By Henry Kyambalesa
Thus far, I have shared some of my most provocative views and opinions with my fellow Zambians concerning our beloved country’s development-related problems and prospects in several articles. This article is most probably going to be the last one before the general elections scheduled for August 12, 2021.
In the article, I hope I will succeed in provoking a protracted and constructive debate concerning the potential for the United Party for National Development (UPND) Alliance to assemble a more representative government than the Patriotic Front (PF).
However, I will be amiss not to briefly discuss the problem of inadequate financial resources which some our former Republican presidents have cited as having been a contributing factor to their failure to provide adequately for services and facilities, among a host of other things, to meet the needs and expectations of the people.
We Need An Inclusive Government
The list of at least 30 Permanent Secretaries and the 30 or so government ministers in the PF Cabinet that was dissolved on May 12, 2021 to pave the way for the forthcoming general elections shows that the positions were, by and large, held by citizens from provinces in the north-eastern part of the country.
One would have expected the Republican President, Dr. Edgar C. Lungu, to ensure that his administration was as ethnically inclusive as possible, at least with respect to the position of Permanent Secretary. At the Ministerial level, the President could have nominated 8 deserving citizens from the other provinces to join the National Assembly, as provided for in the Republican constitution, and add them to his Cabinet.
Zambia belongs to all the citizens who constitute the 73 tribes, and who hail from its 10 provinces. There is, therefore, a need for a new team of political players that, by design, will at least be composed of UPND Alliance Partners at the highest level of government.
The UPND Alliance Partners include the following eminent citizens: (a) Mr. Hakainde Hichilema of the UPND; (b) Ms. Mutale Nalumango, UPND Alliance Vice Presidential Candidate; (c) Mr. Charles Milupi of the Alliance for Democracy and Development (ADD); (d) Mr. Felix Mutati of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC); (e) Mr. Kelvin B. Fube of the Zambia Shall Prosper Movement (ZSPM); (f) Mr. Ernest Mwansa of the Zambians for Empowerment and Development (ZED); (g) Mr. Kaluba Simuyemba of the Movement for Change and Equality (MCE); and (h) Mr. Joseph Akafumba of the National Democratic Congress (NDC).
Besides, and as I have maintained in some of my previous articles, the UPND Alliance is much more likely to reverse the current socioeconomic decay and backwardness and improve the socioeconomic vistas of ordinary citizens over the next 5 years. I sincerely and profoundly believe so mainly because its administration will draw from the knowledge, expertise and experience of prominent leaders and other citizens from Alliance partners who, by and large, hail from the country’s 10 provinces.
In February 2020, my traditional cousin and Vice President Inonge Wina was quoted in a news story entitled “Opposition Has Not Done Much to Ensure that Kaande Ward in Mongu District Is Developed – Wina” as having said the following:
“[Over] … the years, the people of Kaande [Ward] have voted for candidates from the opposition who have not done much to ensure that the area is developed.”
The idea in this regard is to dupe some of our gullible fellow citizens that opposition political parties should compete with the government by using their private resources in the pursuit of economic development, in providing assistance to chieftains, in responding to disasters, in disbursing social cash transfer funds financed by Western development partners, and so forth.
One would, of course, expect all Zambians to know that only the political party that is given the mandate to form government has both the authority and the responsibility to use public resources to pursue development projects and programmes and to provide for essential public services and facilities nationwide.
So, they have clearly and effectively perfected the art of using development, assistance to chieftains, the disbursement of social cash transfer funds, and the provision of public services and facilities as political weapons.
We need a government that will, for example, pursue development projects and programmes in all communities, districts and provinces irrespective of the political parties and/or candidates the citizens in such communities, districts or provinces vote for.
Inadequate Financial Resources
Since our beloved country’s political independence in October 1964, we have miserably and lamentably failed to use our national resources wisely in our quest to attain meaningful socioeconomic development and improve the livelihoods of the majority of our people. Besides, we have continued to mortgage our country by borrowing heavily from both local and external sources of funds in order to sustain government operations.
The UNIP Era:
During the UNIP era, for example, rampant economic and public-sector mismanagement resulted in the diversion of human, financial, and other national resources to unproductive projects and programmes.
