Monday, 20 May 2013

Only 20 months with Sata has already exhausted our patience

Sata has made not only bad, but very costly, mistakes that do not make any economic sense and to a greater extent are attacks on democracy.

By Nyalubinge Ngwende

Zambians are very patient people when it comes to giving space to their political leadership in government. They gave Kaunda and UNIP 27 years to annoy them to the limit while they allowed three presidents in 20 years under MMD to push their luck too far. But signs are that two decades will not happen to allow political mismanagement of the country by Sata and the Patriotic Front.

We have only been here for 20 months with Patriotic Front and Sata, and he is already exhausting our patience as a people for his government to continue discharging the affairs of the country.

Students at the major state universities, UNZA, Copperbelt and Mulungushi, last week had lessons disrupted in demonstration of the recent decision by Sata’s regime to remove subsidies on fuel and maize grain. 
 The removal of subsidies have sent costs of transport and the staple maize meal skyrocketing. It is now costing K250, half the salary of a shopkeeper to travel from Zambezi in the North Western province to the capital Lusaka. Mealie meal that was only costing between K45 and K50 twenty months ago is now costing between K70 and K80.

According to Sata and one of his deputy ministers Nickson Chilangwa, the removal of subsidies is well intended, with government expected to save K1.1 trillion annually which it intends to push into infrastructure construction.

UNZA students protesting over removal of subsidies
Other things being equal, removing subsidies would sound like good economic sense especially that the money will be taken from those who burn the subsidised gas for luxury to government providing social service infrastructure to the rural ilk.

But that is not the case. Sata has made not only bad, but very costly, mistakes that do not make any economic sense and to a greater extent are attacks on democracy.

Sata’s economics are so woven with lack of priorities—he is doing economics for politics and, sadly, doing so without any plan. And since ideas without a plan fail, it is hard to figure out which direction Sata is taking the country. It is for that that his undoing economics for politics has boomeranged.

When Levy Mwanawasa introduced reintroduced subsidies during MMD in 2003, which remained through to 2011 under Rupiah Banda regime, the intention was to stimulate productivity both in the agriculture sector and manufacturing industry. This was with the understanding that in the end these subsidies would benefit the poor Zambian by keeping the cost of living within manageable levels.  

Indeed, the intention of subsidies was bearing positive fruits, with small scale farmers managing farm inputs, leading to huge maize yields across the country.  

A huge supply of maize helped millers to keep the price of the staple maize meal within a national uniform price that was affordable and in turn public workers were making ends meet.

Other incentives on the financial market helped public workers like teachers to afford loans to build houses and enjoy the luxury of driving a car. They managed to build because fuel cost for producing and distributing cement, just as for other building materials, was affordable. The litre in the tank was also within reach in price for teachers to drive to distant schools.

There looked to be equilibrium between production and consumption in the economy.  Construction of public infrastructure was taking place within the country’s budget; a spurt in the industry had seen at least a hospital, a school and a road under construction in several places. There was true understanding of the wisdom that Rome was not built in a day. 

Moody’s and Fitch declared Zambia an emerging middle income country with a B+ rating, while the World Bank declared the country one of the global destinations for doing business.

Sata is undoing these economic gains for politics. Only twenty months after taking over government following the September 20, 2011 elections in which his party won by 41 percent defeating Banda of the MMD he has made his government to lose track of its own budget.

How has he done this and continued to do so?

In the first place it seems he did not know that he would need money to feed his appetite for creating many districts and appointing triple deputy ministers. 

Unhappily these non-essentials have become a huge cost to the nation because they were not even in included in the

Sata suffers lack of fiscal discipline
budget. If Sata had not chosen these non-essentials as his priorities, the subsidies were not going to be sacrificed. This is because the government was still going to have a 720 million euro bond in its coffers including a huge national reserve from which to draw money for infrastructure.

Altogether the country now has 88 deputy ministers as a result of appointments done to accommodate opposition MPs and has induced costly by-elections.  Close to 20 new districts that were not included in the yellow book for infrastructure and emoluments for unnecessary district commissioners have been created.

Little wonder why Sata has chosen not to give the citizens, through either a state of the nation address or press conference, an explanation as to how he is paying for all the deputy ministerial largess, by-elections and district nonsense. He may expose his lack of fiscal discipline to make sound economic choices, which is true meaning of bold decisions not the sophisms that Chilangwa parroting to hapless peasants.

Church pastors have tried to advise the President to exercise fiscal discipline by being moderate in his appetite of inducing by-elections and dividing tribes into districts, but Sata has arrogantly responded with disrespect, recently calling a UCZ clergyman as a fake pastor who did not understand the country’s constitution.

When tampering with democracy can hardly annoy a common man on the street more than political opponents, Sata’s warped economic choices are annoying everyone except the Patriotic Front stooges.

Now his bold decision to remove subsidies, which could have received a round of applause, has triggered a requiem among common people on the streets and students. Business people are also unsettled about the move.

Sata and his minions may think that the removal of subsidies will help the poor in the village. He may also think that rolling tarred roads in rural areas will help him woo the rural vote and do away with the urban electorates.

That is a mistake. However, what Sata and the Patriotic Front ministers do not know is that when the economy is affordable for the working people in Lusaka, it also enables these workers to provide support to their relatives in the villages. If the cost of living squeezes the working people, they find it difficult to save and also support relatives back in the villages. In turn those in Lusaka and other towns along the line of rail start agitating for change of government.

Zambians are regretting having voted for Sata, who the people on the streets are now referring to as a bad Step-father bwa bufi (who is liar).

The university protests and the dwindling popularity that are making people to call Sata bwa bufi, cannot be mistaken for anything, but that the twenty months of Sata and Patriotic Front have already exhausted the patience of many Zambians.

For this government must expect growing aggressive dissenting voices, including widespread demonstrations as people beyond the university sit-ins and peaceful demonstrations. More is coming to denounce the unpopular policies.

It is expected that for these differences of opinion citizens must risk nothing, they should neither lose their liberty to be free nor the right to remain students at various institutions of learning or workers in the civil service.

Democracy and the right to protest does not just belong to the Patriotic Front supporters, who can, without police permit, demonstrate or march to rally behind tyrannical politics masquerading as economics or constitution democracy.

If demonstrations are a means of freedom of expression that the Patriotic Front members are allowed to lawfully stage to support their leadership and they are not subjected to police tear gassing and Sata’s orders of arrest, then it cannot be just for students and others opposed to this government to be tear gassed and arrested at the orders of Sata.

We are saying this because we are aware that only the voices of those supporting the Patriotic Front, no matter how pathetic their reasoning is, are given more time and space in the national media today.

Therefore the broad street is our television, radio and the daily newspapers to express our exhausted patience about this disastrous regime.
NN