Monday, May 20, 2024

How IMF has worsened Unemployment, Cost of Living and Cost of doing Business in Zambia

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By Mwansa Chalwe Snr

The Energy Regulations Board ( ERB ) recently increased petrol to K35.56 per litre, K29.60 for diesel, and Zesco increased tariffs on 1 May,2024 by 10%, while the Kwacha went north to almost K27.These combined escalations  are expected to filter through the economy in the coming months, and possibly have negative impact on ordinary Zambians and businesses. These changes are part of the implementation of IMF austerity conditions for Zambia’s 38Month $1.3billion Extended Credit Facility ( ECF). According to the IMF, its supervised program aims to create a more stable economic foundation for long-term growth.

“The authorities’ program, supported by the ECF-arrangement, will advance the authorities’ home-grown reform plan to restore debt sustainability, create fiscal space for much-needed social spending, and strengthen economic governance,” The IMF claimed in a statement announcing the bailout approval.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has long been criticized for its one-size-fits-all approach to economic policies, which in most instances makes things worse rather than alleviating economic hardships. Zambia’s current experience under an IMF program is a clear example of how IMF policies can worsen economic conditions instead of improving them, at least based on the evidence of the last 20 months of the program.

Monetary Policies slowing down economic growth and killing jobs

One of the key IMF policies that they have imposed on Zambia – the claim that the Program is based on grown economic recovery plan is hollow and a mirage – is inflation targeting. And one of the measures is the squeezing of liquidity from the economy.The Bank of Zambia has increased the Statutory Reserve Ratio to 26.5% and mopped up almost all government funds from Commercial banks.This policy is aimed at controlling inflation and to stabilize the kwacha exchange rate by reducing the amount of money circulating in the economy.

This policy might control inflation in a formal economy, but in Zambia, where over 90% of businesses and households operate informally, and where access to credit is already limited, squeezing liquidity can have devastating consequences for households and businesses, like they are currently doing now. The failure of this policy was indirectly confirmed by Bank of Zambia Governor Denny Kalyalya during the launch of the Bank’s Strategic Plan 2024-27.

“We will undertake, for this purpose, a household and business survey to better assess the impact of monetary policy on the economy for more informed policy decision making. So, we will be doing all these surveys to really get a sense of what is going on. And that will give us pointers as to what we need to adjust. When money is under the pillow, it doesn’t come back into the banking system and monetary policy has no effect on that. This informal sector that we have. So, this is what we want to address,” he said.
The tight liquidity environment is restricting businesses’ ability to expand and grow. With reduced liquidity, businesses struggle to access the capital needed to operate and expand, leading to stagnation and closures, ultimately exacerbating unemployment and poverty. And this negative impact of the IMF policies has been empirically proven by the Stanbic monthly Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) survey, which has shown poor performance of the Private Sector through the reduction in output.Business activity has been falling in most months throughout 2023, and has continued to do so in the first quarter of 2024 with PMI readings all below the 50.0.0 threshhold, ranging from 47.3 to 48.8. This serious reduction in production.

” The private sector health in Zambia declined. Business conditions continued to see a deterioration as a result of reduction in money supply and the depreciation of the kwacha, which have negatively impacted demand. Money shortages crippled new orders and forced cutbacks in output, employment and purchasing activity.” The Head of Sales at Stanbic Bank, Musenge Komeki said
Another detrimental IMF policy in Zambia is the accelerated removal of subsidies on essential commodities such as energy and agriculture. While subsidy removal is often advocated as a means to reduce government expenditure and promote efficiency, in Zambia’s case, it has resulted in a significant increase in the cost of living and doing business. The cost of living in particular has risen sharply, making it increasingly difficult for ordinary Zambians to make ends meet.
The removal of energy subsidies, for example,translates to higher prices for basic necessities, squeezing household budgets and dampening consumer spending. Increased fuel costs have raised transportation expenses, impacting the entire supply chain.This, in turn, discourages investment and slows economic growth – the very outcome the IMF seeks to prevent.

The IMF and World Bank Subsidy hypocrisy

While the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank have often pushed developing countries like Zambia to reduce or eliminate subsidies, many Western countries, including the US, EU, and UK, do provide subsidies to various sectors.

Critics also argue that all Western countries provided all sorts of subsidies when they were at the same level of development that Zambia is at the moment. It is subsidies that facilitated their industries to flourish and facilitate development. And to support their arguments, they point to the empirical evidence of Western countries’ current subsidies to the agriculture, energy, industry sectors while the insist Zambian government should remove subsidies completely.

