Saturday, 8 December 2012

President Sata’s Development Priorities Are Warped



Sadly, the creation of these areas into

district centres is coming as a business-as-usual approach,

underpinned by government processes that are intangible to the economy.


 By Nyalubinge Ngwende 
Michael Sata’s approach to development is not only a source of concern. It also exposes his lack of fiscal discipline. This can be explained by the recent creation of six districts—Manyinga in North Western province, and Sikongo, Nalolo, Sioma, Mitete and Lwampa in Western province. He also issued instructions for immediate construction of a stadium and university in Mongu.
Such pronouncements that have followed the creation of districts, without showing the economic rationale comes for the umpteenth time since President Sata ascended to office, with completely disregard of the country’s budgetary capacity.
And the pronouncements deserve no cheering. They must make one to stop and ask pertinent questions as to whether the President is keeping track of the castles that he has so far built in the air since taking office in September, 2011 or not.
This is because if one is to take stock of the number of districts, universities and stadia that he wants constructed, the funds required to meet the demands for these projects cannot be raised in his full tenure and that of another PF President. In simple terms, the President is not being SMART with his declarations when it comes to infrastructure.
May be he lives in Utopia, because it is really hard to know whether the President takes time to look at the fundamental question of economics—the scarce resources and priorities. He is acting like a person running a country without a budget and with limitless resources.
While a leader must be empathetic and sympathetic to the problems of the people in view of development choices that he or she makes, this can hardly be seen in President Sata’s choice of constructing a stadium in Mongu, ignoring a myriad of poverty related problems besetting the area.
That increases the public worries over whether the President is really in control of his ideas over what the country really needs.
Infrastructure development must have immediate and tangible impact on the social, economic needs of the people. It must link to an area’s productive areas and their future aspirations.
It may be difficult to argue the necessity of a King Lewanika University in Mongu, but it would be easy for people of Mongu to prove President Sata wrong that a football stadium is not their development priority.
Western province has a lot of developmental needs. The province is the least developed province in Zambia, with poverty levels standing at 80 percent.
Close to the September elections, the people of Mongu resorted to violent demonstrations. Experts fingered the high poverty levels as the undercurrent to those protests. Some people even believe that the neglect of the province could be agitating the secessionists within the BRE (Barotse Royal Establishment).
It has schools that are grappling with the capacity to teach for students to succeed in academics, work and life. Teachers lack support and resources that are supposed to motivate their work.
On the agro-economic front, Mongu has a huge potential for rice. It is also home to the country’s internationally recognised traditional festival, the Kuomboka.
How much the rice production has been supported in terms of research to improve the variety, equipment for production, harvesting and later on packaging completely misses in the story of government agriculture investment in Mongu and Western Province as a whole.
If government has got any money that is ready for developmental projects in Mongu, investing in projects that are linked to Kuomboka and wildlife tourism could be among the priority choices other than a sports stadium, which will be a white elephant.
When creating the six new districts, President Sata said:

“I am aligning the districts in order to simplify government processes.”

The blame for fragmenting our districts does not squarely on the President. Members of parliament, chiefs and their subjects have been pressuring government to have their villages upgraded into districts.
But the President takes the share of the blame in that he simply lacks simple procedure of getting to the people and taking an in-depth inquiry about intricacies of their immediate needs.  
The reasons of creating districts has not been well educated both socially and economically, but given impetus by narrow populist interests; it is purely politics seeking to satisfy the pursuits of small tribal groups to create their own estates.
Looking around the world, there is no country that has created more districts like Zambia in a space of one year as though that is when the country is being founded. This simply shows that there is no link between many districts and development.
The art on a China vase only looks good and completes the picture when it is not broken. When it is, the art is spoiled and the vase cannot hold its content together. Its value is useless.
This above can be an analogy used to understand the unfathomed realignment of districts that looks at only simplifying government processes, whatever that is intended to means, as a reason.
Looked from a critical perspective, creation of districts is weakening the resource capacity for our districts to develop. The cost of providing public services to these new districts may exceed both the central government and individual local government revenue capacity. This in the end may lead to reduced service delivery or a push to raise taxes to meet the service demand.
Some of the areas that are cut-off served as locations for economic activities such as agriculture and harvesting of natural resource products.
Existing councils’ revenues came from levying the transportation of these products into the central business district markets or outside the district to other markets.
Between a new council and the existing local ones, there will be one party that will lose revenue in the process, causing disintegrative effects, including job losses and failed service delivery.
New districts mean urbanising some of these areas. In the long run this could significantly take away farmland thereby reducing agriculture commodity production and sales, robbing the people their main economic mainstay. 
The argument is not to say that these rural areas will never develop into urban centres at any time. Driven by population growth and economic development, demand to reclaim land used for farm production in rural areas will always happen.
One thing that President Sata would have laboured to explain is how he would want these areas urbanised, in terms of becoming business centres.
Sadly, the creation of these areas into district centres is coming as a business-as-usual approach, underpinned by government processes that are intangible to the economy.
Instead of creating districts for simplifying government processes, the President would, for example, made Sioma in Western Province a centre for conservation and tourism. 
A district like Lunga, which was created much earlier, would have been a centre for fisheries and unique wildlife research and development.
A university in Luapula was going to be a centre for wildlife biology in Lunga, while commercial activities were to look at rice growing and packaging and water transport related innovations.
For an area to develop in an economic centre does not require a district status. The money that will be spent on district commissioners and other unproductive positions in the new districts would have been used to invest in projects that will awaken competitive advantage of these areas.