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Press briefing by NAREP President Elias Chipimo Jr-1st October 2012

Posted Oct 03, 2012

ASSESSING THE PF ADMINISTRATION’S FIRST YEAR IN OFFICE AND REFLECTING ON THE YEARS TO COME: A CASE OF “LET’S WAIT AND SEE”

Monday 1 October 2012
Good morning ladies and gentlemen. We meet today to present our assessment of the Patriotic Front administration’s first year in power and to address some concerning national matters that have long-term implications for our development agenda. We also meet at a time when we are witnessing the passing on of a generation of leaders and leading personalities that championed our march towards self-determination and independence. Last week, we laid to rest our beloved mama Betty Kaunda. Out of respect for her memory and the solemn nature of her retirement to her final resting place, we postponed our press conference to today. We wish former president Kaunda and his family all of God’s grace and peace as they adjust to life without mama Kaunda – one of our nation’s most humble and dignified women.
23 September 2012 marked the Patriotic Front’s first anniversary in power. As if on cue – and just in time – the new administration somehow managed do enough to distract the nation from a fairly lacklustre first year in power by successfully launching a US$750 million sovereign bond. The bond was oversubscribed to the tune of nearly US$12 billion (or a factor of 24 times). It is in fact the most successful sub-Saharan bond issue ever and says something about the resilience of long-term investor confidence not only in Zambia but in Africa as a whole. No doubt other successful bond issues for the continent will follow in the coming years.

But this is not the whole story and as with all successes, the foundation was laid many years ago. In fact, much of the difficult work was undertaken nearly 3 years before the PF came to power – when the MMD administration, having steered the country to “middle income status”, resolved to capitalise on this by securing a country investment rating from the two main global international rating agencies, Fitch and Standard and Poor’s. Without this rating, the bond issue would not have succeeded. It is therefore only fair to acknowledge the MMD’s role in getting Zambia ready for this bond issue. This should in no way take the shine off what is probably a defining development for the PF and no doubt one that they will bask in – like a well fed cat – for some time to come.

Now before we all get carried away with this (and we do need to ask the hard questions about what the whole exercise has cost the Zambian government and how the funds will be applied), let us remember where we have come from.
Michael Sata’s victory last year was a really a response to a deep sense of frustration with an administration that had lost the confidence of the people. While the MMD had performed admirably well in moving the nation through the early phase beyond the one party state, nearly 20 years later it had failed to ignite new passion amongst many of the voters, particularly the younger ones. Neglected for so long and with their ranks swelling rapidly each year, it was the voice of this largely unemployed and badly neglected demographic that ushered Mr. Sata into power. It is, indeed, the voice that could curtail the ambitions of his Party in 2016.

Nearly half of Zambia’s current population (over 7 million people) is below the age of 16 and with a new army of eligible voters due to be registered before the next election in 2016, the youth of the country will want leadership that can best connect with, understand and reflect their aspirations. To date, the PF has yet to present a convincing plan that will reduce the massive unemployment levels we are experiencing today. The task is not necessarily beyond them but it clearly ranks far too low on their current list of priorities. This need not continue to be the case and their next year in power must reflect renewed vigour to tackle unemployment.

NAREP stands ready to work with all stakeholders – including the PF administration – towards a plan for creating jobs for our youth. Our youth enterprise scheme which would create thousands of young entrepreneurs within months, is available and can easily be adopted. As a Party in Opposition, we have repeatedly pointed out that if we are to be true to our values, we cannot withhold ideas that can make a positive impact on our nation today simply because we are in Opposition. Our path towards the leadership of this nation will not be based on playing ‘politics as usual’ or fighting and insulting our way to the top; or indeed trying to mimic the style of the older politicians. Our role will remain that of a constructive stakeholder.

So now that the PF have been in power a year, how have they fared and what can we expect of them in the years ahead before the next election? Well, in spite of the wild promises linked to their very infectious “donchi kubeba” campaign, it really is too early to tell. In some measure it is possible to assert that they have stumbled their way through a turbulent period without any coherent plan as to exactly how they will govern beyond the broad statements in their Party manifesto.

There was the trilogy of early errors from the few public appearances by the republican president after his swearing in ceremony: first there was the nomination fiasco which resulted in more members than the constitution allows being proposed for nomination to parliament; this was followed by the appointment of the shortest commission of inquiry in Zambia’s history that was supposed to look into the sale of Finance Bank but ended up being abruptly cancelled and the institution being handed back to its previous owner before the ink on the appointment letters had run dry; and then there was the banning of all mineral exports until a new system was in place to ensure that the proceeds were being correctly accounted for. This last initiative may sound fine as a goal but there was never any ready plan to put a new system in place. Weeks later, the ban was lifted, having created near chaos in an already chaotic freight transportation system.