In the Agriculture sector, the US Department of Agriculture provides subsidies to farmers through programs like the Farm Bill, which includes crop insurance, price supports, and direct payments. The EU, on the other hand has the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) which provides significant subsidies to European farmers, accounting for around 40% of the EU’s budget, while the UK’s Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board provides funding for farmers and the agricultural industry.

When one looks at the energy sector, Western countries do provide immense subsidies.
The US provides tax credits and grants for renewable energy production, such as wind and solar power while the EU has set a target of at least 32% of its energy coming from renewable sources by 2030, and provides funding for renewable energy projects and the UK offers subsidies for offshore wind farms and other renewable energy projects.

As far as industry is concerned, the US provides subsidies for various industries, such as: the Defense Production Act, which provides funding for the production of defense-related materials.The USA also have the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Loan Program, which provides loans for the development of fuel-efficient vehicles. The EU, on the other hand, provides funding for research and development through programs like Horizon Europe. The UK offers funding for various industries, such as aerospace, automotive, and life sciences, through organizations like the Aerospace Technology Institute and the Automotive Council.

What is the Way forward for the IMF Program

It is generally agreed that the IMF is highly effective during a financial crisis like Zambia has been in.The Institution has built its global reputation of providing sound policy advice and technical assistance thus helping member countries to overcome financial crises, but it has failed to meet its goals of fostering higher, more resilient, and more inclusive growth and promoting jobs.This is because of its one size fits all approach to turning around around economies.

The writer does not deny that the Zambian economy needed reforms after ten years of gross mismanagement by the previous administration, which he openly criticised and was banished for. There is, therefore,certainly merit in some of the IMF reforms. Zambia’s excessive debt levels were unsustainable, and needed to be fixed. The unchecked government spending also resulted in unsustainable government deficits which exacerbated inflation, required attention.

The IMF’s program, therefore, has been a necessary evil, meant to create a more stable macro economic foundation for long-term growth, but it is the approach, the rate and scale at which the reforms are being conducted that has created the problems. The sages have always adviced against extremism and recommended moderation.

And some of the measures that they are implementing are purely from text books, and transplanted from advanced economies. There are totally inapparopriate for our economy and therefore ineffective, and producing opposite results.

The key to solving Zambia’s economic problem lies in the Bretton Woods Institution – IMF and World Bank – acknowledging the unique challenges of Zambia’s economy and recognizing local experts who understand it better.There is a need for a more nuanced approach to designing solutions for Zambia,which combines common sense fiscal consolidation, while at the same time targeting the elephant in the Zambia’s economic room, which the IMF and World Bank experts have not yet identified. Zambian thinkers know what it is.

There is a need for the IMF and World Bank to cast their consultative net wider than to restrict themselves with the traditional formal stakeholders who they consult routinely, in their bi- annual review of the ECF program, the recent being last month in April,2024. Local independent and credible economic and political analysts /commentators are totally ignored in these consultations.

CONCLUSION

While the IMF’s intentions may be noble, its policies in Zambia in the short term since 2022,have had a detrimental impact on ordinary Zambians and businesses. And when one looks at the current metrics of the Zambian economy, since the IMF Programme was implemented, it seems some of the tools they insisted on government and Bank of Zambia to use, are not entirely effective, and are not achieving the desired outcomes and therefore, need revisiting. This is common sense.

Inflation is going up, interest rates are going up, kwacha is continuously depreciating, private sector activity is going down, cost of doing business is going up, economic growth is sluggish and low, and unemployment is going up. There is nobody who can buy the story of long term stability, as it has never happened in the past with same policies.

It is essential for the IMF to reconsider its approach and work more closely with the Zambian authorities to revisit, recalibrate strategies and policies that promote sustainable and inclusive economic growth by taking into account the practical variables that drive favourable outcomes in the Zambian economic ecosystem. Preconceived and predetermined prescriptions from Washington, ought to be consigned to the dustin, in place of practical realities.

There is need to find a balance between austerity measures and measures that facilitate growth of Micro and Small enterprises(MSEs), who are the source of economic growth and jobs. The long ignored local experts and thinkers ought to be engaged now, given that most of the IMF Program is not on the right trajectory, and is slowly losing credibility with Zambians, and bringing the nightmarish and horror memories of the late 1980s, 90s and an early 2000s of the Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAP).

