Editor's Note

Are we getting our priorities right?

In 2017, government is going to spend K14.8 billion on paying off debt, mostly to international and domestic lenders, but also to contractors and suppliers, and a bit to cover outstanding bills for import of fuel and electricity. Over 22% of the K64.5 billion budget for 2017 will be allocated to paying off someone to whom we owe money! And the worst thing is that most of the debt has been accumulated in the five years the PF has been running the show. External debt ballooned to $6.7 billion at the end of September 2016, up from $1.6 billion five years ago. In addition, government intends to dismantle arrears to contractors and suppliers to the tune of K3.3 billion, meaning that it is likely to owe them an even higher figure. These are companies who got caught up in government’s senseless rush to develop Zambia in five years without considering how to finance the party. I hope the former PF administration – with former Finance Minister Alexander Chikwanda in the lead – is embarrassed. And I hope the current administration – with Finance Minister Felix Mutati in the lead – is taking note. One does wonder, because why do roads feature prominently in the 2017 budget with an allocation of K8.6 billion? And why is the Farmers Input Support Programme, which everyone agrees should be dismantled, receiving a 185% increase in allocated resources of K2.9 billion? Together they account for 17.8% of the budget, more than either education (16.5%), health (8.9%) or social protection (4.2%). No, I am not sure we are getting our priorities right.

Camilla Hebo Buus, Editor Zambia Weekly
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This Week’s Exchange

Nic Cheeseman, professor of democracy and international development, Birmingham University, UK, stated:

“Until now, Zambia’s progress under multi-party politics has been quietly impressive. Over the last year, though, things have changed. (…) According to the Conference of Catholic Bishops – one of the most influential bodies in the country – Zambia doesn’t deserve to be called a democracy (…) it has become a dictatorship – or getting there. Many Catholic leaders were seen to be sympathetic to the PF, when it won power under Michael Sata in 2011, so what has changed? This is not the first time that a Zambian president has sought to consolidate his authority by manipulating state institutions. Nor is it the first time that opposition leaders have been arrested, or civil society groups intimidated. In the recent past, these moments of high political tension have often been resolved peacefully, (…) but it’s unlikely that Lungu will cede his quest to remain in office. First, key civil society groups such as the trade unions have been weakened by privatisation, informalisation and unemployment. Second, the Constitutional Court, that’s responsible for interpreting the constitution, was handpicked by Lungu. Third, Lungu’s case is more complicated than Chiluba’s. In 2001, the second president had served two full terms in office and wanted one more. Today, Lungu is arguing that he should be allowed to have a third term because his first period in office did not count, as he was just serving out the final year of Sata’s term. All of this means that Lungu is likely to get his way. (…) Opposition protests are inevitable, as is some civil society criticism. If past form is anything to go by, Lungu’s government will respond with threats and intimidation.”

Ruling PF party deputy secretary general Mumbi Phiri reacted:

Cheeseman is nothing but an attention-seeking professor, who thinks he can lecture us about democracy. The people of Zambia spoke through the vote, and their wishes must be respected by all, including Cheeseman. Cheeseman creates the impression that there was a letter authored by all Catholic bishops, which labelled Zambia as a dictatorship. For the record, that was an opinion expressed by the archbishop. (…) It is irresponsible for Cheeseman to compare ours with late President Frederick Chiluba’s third-term bid. The view that the current constitution allows President Lungu to seek re-election (…) is before the courts of law. (…) the PF will respect the outcome of the court system. President Lungu’s good governance record remains solid. It was President Lungu’s administration that took the referendum on the proposed Bill of Rights to the people. (…) it was UPND leader Hakainde Hichilema who campaigned against it. It is President Lungu’s administration, which allowed for the 50%+1 clause in the constitution, the running mate clause, and reduction of presidential powers. President Lungu believes in an independent judiciary. (…) Today, Zambia has a Constitutional Court, something that was unheard of in the history of our nation. While the opposition petitioned the Constitutional Court, President Lungu remained calm until the matter expired. We wish to correct the view that human rights of politicians in trouble with the law are being violated. Citizens, who are also politicians, and on trial, have appeared in court within a week of being charged, and (…) for continued trial. The due process of the law is clearly being followed to the letter. Professor Cheeseman‘s daydream, that Zambia is falling from grace because of HH’s arrest, is a lie. Zambia remains a shining example of democracy not only on the African continent but world over.”