The start did not look at all promising. At one point, the possibility loomed of the new republican president taking the oath of office from appointees that had yet to be ratified by Parliament as stipulated in the constitution, prompting whispers of an early impeachment. After some considerable tongue-wagging, it soon became clear that the PF was simply going through an adjustment process – coming to terms with the fact that they were now the Party in power and no longer an agitation force leading the ranks of the Opposition.

There was the unusual alignment of ministries and departments with portfolios seeming to be moved around to suit the personality of the ministerial office holder. Critical governance structures were adjusted without any explanation and we are paying the price for this baffling sense of haste by the enormous cost to our treasury: all district commissioners appointed by the MMD administration were removed summarily and replaced without any assessment of the budget implications along with the wholesale recall of hundreds of experienced diplomats – an action which was not only costly but left few experienced hands in critical missions abroad. There has since been the constant shuffling of ministers, ministries and departments undermining the civil service and forcing it to behave more out of fear than conviction.

Through all this, the PF administration has demonstrated a capability to make tough decisions and while they have not all of them have been bad, many of the important ones have either been plain wrong or have lacked adequate consultation. The rate at which some of the decisions have been made might even suggest some sort of unwritten policy to make a major decision every single day, regardless of the consequences.

The PF must spend the next year in power not being less decisive but being more determined to make the right decisions in the right way, particularly in respect of the following actions:

getting the draft constitution right and not manipulating the process to suit executive interest. This will mean setting in place a clear roadmap that will ensure full and active participation by all Zambians. Recent assurances from the new Minister of Justice in this regard are welcome and we hope this rhetoric will be turned into resolute action

reversing the nationalisation of Zamtel and avoiding costly litigation and compensation. With the right approach, the government can negotiate better terms with the previous Libyan owners and safeguard jobs and resources while ensuring that the rights of the previous employees are fully protected

addressing the plight of workers at Zambia Railways and those impacted by the decision to nationalise this vital asset. Governments in Zambia have proved themselves incapable of profitably running major enterprises and a private-sector driven model must be considered to prevent obstructive government interference

condemning political violence and taking action against all forms of violence within its partisan ranks. It is troubling that there has been no official condemnation from the head of state of the violence that occurred at the gathering for the requiem mass for the late mama Betty Kaunda

setting in place and implementing a clear plan for employment and youth empowerment

reversing the developing trend of authoritarianism as has been recently witnessed with the clamping down of Opposition activities and the lack of condemnation and effective action against perpetrators of political violence

protecting the rights of women and young girls against gender-based violence, discrimination and abuse

In order to do this effectively, the PF administration must prioritise political stakeholder dialogue. We say this recognising that dialogue is not the responsibility of the PF alone and necessitates the active role of all partisan and non-partisan stakeholders. To do so, we must set some simple rules by which political actors ought to be judged. We can do this by asking the following questions:

have we been tolerant towards one another, our fellow politicians, our women and even our perceived enemies or have we instead taken to the airwaves to preach hatred, frustration and violence?

have we focussed our campaigns on issues or have we simply pandered to the old style politics of vilifying personalities?

have we inspired a new generation of future leaders – our youth – towards love and good deeds or have we abused their energies in order to advance narrow partisan interests?

These are the questions that all right thinking Zambians must begin to demand answers to from the politicians.

In order for the PF administration not to squander its next few years in power, it must understand the difference between speed and haste. What Zambia needs is more speed, less haste! Things must be done quickly but not without thought, necessary consultation and careful planning. Let us not be too hasty in spending the money we have raised under the sovereign bond issue. Let us be transparent with the terms upon which it was procured. Clear plans must be in place not only to address how the money will be utilised but also how it will be paid back. In the euphoria of the transaction, it is easy to forget that it is after all, a loan that will be due perhaps even after the PF is no longer in power. Their legacy must not be one that saddles the nation with debt beyond our means to pay. The bond issue has indeed been a great success and caps a mixed first year for the new Party in power but the PF will do well to remember the old adage: a fool and his money are soon parted.

In concluding our assessment of the PF’s first anniversary in power, we remind the nation that the PF’s victory at the polls came at the price of too many unrealistic promises. This teaches us a valuable lesson: a promise from a politician is not necessarily a real promise and if it sounds too good to be true – it probably is. This is not a failing that is unique to the PF. Politicians have always been known to stretch the facts and to over commit themselves. It seems to go with the territory. But this need not be the case. The key to avoiding false promises lies in promoting values in top leadership and throughout the rank and file of all partisan structures. NAREP believes the PF would have won the September 2011 elections even if they had not made any rash 90 day pledges simply because the extent of discontent with the MMD had reached levels that turned the election into a referendum on their continued stay in power. MMD could have dressed up every tree in every district with their Party regalia and they still would still have lost the popular vote. Let the PF reflect upon this as they celebrate their first year in power because unless they become more consultative, more tolerant of opposing views, more urgent in addressing the pressing national challenges, they too will find themselves as unpopular as the administration they replaced in 2011.

Elias C. Chipimo, Jr
President, NAREP