The New Dawn Government should not make the same mistake that their precedessors made of ignoring Patriotic Zambian experts, who are outside the government bureaucracy in the Private sector, and who know how economic activities can be accelerated, and how jobs are created, and understand the economy from the practical perspective.

Zambia needs to immeditely craft real home grown initiatives. While the IMF program can continue,albeit in a moderated fashion, it should be complemented by real home grown solutions, which are not interfered with in order to mitigate the current political risk. The two – IMF program and Practical independent home grown initiatives and solutions – are not mutually exclusive.

Zambia has an economic monkey on its back. And unless it is identified and removed or substantially disabled, we can forget about development. All successful developed countries, including the Asian Tigers, ensured that the economic monkey was dealt with. Otherwise, all these IMF reforms will amount to  nothing,if it is not addreassed. I can provide empirical evidence to prove this assertion, if challenged.

The writer is a Chartered Accountant, Author and Economic commentator.He is the Founder of a research based virtual Knowledge and Strategy firm, Prosper Knowledge Solutions Limited. Contact : [email protected]

30 COMMENTS

  1. :While the IMF’s intentions may be noble” Dont even fool yourself. IMF intentions are to serve the North! Showme one country in the global south that has been saved by IMF

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  2. I don’t agree Mr Chalwe. 1st. we had a clean slate after the HIPC of 2091 and then the PF lunatics went of borrowing and stealing sptee. Is it IMF which put us on that destructive path? 2nd. When UPND took over it immediately gave additional tax holidays to the mines. Have you quantified how much gap in forex supply these tax holidays created.The kwacha keeps depreciating despite hiking the monetary policy rate simply because there is not enough forex to go round. 3rd. We are import economy exemplified by shopriite and PnP in the numerous shopping malls.Which zambian own shares in these chain stores. All profits are expatriates to South Africa. Even simple bricks & pavers are being made by turks. Do you think those turks keep the profits in Zambia? This is s babazonke country

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  3. Mswebantu bakwa Lesa, IMF, World Bank are DEMONIC entities created by greedy evil west nations to keep developing nations tied to debts & your leader loves to be praised by them. Why can’t we work with China?

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    • China is in Zambia and Africa for business not for charity or donations. Get this into your head. There are no free things in this world including loans from China. We will have to pay all our loans otherwise they will grab parts of the country one way or the other. They have already done so in Sri Lanka

  4. Show the world where the Eurobond we got as a nation went.
    Show the world where 189 US dollars meant for the road Ndola-Mufulira went.
    Do not shout at others when the skeleton is in your closet.
    Who failed the Mines in Zambia?

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  5. This disastrous for Zambia’s economy. We have been working with IMF for decades but the economy keeps worsening. Many Asian countries, good example China , did it without help from IMF or world bank. What’s the problem with all resources we have? Sometimes I wonder what our universities teach us sure.

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  6. Gullible praise singers Lumbani Madoda were celebrating when we told them that IMF is a predatory money lender…..just look at Argentina….Ghana….Greece…..Lebanon ….Kenya and the list goes on and on…..We give away our minerals for pennies to the West and exchange they give us Kaloba

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  7. HH in opposition said he will develop Zambia with our own natural resources….he told Costa Mwansa that he has better solutions than dealing with IMF. …..but it turns out he was just bluffing…..and what happened to Investrust Bank…fake Arabic Mining investors….Exporting and importing Electricity at the same time…..Exporting and importing Maize at the same time

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  8. This is becoming boring. No point saying we told you so. Now we need to investigate those doing deals with the likes of IMF and co. Investigate the kickbacks received for selling our country to the lowest bidder.

  9. Typical of many Africans blaming others.
    The IMF has not worsened Unemployment, Cost of Living and Cost of doing Business in Zambia.
    Answer this question: why do many African countries have to engage with the world bank and IMF?
    Answer: In the case of Zambia, it is because of reckless burrowing by the last government and the money being used corruptly. So you now have financial problems.
    In life if you have personal financial problems, you go to a local bank. If the bank decides to bail you out, don’t they set terms? The same for countries.
    You Zambians were irresponsible and profligate and now don’t want to face the consequences.
    Stop blaming others. Blame Lungu and his mob.