For instance, the creation of the Central Committee (a somewhat parallel structure to the National Assembly) and the position of Prime Minister that followed the introduction of a one-party State in 1972 contributed greatly to the misappropriation of public resources, and also escalated the cost of performing government functions.
During the same era, implementation of socialist policies increased our country’s public-sector borrowing and government spending to finance the operations of state companies, and the operations of their subsidiaries, especially in times when they were not able to generate profits.
Alan Whitworth has summed up the financial situation which our beloved country faced between the late 1960s and 1991 in the following words: “[Virtually] … all resources were devoted to wages, debt service, subsidies … and bailing out parastatals.”
Besides, the compulsory recruitment of Grade 12 students to undergo military training and engage in agricultural production activities between 1975 and 1980 at Zambia National Service (ZNS) camps (as mandated by ZNS Act No. 121 of 1972) contributed to the draining of public coffers.
A lot of money was wasted on ZNS personnel, the construction of facilities to accommodate Grade 12 graduates, payments of stipends to the graduates, and on procurements of food, uniforms, semi-automatic rifles (SARs), and live ammunition and blanks for training purposes.
The MMD Era:
In March 2007, the former and late President Levy Mwanawasa, during his official visit to Namibia, revealed that 65% of the national budget was devoted to the sustenance of a bloated state apparatus, and that only a paltry 35% was left for education, agriculture, healthcare, roads and bridges, and so forth.
In June 2009, former President Rupiah Banda decried the fact 50% of the government’s domestic revenues were spent on 1% of the population, including government ministers, and wondered how provision for roads, hospitals, schools, energy, and defence and security could be met.
The PF Era:
In October 2012, an article by Kabanda Chulu, which appeared in the now-defunct The Post Newspaper, revealed that 50% of the 2013 national budget would be spent on the wages, salaries, allowances, and fringe benefits of civil servants and government officials.
And in October 2014, Mr. Alexander Chikwanda was quoted by Zambia Weekly as having revealed that 75% of Zambia’s domestic revenue in 2015 (amounting to K35 billion) would be consumed by wages, including those of Zambia’s 200,000 civil servants (K15 billion) and other salaries supported by government, leaving only 25% to cater for all other government operations designed to facilitate socioeconomic development in the country.
So, there is a need to ask all political leaders and their parties contesting the forthcoming presidential election to explain where they will find the funds to employ in implementing their grandiose projects and programmes.
In the ensuing sections, I have outlined viable ways and means by which the government can administer the process of saving our beloved country’s resources for application in meeting some of the needs and expectations of the people. The viable ways and means I have pinpointed can only be implemented by a new government; they cannot be implemented by an existing government like the PF administration, which has maintained a massive structure of government and a huge number of sinecures.
Sources of Government Revenue
Traditional Sources of Revenue:
There is a need to improve the collection of revenues from traditional sources, and to ensure that the revenues collected are prudently used in the dispensation of public services, construction of modern public facilities, and maintenance of public facilities.
These sources include the following: (a) personal and business income taxes; (b) sales tax; (c) postal revenues; (d) national lottery; (e) commercial undertakings; (f) customs duties; (g) passport fees; (h) fire-arm registration fees; (i) excise taxes; (j) hunting licence fees; (k) work permit fees; (l) citizenship and naturalization fees; and (m) NRC replacement fees.
The selling and/or buying of government bonds (by the Bank of Zambia) through the Lusaka Stock Exchange and regional stock markets on behalf of the government (by means of “open market operations”) should also provide additional revenues for the central government.
Besides, there is a need to bolster economic growth and job creation through lower sales tax and lower income taxes in order to make it possible for individuals and business entities to keep more of their hard-earned incomes for investment, savings and consumption and consequently broaden the tax base by getting more citizens to work and who will pay taxes, as well as incentivising existing and new business entities that will bolster the country’s tax revenues.
And effort in this regard will need to be made to lavishly incentivise both local and foreign investors in order to bolster the supply and variety of goods and services, as well as expect them to make a contribution to the stock of jobs and absolve large numbers of the unemployed.
