Lessons to be Learned: An Open Letter to President Lungu on his Inauguration Day in 2016

I am always grateful for the Lusaka times which has provided an invaluable service to the country as an independent and unbiased conduit by which all and sundry have been able to freely express ideas. Indeed, LT has even been better than all media houses. This is not flattery but a fact. Your contribution to Zambia’s democracy has been exemplary.

In October 2016, you published this open letter which I wrote. I would be grateful if it would be republished because it is still relevant for today and it may also help the outgoing President to reflect.

Thank you again
God richly bless you.

Shortly after he was sworn in as the 6th President of Zambia, I wrote this open letter to President Lungu. It was published on 6 October 2016. I would like to re-publish it so that some lessons may be learned with reference to the new government of President elect Hakainde Hichilema. Take note of the near prophetic word of saving 2% of GDP as a ‘war chest’ for times of unforeseen events.

Dear President Lungu,

This is written with the best interest of the country at heart. I do not claim to know it all but I beg to be allowed to make some suggestions which can be debated and worked out among all concerned. I wish you every success.

In the first place, I would urge you to make REAL PEACE in the country. Our Lord Jesus Christ, Lord of Zambia, told us that when you bring your sacrifice to the altar, and you remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift before the altar and first BE RECONCILED to your brother. Notice that it may not be you who has a problem against him but your brother has against you. Your national altar is of no value unless you heed this injunction. Be reconciled with the oppostion leaders who have so much against you. Zambia has only prospered when the leaders have been reconciled.

In the second place, I urge you not to borrow from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The IMF has told you what COMMON SENSE and many million Zambians ALREADY told you about how to run the economy. Five years ago, numerous voices were heard that called on your government to stop spending as though there was no tomorrow. Those warnings fell on deaf ears. Granted, you took over when your predecessor had already committed the country on this treacherous path, but you could have told the truth to people. Instead of that, you wanted to placate people in your party by pledging to continue another man’s ‘vision,’ confessing that you had no vision of your own. To that end, you owned the program and shared in the culpability of the reckless expenditure.

I have seen the ‘development’ indeed. People are happy to drive on paved roads and shop as close to home as possible. They are happy to have schools and hospitals near by. What people also see is how young men and women in their 20s got wealthy overnight by winning contracts and tenders in dubious and suspicious circumstances! Mr President, BIG GOVERNMENT IS A BIG LEAK OF MONEY. The MORE GOVERNMENT SPENDS, THE MORE IT WASTES. We have very inadequate institutions in Zambia that can check and counter corruption when there is a lot of money flying around.

Please Mr President hear us.

Make your government as small as possible so that it can become more transparent and less wasteful. Large amounts of government money in circulation stifles the private economy. It is this economy that contributes to the treasury in terms of taxes. The people who win government tenders pay peanuts to their workers, do shoddy jobs, bribe the government inspectors and pocked huge sums of money for their personal use. The jobs they create are unskilled at best and temporal at worst. Worst of all is that these contractors are your political party praise singers! If these tenders were really open and transparent, why is it that those who oppose the government are unlikely to win them?
Mr President, you do know of some of your friends and relatives who have benefitted from these schemes.
Now that I have asked you not to take IMF money, I am going to show you how you can raise your own money.

1. Save 2% of GDP.

Create an account where no matter what happens, this year you save at least $450 million. This money ought to go into a reserve account and to make sure that future governments do not raid this ‘war chest,’ enact this into law. This money should never be touched except when there is a real global economical crisis or a terrible natural disaster has hit Zambia.

2. Trim the government.

It is not the existing civil servants that must be retrenched, it is your ministers and their accompanying ‘furniture.’ Cabinet ministers are a huge drain on the treasury. They will have several vehicles which need to be maintained, fuel costs, housing costs, air travel, conferences, workshops &c.

3. Decentralise and invest in smart government.

The Zambian people are surreptitiously taxed through spending on travel from one place to another to get their business done. One has to travel from Chingola to Ndola, from Nyimba to Chipata, from Sesheke to Mongu to get to a Ministry of Lands office! These are enormous distances.

4. Do not spend what you do not have.

While borrowing is inevitable, never borrow for consumption. Do a business plan with projected forecasts as to how a project will pay for itself. There is no doubt that schools are a very good investment in the future generations, though that may not be obvious in monetary terms, but other projects need to be weighed. How many hospitals does Zambia need? Can you justify spending millions of dollars building hospitals that are so substandard, poorly equipped and scarcely manned and therefore, shunned by the citizens in preference to private institutions? These are white elephants, costly and not of any real use.

5. Private-Public partnerships.

This is where the future of the economy rests. Let the government co-operate with proven private enterprises. Right now the country needs a national air carrier. There are Zambians running airlines already and the government can support them to expand. I believe that it was wrong for the MMD government to let Zambian Airways go under just because of personal issues. It was not in the national interest to allow that company to fold. The US government bailed out private motor car manufacturing companies. The UK government is helping the private Indian owned Tata Steel because it is in UK national interest.

6. Take the AUDITOR GENERAL’S report SERIOUSLY PLEASE.

Every year, the AG reports on government waste and nothing is done about it. Why audit if you cannot act? This office as it is now, is a waste of taxpayers money. But it should not be. The men and women in the AG’s office work very hard to reflect to the nation how their money is spent but the culprits go unpunished and in some cases retain their stations in government.

7. Curb corruption in your government and among your friends.

I believe that it is time that something like a leadership code should be introduced in Zambia. We need probity and transparency. The Anti-Corruption and the Drug Enforcement Commissions must be reorganised into Economic Crimes, Serious Crimes and Serious Fraud offices. All these should fall under the National Prosecution Authority, led by the Director of Public Prosecution. There should be no political interference whatsoever. It is laughable that DEC arrests an individual with a few grams of chamba! The police can do that! DEC was meant to go after big money that has the ability to distort the national economy. Unfortunately, it has not lived up to the billing.

8. Statistics and planning.

This has been the achilles heel of Zambia since independence. We have shortages of school places, hospital beds and employment opportunities. We have congested roads, insufficient energy and shortage of electricity and water supplies. All these have happened because of lack of planning. The population of Zambia is among the fastest growing in the world. Everyone knows this but no one seems to plan for it. Now this is not just a problem of government, but it is also personal. One thing that hits you when you walk through the streets in Zambia, is the number of little children! There are thousands of them in the cities and hundreds in the districts. Their progenitors seem not to care where they will go to school when they reach of age! More than 1 million people turned 16 between 2011 and 2016. In the developed countries these will be leaving secondary education to go into tertiary education or find employment. Do we have 1 million post grade 12 places for these people? Millions of cars have been imported from abroad without a corresponding expansion in road capacity. The railway system has been deliberately sabotaged by the powerful people in Zambia who have entered the bulk carriers’ business! There seems to be a haphazard construction of buildings in many places without due regard to the environmental, aesthetic and demographic issues. These things have contributed to the energy crisis, and deforestation! Our ecosystems are out of balance.

We need to make better use of the available economic, population and census statistics available to us. If and only if, this prudent house keeping fails, then only can we be justified to call for external help.

Dr Charles Ngoma

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