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    • Mr Mwansa Snr.The measures you have denounced above,painful as they are ,are ultimately meant to correct the structural deficiencies and mis-alighnments in the economy. Currently the zambian economy is a consumptive rather than a productive economy.For such a small economy, we import more than we produce ourselves, from second-hand goods to oil products.Government measures are to redirect the little resources they gather toward productive sectors like SME,agro-industries and labor skills
      To compare Western subsidies to Zambian subsidies is a misnomer. Those are already highly industrialized economies and use subsidies for different reasons than for the requirement to pay debt

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    • @Foreigner, @MuZambian
      You both make valid points. I have also attempted to highlight the issue with copper production, a primary source of government revenue, which has either decreased or at best remained stagnant compared to 1964 when the population was only 3 million. Yet, governments are ushered in that go on a borrowing spree without regard for the sector that should generate the funds to repay these debts. It seems Zambians are adept at finding shortcuts, with blaming being one of them.

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  10. Musokotwane …..Musokotwane ….Musokotwana…….Where are you taking us???? Ala mwe bantu twalafwa!!!!

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  11. Zambia`s Minning Industry growth since 1964
    Country Copper Output (1964) Copper Output (2024)
    Zambia High Moderate
    Congo (DRC) Moderate High
    Chile High High
    Peru Moderate High
    In 1964, population was 3million, hence people were rich. In 2024, 20mil people BUT minning industry has decreased, so do you expect country to be rich? Even DRC overtook Zambia in 2015, instead of producing you WANT to eat.

  12. Countries with only five hours of sunshine are excelling in solar energy utilization. Despite having sunshine for the majority of the day, Zambia has not capitalized on solar energy. This raises questions about the underlying factors at play. However, it is unproductive to simply complain and blame others for one’s circumstances. The responsibility lies with the Zambians; a change in mentality is necessary. Success does not come easily; it requires hard work. It is unrealistic to expect years of damage to be repaired in just two years. Criticizing the government for extending debt payments, considering the circumstances, is questionable. Hence I dont trust the UKAs, NEDs, PF.NDC. etc…they have no solutions.

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  13. SOME BLAME IMF
    BUT THE KNOWLEDGABLE AND LITERATE BLAME OUR FELLOW ZAMBIANS FOR ALWAYS PASSING ON THE BLAME
    IT’S NEVER US ???

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  14. I beg to differ because of the following: 1. We where assisted by IMF and World Bank to start on clean slate after 2021 HIPC. Kudos to the Jubilee 2000 movement and the like of Father Peter Henriot. The came the murderous thieving lunatics called PF with the reckless borrowing. Is is the IMF & WB which sent us on this path? NO 2. When UPND took over the gave additional tax holidays to stimulate investment in the mines. That created a gap in forex inflows. Bear in mind that copper production has dropped. Please quantify the gaps created in forex inflows. It will answer your query on why the exchange rate keep climbing despite numerous monetary policy rate hikes. There is NOT enough forex to go around.

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  15. CONTINUED:3.We are an import economy exemplified by Shoprite and PnP, second hand cars, salaula etc. How many Zambian businesses own preferential shares (receive dividends) from these chain stores, japanese 2nd hand car dealers etc. Even simple bricks and pavers are being made by Turks. I bet all profits are expatriated. Let us take responsibility for our OWN SELF INFLICTED WOES

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  16. People who use their energy and thinking capacity on blaming outsiders for the problems facing Zambia are indeed a let down. What solutions do these people have to deal with the debt which was not used properly?? It is so disgusting to continue singing a song about how IMF has worsened unemployment and cost of living without any tangible focus on finding meaningful solutions!! So sad!!

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  17. When Ouch observe that even bricks and pavers are made by Turks, the underlying problem is that Zambian companies that engage in bricks and pavers use short-cut methods for producing bricks and pavers. When building flats I wanted to buy bricks and pavers from Zambian producers, but I was disappointed with the poor quality of bricks and pavers they sold me… Self inflicted wounds indeed.. no repeat business when the quality is poor!!

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  18. Maybe stop living beyond your means and borrowing yourselves out of existence. The chickens have come home to roost.

  19. Only a fool who doesnt take into account value for money can be buying poor quality bricks and pavers from a Zambian company that produces poor quality bricks and pavers. The point is that we should push our Zambian companies towards producing quality products and services in order to be more competitive in this world.

  20. Talking of bricks last month I saw stack of nice pan bricks at chisamba turn off road block. Would nor be surprised if those bricks are imported from SA. We have cleaning companies, security guards firms, money lenders, siphoning our forex. Only a foolish nation would allow for such in the midst of forex scarcity.

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    • Yes I can tell you those bricks are from South Africa. But why? When Zambia has such a lot of experience in brickmaking and different types of soil that one can be creative with? I only see red bricks and cement bricks in Zambia.

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