Consolidation of Public Services:
There will be a need to consolidate some government services that will be expected to result in cost savings. For example, there will be a need to create an autonomous Bureau of Statistics and Archives to replace the Central Statistics Office (CSO) and the National Archives of Zambia (NAZ) so that the new entity will freely and independently collect, process, maintain, publish, and archive essential data and information about our beloved country;
Realignment of Foreign Missions:
Zambia will need to reduce the number of its embassies and consulates in order to save some money for allocation to poverty reduction and other social needs. In this regard, most of our country’s smaller number of foreign missions will need to serve groups or clusters of countries through extra-accreditation rather than serve single countries.
This, of course, is not to slight the role the ministry responsible for foreign affairs plays in our quest to work hand in hand with other peace-loving nations worldwide in creating a more democratic, more peaceful, more affluent, and more egalitarian global community.
A Smaller National Government:
There is a need to create a smaller national government by streamlining the government structure, and by creating ministries that do not have overlapping functions. The national government should, in this regard, have fewer government ministries than we have under the PF government.
To paraphrase Mr. William J. Clinton, a former U.S. president, we need to create a government that is smaller, a government that lives within its means, and a government that does more with less.
The creation of a “smaller” national government can be accomplished by getting rid of sinecures—that is, positions that inflate the cost of running government but which contribute little or nothing to the overall output of government services.
Civil servants who would be affected by the streamlining exercise should be encouraged to seek early retirement with full benefits. Professional and skilled civil servants should be re-deployed in the handful of new government ministries, while others could be re-deployed in executive agencies.
Huge savings in the form of salaries, special allowances, and utility allowances could be made through the streamlining of the national government.
Other savings would be in the form of the various kinds of payments currently being made by the government on behalf of government officials who would be retired with full retirement benefits, including payments for housing, phones, buildings, office supplies, automobiles, gasoline, water, and electricity.
The creation of a government with a smaller number of Cabinet-level portfolios should be complemented by the following measures designed to capture additional cost savings:
(a) Removal of unnecessary and cumbersome bureaucratic procedures and excessive paperwork that prevent civil servants from competently performing their work;
(b) Waging a vicious war against corruption and, thereby, reduce the current haemorrhage of public resources through the scourge;
(c) Ensuring that tenders to perform sub-contracted work and/or supply materials to the government are awarded to companies with traceable relevant experience but whose bids are the lowest;
(d) Scaling down on government involvement in the operations of state-owned companies in order to ease the financial burden of such companies on the public treasury;
(e) Management of complementary or executive government agencies by a small ensemble of technocrats to save both financial and material resources for application in meeting some of the basic needs and expectations of ordinary citizens; and
(g) Going through public expenditures line by line, programme by programme, agency by agency, department by department, and ministry by ministry in order to eliminate unnecessary application of public funds.
An Efficient National Government:
Our country needs a national government that is not only “smaller,” but one that is “efficient” as well. This can be accomplished by means of such measures as the following: (a) by enacting pieces of legislation designed to reduce the incidence of by-elections, which have been costly to the nation; and (b) by devising and implementing strategies designed to create a work environment that will be conducive to the nurturing and tapping of new ideas and innovations from civil servants—ideas and innovations which will be used to improve the dispensation of public services.
Aid from Development Partners:
There will be a need for wise utilisation of financial and material resources provided by our country’s development partners, and to periodically thank them for their development-related assistance. Currently, our country’s multilateral and bilateral cooperating partners include the African Development Bank, Canada, China, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, the IMF, Ireland, Japan, The Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, the United Kingdom, the United States, and The World Bank.
These countries support our development efforts in different fields and sectors, including agriculture, decentralization, education, energy, gender, governance, health, housing, HIV/AIDS, macroeconomics, private sector development, social protection, science and technology, tourism, water, transportation infrastructure, and the environment.
There is no doubt that their support has continued to bolster our country’s efforts to address some of the problems facing the country and its people, including poverty, hunger, ignorance, illiteracy, disease, widespread unemployment, disadvantaged children, dilapidated infrastructure, crime, corruption, and moral decay.