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Year-end message for 2012 from National Restoration Party (NAREP)

Posted Apr 03, 2012

Year-end message from the National Restoration Party (NAREP)

Looking beyond 2011: What the PF administration can start to do in its next 90 days in office
Zambia faces many challenges ranging from poor healthcare, dilapidated and inadequate infrastructure, limited access to quality education and an economy that is still not meeting the development needs of the majority of the people in spite of its strong performance over the last few years. Tackling these problems will no doubt require long-term focus, energy and vision. There are, however, 3 pressing issues that require a clear, committed and immediate response: (1) unemployment; (2) corruption; and (3) excessive presidential and executive power. Although the fight against corruption has been boosted by the PF administration, there has been a lamentable failure to find a formula for addressing each of these issues in a sustainable manner. But let us first consider how the major event of the last year affected Zambia.

As far as globally defining moments go, the year 2011 belonged almost exclusively to the Arab Spring – that sense of democratic consciousness that seemed to emanate spontaneously from the streets of Tunis and spread like a virus through North Africa and the Middle East. Sub-Saharan Africa, and indeed Zambia, was not unaffected by these events. Remote though the idea may seem, the sentiments that prompted the democratic revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Libya were similar to those that resulted in the conclusive Patriotic Front (PF) victory on 23 September. Clearly, after 20 in power, something must went seriously wrong within the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) – the party that brought an end to UNIP’s 27 year rule.

It had always been assumed that no political party acting on its own could overturn the incumbency of the MMD. It was this thinking that brought together the two main opposition parties at the time (PF and the United Party for National Development – UPND) although they had almost nothing in common except their desire to rid the nation of an out-of-touch party. Statistics clearly indicated that a sizeable majority of voters wanted to see the back of MMD (after all, more than 60 per cent of the population had consistently voted for the opposition in the three elections that had taken place since 2001). Had UPND maintained its union with PF, therefore, the myth that only a unified opposition could unseat the MMD’s incumbency would have been perpetuated into future elections. As it turned out, however, the cracks in the PF/UPND pact that were there from the very beginning only grew bigger. As the drumbeat of elections drew nearer, it became clear to everyone that it was so over between the two. The final collapse came with a type of bitterness and acrimony between the partners that may take years to overcome.

The PF went on to record a famous victory at the polls – and the rest, as they say, is history….or is it? What seems clear from the last election is that it was less of an election and more of a referendum on the previous 3 years of the MMD. It was also clear that the main beneficiary of the ill-fated PF/UPND Pact was the PF. In securing its victory, however, the PF set out a series of unrealistic promises. While these promises served to capture the expectations of the masses of unemployed and disillusioned youth primarily in urban areas they also ended up creating an expectation that even a well resourced government would have found nearly impossible to fulfil. If recent history has shown us anything, it has to be that politicians would do well to tread cautiously when tempted to make rash campaign promises that set unrealistic deadlines for their fulfilment. Campaign promises are, however, an unavoidable part of modern politics and to the extent that they have to be made, they should be focussed on what a new government can begin to do rather than what it should attempt to accomplish within a short timeframe of 90 or 100 days.

While many will postulate that the PF administration have made many missteps in their months in office, NAREP’s stated role as an opposition Party is to offer constructive criticism. This means not laying blame on the current administration without offering sensible and practical solutions. Let us therefore set out what a NAREP administration would have done had it been in power, starting with the problem of unemployment: how would NAREP deal with this and what should the PF government now do? Well, this is where vision comes in. NAREP’s Vision 3:3:8 sets out a practical way of immediately opening up a large part of our vast arable land for productivity through deployment of technology, equipment, human labour and expertise. For example 1,500 hectares of castor bean plantation can produce around 2 million litres of biodiesel per year. Sweet sorghum can produce even more biodiesel using less hectares.

Biodiesel produced from home-based agricultural operations can be blended with diesel and would reduce the cost of petroleum imports when produced on a grand scale. Youth and women can be empowered with resources and training to feed their skills and productivity into this “new economy” that would take nothing away from existing enterprises. Not only would this create an immediate opportunity for young and unemployed Zambians, it would in fact create a much broader base for taxation – but a much lower tax for everyone an d not just the 80,000 workers targeted by the PF administration so far. Already, a young Zambian based in Lusaka is producing vehicle-grade diesel commercially out of waste cooking oil from restaurants and commercial food outlets that would normally have to be safely disposed of by the local council. It is this type of entrepreneurial thinking that must be supported.

And what about corruption? Well remember that the easy and most tempting thing to do is to target members of the previous administration for past misdeeds. This, however, is not the solution to our most challenging and persistent of self- inflicted problems. Again, NAREP’s Vision 3:3:8 sets out a practical proposal: establish a truth and reconciliation commission on corruption (TRCC). This is best done through an act of parliament and would therefore require cross-party support but is likely to produce a more effective outcome than present efforts in the fight against corruption.

How would this work? Well, the TRCC would be one commission rather than the numerous and seemingly endless stream of commissions that have been established in the last 90 days. It would be mandated by Parliament (rather than the President) to look into all areas of corruption and would have power to grant amnesty to persons willing to own up to past misdeeds as long as they are able to provide information about how the corruption happened and who else benefited. This would in turn provide crucial information to law enforcement officials who would then be able to follow where the money ended up and more easily identify the culprits no matter how high up the ladder. Some of the commissions appointed so far have been a mockery of justice and are not likely to result in anything more than newspaper headlines and political threats.

Finally, how would a NAREP administration start to curb that most troubling aspect of governance: the combustible combination of poor leadership and excessive executive power? Well within the question lies the solution: we either need to improve the quality of leadership or reduce the excessive powers wielded by the President and his executive. Having just gone through an election, we are compelled to live with the leadership we currently have for the next 5 years (at the most). The option we are left with therefore is to consider a reduction of executive power. Many are of the view that this has to be done by amending the republican constitution. Not so. There is a simpler way to begin to address this issue.

The key lies in recognising that nearly all presidential (and executive) action draws its immediate power from ordinary laws and not from the republican constitution. Changing these laws to reduce presidential and executive powers is easier to accomplish than trying to alter the constitution – the supreme law of the land. This by no means removes the responsibility of amending an outdated supreme law but it allows for that process to take into account the aspirations of the many rather than the few. It means that as a first step, we can introduce agreed, non-contentious changes to the constitution immediately (like clauses on the presidential running mate and 50 per cent plus one) while deferring those that need more time and discussion to a process of engagement with the public in all parts of the country and at all levels of society in a more interactive way than has been attempted in the past. Ideas to achieve this include: role-plays in markets and other public gathering places (bus stops, clinics); engagement with churches; through debates on national and community radio and television. Working with community radio and television would in fact help to provide income and support to this important segment of entrepreneurs. Small and medium enterprises are always more effective in quickly creating opportunities for employment and generating economic growth.

These suggestions (and many others) form an integral part of the NAREP Election Manifesto. Given the very poor start to governance by the current administration, it seems a pity that these ideas may have to wait until the next election to be implemented. But this need not be the case. If things are to change for the better, President Sata must appoint a team of competent and capable advisers within state house. There should be a chief of staff and key presidential aides on political, economic and legal affairs, all of whom should be able to command the respect of the president and the public. Without this, we can only expect more of what has been an erratic start to an otherwise promising change in the governance of our nation.
We wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a productive and prosperous 2012.

Elias C. Chipimo, Jr

NAREP President