Friday, August 03, 2007
Friday August 03, 2007 [04:00]
As Nelson Mandela once said, the world is not short of words, it needs action. It is easy to coin terms or phrases for this or that policy or programme. However, it is not as easy to match rhetoric - often coated in sweet sounding phrases such as "economic empowerment" - with action. When one looks at the case of Zambia, it is not an exaggeration to say that the country is in many areas not in short supply of rhetoric as far as economic planning is concerned.
Considering the mountains of documents and the piles of data on economic policies that have not been of significant use to the people in terms of economic progress, it is actually an insult and mockery for those in government to continue bombarding the people with pieces of legislation that do not offer any tangible ways of improving their lives. What should be understood is that policy making should not just be about copying what other countries have been doing because some countries may be coming up with certain policy initiatives based on their socio-political or socio-economic history.
The point about policy making is not just to have heaps and heaps of documents containing plans of action. The real issue is to do with the pragmatism that goes with ambitious planning. And this is what President Levy Mwanawasa - never mind his violent reaction to the advice - was being reminded about in Livingstone last week; that it is easy to sit down and draw up a document, advance recommendations and outline plans of action. And this is what Levy and his economic advisors have been doing over the last few years. However, the crux of the matter is whether or not these plans or recommendations are followed to the letter.
As if the policy documents which the government has been making over the years are not enough, we now have what is called the Citizens Economic Empowerment Act, which was assented to on May 12, 2006. According to the preamble, this legislation is:
"An Act to establish the Citizens Economic Empowerment Commission and to define its functions and powers; establish the Citizens Economic Empowerment Fund; promote the economic empowerment of targeted citizens, citizen-empowered companies, citizen-influenced companies and citizen-owned companies; promote gender-equality in accessing, owning, managing, controlling and exploiting economic resources; encourage an increase in broad-based and effective ownership and meaningful participation of targeted citizens, citizen empowered companies, citizen-influenced companies and citizen-owned companies in the economy in order to contribute to sustainable economic growth; remove social customs, statutory provisions or other practices that limit access to any particular gender to skills training that is essential for effective participation in the economic sector; promote the employment of both gender by removing structural and discriminatory constraints that hinder any particular gender from employment opportunities and in so doing ensure equitable income distribution; promote equal opportunity of targeted citizens and citizen-empowered companies, citizen-influenced companies and citizen-owned companies in accessing and being awarded procurement contracts and other services from State institutions; promote Greenfield investment through joint ventures and partnerships between local and foreign investors in order to enhance broad-based economic empowerment; and provide for matters incidental to or connected to the foregoing."
Clearly, everything about this Act is very sweet. Sweet to the point that one may even bite their tongue. But as we have stated already, the most difficult task is not about policy formulation. After all, the government may not even be actively involved in policy formulation as it may just engage consultants to come up with a framework, like we already know that even for tax policy reforms the government has to look to the International Monetary Fund or to the World Bank for our land policy review.
At the expense of sounding cynical, we can say with confidence here that it would not be quite strange to discover that even this Citizens Economic Empowerment Act might just be one of the many policies which turn into white elephants immediately they are endorsed by the government or, in the case of laws, assented to by the President. And the laughable yet annoying irony is that so much money is normally paid to consultants who draft these policies which never really take off. So we are good at creating jobs for consultants to draft policies which we are actually incapable of implementing.
Talking about economic empowerment of citizens, we need to start looking beyond simple mottos or themes. It is futile to engage in debates about economic empowerment if we still have many of our people failing to claim a stake in our economy. It is worthless to talk about economic empowerment if there is no commitment by those in government to ensure that the investments that come into our country have direct positive effects on the people, either through business opportunities or through employment prospects. Economic empowerment is not about cosmetic policy legislation; it is about passing on real economic benefits to the people in ways that we have already alluded to.
Empowerment is about giving opportunities to all the people of Zambia, not just extending generous incentives to external capital or what those in government call foreign investment. Economic empowerment is not about empowering certain sections of groups only; it is about empowering all the people of this country. Economic empowerment should be aimed at creating equality and fairness in the distribution of our national resources.
So as we keep reciting these mottos and themes about economic empowerment - just like we are doing during this year's agricultural and commercial show - let us begin to apply pragmatism to these themes. Otherwise there is no justification in us hanging on to themes or indeed policies which we either have no use for or are not serious about.