The Luena Member of Parliament, Gertrude Imenda, is correct in stating that the downgrading of Zambia’s credit rating and lowering of the country’s economic outlook was obvious and predictable. Similarly, her pessimism of an economic upturn and of any improvements in the livelihoods of the masses of our people is also justified.
Indeed, one does not need to be an economist to come to this conclusion. It is a hard reality that our people in all corners of this country are beginning to accept.
However, the lack of an immediate and medium term solution to our country’s economic crises has less to do with the PF ‘s ability or capacity. If the PF does not have the capacity, then who has? The capacity to effectively manage an economy takes years to harness. You need technocrats that are well trained and experienced and Zambia has these in numbers in our line Ministries, the treasury and Bank of Zambia. You need a functional revenue collection system and this is available through the Zambia Revenue Authority. You need functional regulatory agencies and we have several of these. Zambia today has more and better-trained technocrats than at any other time in our history.
What Zambia greatly lacks is the political will and direction that would make best use of this available social and technical capital in managing the crisis and fostering sustainable economic development. Our technocrats are today at the mess of a political establishment whose desperation to remain in power and continue looting public resources makes any meaningful technocratic work impossible. Our technocrats work in perpetual fear of loosing their jobs, of being coerced into corruption and becoming rubber stumps to decisions that make neither economic nor social sense. In this context, the PF is proving to be worse than the MMD.
The economic hardships of the masses of our people are therefore as a result of a failed political system that is devoid of the will and vision to build an economic system for all Zambians and not just for a tiny, parasitic elite. The desperation of Zambia’s political parties to get and retain state power at all costs is proving disastrous for our economy. It is breeding a political culture where expedience and opportunism is all that matters; where long term economic thinking is curtailed; where fundamental issues that are transformational in our people’s lives are glossed over and where “chimwela” and not ideological depth becomes the preoccupation of public political participation.
It is this type of culture that brings about a situation where an IMF supported programme, regardless of our reservations, is pushed to after the elections! Yet the ABC of macro-economic management and policy interventions teaches us that four things are of critical importance: Policy content, process, actors and timing. Timing weighs in heavily especially under an acute macro-economic crises. Each hour and day that an appropriate decision is not taken brings immense costs and hardships to the masses. Between the period a decision is made and acted upon up to the time that the impact of that decision is felt, there is always a time lag. An economy is a complex phenomenon and does not work at the speed of a computer. The various actors affected by the economic decision take time to respond to the decision before visible changes are felt. A range of actors and process – what the economists call a “transmission mechanism” – is involved before any potential impact is felt. For the economic crisis we are facing today, decisive decisions should have been made as early as 2013 but the opportunity was missed. Three years later we still have the PF leadership stubbornly reluctant and scared to take corrective measures against the economic downturn. They would rather see the Zambian economy in ruin than lose political power and their economic privileges!
The question is, would the other political parties behave differently? Aren’t they all showing the same desperation for power? Aren’t they all preaching the individualism and greed inherent in the capitalist ideology? Aren’t they all looking for government jobs to sustain their economic privileges? Where is the sound, in-depth debate on economic development?