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Saturday, February 18, 2017
ZAMBIA: RE-BRANDING POVERTY
Barely a month after President Lungu swore in his new-look cabinet into office in September last year the country was hit sudden hike in field pump prices. A liter of petrol jumped up to K13.70 from K11.50 and diesel is now selling at K11.50 from K8.70 a liter. The rise in fuel prices has translated into the rise in other prices – especially mealie-meal which shot up from K75 per 25kg bag of breakfast to Kl10.
Subsidies on fuel were removed by the late President Sata way back in 2012 in order to disadvantage fuel vendors who were deemed the main beneficiaries. But the removal of subsidies on fuel in particular gave rise to unanticipated economic and social problems.
Indeed consumption subsidies by their nature only benefit the rich in society given the fact that the majority of Zambian workers and peasant farmers get a meagre income of K1200 (minimum wage).
The 'poor oriented' budget came in 2017 annual budget presented to parliament by the newly appointed Finance Minister Felix Mutati on 11 November in what was dubbed 'Zambia plus'. The 2017 Budget seems to be a plan to change Zambia stalled economy. The economic recovery programme sets out to restore economic stability and aims to scale up government social protection programmes so as to protect the most vulnerable in society from the negative impacts of macro-economic programmes. To quote from Felix Mutati's budgetary speech: 'The government aims to improve economic and fiscal governance by raising levels of accountability and transparency in the allocation and use of public money.'
The 2017 budges (K64 billion) is believed to be a self-grown budget mostly funded by internal borrowing. It holds a lot of promise to the workers earning K3000 and below who are exempted from paying PAYE.
The Finance Minister Felix Mutati is a veteran MMD president and was recently appointed by President Lungu to replace PF Finance Minister Alexander Chikwanda. The appointment of Mutati was foreshadowed by his support of the PF during the 11 August presidential election. More or less it is an infusion of new blood into the PF of whose original members have mostly resigned.
The fight against corruption
During the past years President Lungu has been blamed among other things for having been too silent on corruption. The President came out now into the open during the inauguration speech that he was going to stamp out corruption from the PF. The first victim of the fight against corruption was the former Minister of Broadcasting and Information, Mr. Chishimba Kambwili, who was recently dismissed on allegations of corruption.
Far back in 2012 the late President Michael Sata had cautioned the anti-corruption Commission against investigating and indicting serving cabinet ministers. It is alleged that Chishimba Kambwili, the most outspoken and versatile of politicians, has amassed large amounts of wealth. It has been revealed that Kambwili recently purchased a fleet of thirty articulated trucks worth billions of kwacha. It is also on record that he owns a construction company that has failed to complete the construction of clinics and schools despite having been paid in full by the government.
In Zambia must cabinet ministers and members of parliament own private enterprises that are awarded tenders to supply building materials, food to hospitals and uniforms for nurses and police offices etc. It is also on record that the government has been in most cases failing to pay private contractors in time – thus the failure to complete public projects. More or less the fight against corruption is in most cases a jaundiced political tactic as most ministers who have been indicted for corruption have not yet been imprisoned. People were not surprised when President Lungu recently announced that he was forgoing 50 percent of his salary to sacrifice for national development.
The fall of the Post newspaper
The sensational and notorious Post newspaper was finally liquidated and placed under receivership in October after having had filed to remit K80 billion owed to the Zambia Revenue Authority in taxes. It is also alleged that the Post had accumulated debts and outstanding salaries totalling some K228 billion. The paper was a thorn in the flesh of most politicians ever since it was founded in 1992.
The Post newspaper was part of the culture of political democracy, defined as the right to media freedom and political transparency. Though claiming for speaking on behalf of the silent majority and politically non-partisan, the newspaper took sides in Zambian domestic political. It was a tool of political propaganda.
It was owned by Mutembo Nchito and partners and it may not appear as a surprise to many people that its liquidation brought to the conclusion the embittered political career of Mutembo Nchito after he was fired as director of public prosecution on 10 August last year. This was after the tribunal appointed to investigate him had presented its recommendation to President Lungu.
The tribunal concluded that terms of reference number 2 – alleged grave misconduct or misbehaviour by the DPP – when on February 20, 2015, the DPP temporarily took over prosecution of a case before senior resident magistrate Jack Mwale. In the afore-mentioned case the DPP was the accused person and proceeded to enter a nolle prosequi in his own recognition, thereby defeating the ends of justice which has been proved against him.
During the past three years the Post was a mouthpiece of the UPND in terms of political propaganda (coverage). This was especially evident during the 11 August presidential political campaigns. The former Information Minister, Chishimba Kambwili, will be remembered for having threatened the Post with liquidation during the recent past year. The liquidation of the newspaper was precipitated by its employees who had sued the company for bankruptcy for non-payment of accumulated salaries.
Tribalism at the helm
During the presentation of his inauguration speech on 11 September President Lungu went on to assure the people of Zambia that he was going to appoint a Commission of Inquiry to find out the people behind an ethnic fracas that look place in Namwala when a mob of Tonga tribesmen descended upon some Bemba-speaking residents ransacked and evicted them from their homes. This was after it was announced that PF president Lungu had won the elections. It was an expression of political dissatisfaction and UPND leader Hichilema had disputed the election results. President Lungu had defeated Hichilema by a slim margin of 100,530 votes during an election that has left Zambia divided in terms of political and tribal loyalties (regional) tribalism in Zambia today is perceived to be a cultural traditional and political antagonism between those who voted for the PF and UPND respectively.
Ever since he succeeded the late Anderson Mazoka as president of the UPND in 2005 Hichilema has been championing tribalism by parading himself as a political spokesman of the Tonga tribe. The UPND leader is renown for promoting, organizing and inciting political hooliganism during election campaigns. It is Hichilema who has been spearheading the culture of political and ethnic antagonism (defined as tribalism) between Tonga, Lozi and Bemba tribe. The UPND alleges that the Tonga in particular has been politically marginalized ever since the dawn of political pluralism.
The veteran Zambian politician and member of the UPND Daniel Mukombwe even went to the extent of advocating the rotation of the presidency between Tonga, Lozi and Bemba tribe's every after four years. The reluctance of Hichilema to accept the results of the 11 August presidential election gave vent to heightened feelings of ethnic and political marginalization among UPND supporters throughout Zambia.
Because Zambia is dubbed a Christian nation, the extent to which Christianity is helping to restrain ethnic and tribal prejudice needs to be appreciated. The moral and ethnic value of Christianity blends well with the PF slogan of 'One Zambia One Nation' and is visible among the street vendors that congest along Chisokone Avenue in Kitwe town centre who seems little affected by the hike of fuel and mealie meal price.
The Labour movement in Zambia seems to be far removed from awakening class political struggle in that the trade unions play a minor role in the day-to-day social problems facing the working class. Because the social and economic problems Zambia is experiencing originate from capitalism, they cannot be resolved from within the social and economic programme implemented by government. Social poverty is here to stay.