as well as introduce innovations to improve Zambian lives.
After protracted negotiations the government managed to clinch a debt restructuring deal with official creditor committee co chaired by France and China. The government paid long suffering retirees their over due benefits, introduced free primary and secondary education and widened the social safety net. Additionally, the government recruited close to 50,000 workers in health, education and the military. Further, the government completed the 750 MW Kafue Gorge Lower power project using locally generated resources sparing the country from load shedding, a regional headache. Constituency Development Fund was increased from K1.6 million to K28.3 million.
Here, unfortunately, is where the positives end. Though the government secured a US$1.3 billion IMF package and several concessional loans from the World Bank, these, in right thinking society, should not be considered achievements.
While the President is being lavished with superlatives and the UPND leadership id giving itself a pat on its collective back, the average Zambian is grappling with the high cost of living amidst grueling poverty.
Pre election, HH campaigned on the popular anti PF resentment and made wildly unrealistic and unachievable promises. Mealie meal would go down to K50 from K120 it is now heading the K300 route, Fuel would hover around K12 it now oscillates around K24-K28. Fertilizer was to be around K250 but its over K1000 a bag. The exchange rate has remained volatile, appreciating by 4.8% in the second quarter before depreciating by 11% between June and August, according to Bank of Zambia Governor Denny Kalyalya. By its own volition, the UPND unwittingly created a crisis of expectation which is now replicating the popular resentment that was the PF’s waterloo.
In the all-important mining sector issues at Mopani and Konkola Copper Mines remain largely unresolved, despite several placating statements from minister 0f Mines Paul Kabuswe. He is rapidly losing both time and credibility. He is simply not believable. (Not to be confused with unbelievable, which would denote high competence levels)
Additionally, tax and other incentives gifted to the sector in the 2022 and 2023 budgets have not resulted in growth, if that were the intention. It is generally believed, but not said, that Canadian multinational mining giant FQM was being thanked for it’s clandestine role in the PF ouster. It is the proverbial elephant in the room. This week Both Finance Minister Situmbeko Musokotwane and Zambia Revenue Authority boss Dingani Banda confirmed drastically reduced production and tax collection levels in the sector. Socialist Party leader Dr. Fred M’mrmbe called the administration puppets controlled by transnational corporations who have no interest in the welfare of Zambians whose poverty levels are at an alarming 82%. Zambia is projected to produce 680,000 tonnes of copper in 2023, the lowest in 14 years.
In the agriculture sector, it is expected that the maize harvest will drop by about 25% from the 2021 harvest, the last one under PF’s watch, according to a crop marketing survey. This is due, in part, to a shambolic input support program. This threatens national food security as despite increasing the floor price to K280 per 50 kg bag from K180, the Food Reserve Agency has not reached it’s targeted 1 million tonnes of grain and has put out adverts frantically urging farmers to deliver to depots.
In it’s quest to remove PF connected businesses from the input business, the UPND dismantled a working supply chain without replacing it with a viable alternative causing shortfalls in all manner of inputs. Agriculture minister Motolo Phiri is at his wits end. He has been promoted to his level of incompetence. In management it is known as the Peter principle.
Supply chain disruptions do not end at agriculture. Medicines and medical supplies are in short supply in the health sector. Again a working supply chain was dismantled on political grounds without a viable alternative.
But perhaps the biggest spectacle is in the much touted fight against corruption. Numerous arrests of former government officials and PF members have been very publicly made but little else. Granted the rule of law has been upheld and all suspects have been granted bail or bond, a semblance of justice not revenge at play. Shamefully, the only high level conviction is that of a former Development Bank of Zambia CEO for DBZ paying children’s school fees he was not entitled.
It is clear, but not acknowledged, that the national Prosecution Authority has no capacity to prosecute the complex transactions they allege the suspects handled. This is the whale in the tub. In the meantime corruption remains endemic and obscenely rampant. The culture of ‘nchekelako’ is omni present and the highly publicized arrests are for the benefit of donors.
However, corruption is not the most pressing problem. Families are eating one or no meal a day. This has nothing to do with availability or accessibility but everything to do with affordability as the food is in the shops but beyond the pocket.
The fact that grain and mealie meal is being exported to deep pocketed neighbors at a premium causing market place distortions has made this government deeply unpopular.
In fact, the UPND is looked at as arrogant and ungrateful, a party that does not care for the well being of the people that put them where they are. Unemployment remains stratastrophic and those with jobs can not make ends meet, According to the Jesuit Centre for Theological reflection, a family of five in Lusaka needs around K9,500 a month. Salaries are as low as K1,200.
Unless and until there is a significant drop in the cost of living with a corresponding rise in the standard of living, this is a lame duck presidency.