Zambian economy: President Lungu’s parliament speech is misplaced and without directionPresident Lungu’s speech for the official opening of the fifth session of the 11th National Assembly is misplaced and without direction.

The Zambian economy is like a house on fire: with the world’s worst performing currency, a widening budget deficit, increasing public indebtedness, rampant fiscal indiscipline, high levels of corruption, a devastating energy crisis, pending massive closures of businesses and increasing unemployment. Yet the house owner is not decisive about stopping the fire. Instead, he is day dreaming about a “smart house now” that would have new extra bedrooms, tiles and other renovations.  The fact is that there will be no house worth dreaming of if the raging fire is not stopped.

Zambians want to know the short-term fiscal policy measures that would help attain macro-economic stability within the next 12 months. They want to know how monetary policy decisions will complement the fiscal policy initiatives. They want to see an immediate government commitment to expenditure reduction and eradication of wastage. They want details and not sweeping statements on how the 560-megawatt power deficit will be addressed within the next 6 months. In short, the speech is misplaced and points to a crippling lack of informed policy direction. How do you provide medium term solutions to a context requiring a strong tilt towards short-term policy measures?

Restructuring of ministries takes at least 2 years before the requisite staffing levels and technical systems are fully functional; the projects and programmes the President was alluding to have on the average a 5 year turn-around; diversification of the economy is at the minimum a 15-year undertaking; and new cultural values underpinning the Zambian society would take an entire generation. What sense does it make to belabour the medium to long-term prospects without nailing down the details of the present situation?

There is also an apparent naivety and lack of understanding as to what it takes to implement the suggested programmatic thrusts. Take the cooperative movement for an example: It took UNIP 20 years of hard work and investments to set up the cooperative movement of the 1980s that the President was alluding to. Two regional training centres (at Kabulamwanda and Katete) and later in 1979 a national cooperative college in Lusaka intensively produced the required low and middle cadre of staff for years. Not less than 10 international cooperation agreements were put in place to facilitate capacity building during the same period. In addition, the whole system of restitution payments to the provincial cooperative unions for maize marketing required the highest levels of government budgetary commitments. All these structures were destroyed by the subsequent governments of the past 24 years. Setting up a robust and viable mass cooperative movement will take at least 8 years of systematic work and commitment to accomplish. The PF government has neither the stamina nor the professional discipline required to set up a grassroots based network of cooperative structures. The speech is and will therefore remain mere rhetorical.

It is also evident, that the speech lifted several sections from the Rainbow Party’s Social and Economic Programme 2016-2020. This is a welcome development. It shows that the Rainbow Party is providing direction that the government can make use of. However, even a first year student of economic policy will point to you that the speech was a collection of several areas and intentions that do not have a common thread, i.e. internal logic and consistency. It is highly disjointed and tries to address diverse issues without much focus. There are indications that the speech was written in a hurry, with last minute changes and falls short of what could be termed as inspiring and contextual relevancy.