Friday, December 21, 2007

Pro-poor budget deception

Pro-poor budget deception
By Editor
Friday December 21, 2007 [03:00]

This country will not be a good place for any of us to live in unless it’s a good place for all of us to live in. This year’s budget was bandied around as a pro-poor budget. What pro-poor budget? Despite some improvement in the performance of the economy, poverty has continued to deepen. The economic growth has not been for the people. What we see are economic casualties; we all see the casualties.

They are not be to found among the leaders and some of the enthusiasts; they are to be found amongst the people whose jobs are destroyed, whose services are crushed, whose living standards are pushed down to deeper depths of insecurity and misery. These are vile times under these neo-liberal economic policies, and we have to secure the opportunity to change things.

We need a system that truly puts jobs and services first before other considerations.

These may be hellish choices to make under the current circumstances but we need a government and politicians who can make such choices. We need politicians and a government that can find ways. We understand the challenges. And we agonise with our leaders in the choices they have to make – very unpalatable, totally undesirable, but they have to make them. They have to use all their creativity to find ways that will best protect those whom they are elected to serve and defend. We need leaders who are prepared to take decisions, to meet obligations and to give service. We need leaders who know that life is real, life is earnest – too real, too earnest to sacrifice on the alter of political expedience. And we should not mistake economic growth statistics for an accomplished fact; life is too real, too earnest for one to mistake a slogan for a strategy, to mistake barking for bitting. We should not accept to be dragged into a situation where everybody can either stand on their own feet, or live on their knees.
The service of Zambia, a pro-poor budget, means the service of, and a budget dedicated to, the millions of our people who suffer. It means the ending of poverty and ignorance, disease and inequality of opportunity. It should be our ambition to wipe every tear from every eye. That may seem to be beyond us, but for as long as there are tears and suffering, so long our work should continue to be the champion of the causes of the poor. And so we have to labour and to work, and work hard, to give reality to our dreams. The future beckons us. Whither do we go and shall be our endeavour? To bring opportunity to the common man, to the peasants and workers of Zambia; to fight and end poverty, ignorance and disease; to build up a prosperous, democratic and progressive nation, and to create social, economic and political institutions which will ensure justice and fullness of life to every man and woman. There should not be resting time for any of us till we make all the people of Zambia, especially the poor, what destiny intended them to be. But to achieve this, unity is needed in the nation because no divided nation can seriously tackle its problems. We must always be mindful of this one thing, whatever the trials and tests ahead. The ultimate strength of our country will not lie in infinite resources or boundless wealth, but in the unity of our people.

There is also need for honesty in the way we govern the affairs of our country; in our politics. Those who govern our country today can be said to have won elections on the strength of their promises. It is true they haven’t carried them out. Deception is always a pretty contemptible vice, but to deceive the poor just to get their votes is the meanest of all crimes. We cannot think of a more contemptible man – our power of imagination fails us to bring into our minds’ eyes a more despicable man than the man who deceives the poor.

We should not forget that the budget is introduced not merely for the purpose of raising barren taxes, but taxes that are fertile, taxes that will bring forth fruit. The provision for the deserving poor and the aged – it is time it was done. It is rather a shame for a government that claims to be doing very well and having achieved a lot on the economic front that it should allow those who have toiled all their days to end in penury and possibly starvation. It is rather sad that they should find their ways to the gates of the tombs, bleeding and footsore through the brambles and thorns of poverty. Why are we placing the burdens on the broad shoulders of our poor people? Why should we put burdens on the poor in our budgets? Why should we add one grain of trouble to the anxiety which they bear with so much patience and fortitude?

Clearly, the growth of our economy, instead of bringing comfort to the masses of our people, is imposing additional burdens on them. At the bottom of the social scale, there’s a growing mass of poverty and misery.

We think that the true test of economic progress in a nation is not the accumulation of wealth in the hands of a few, but the elevation of a people as a whole. At this rate, it won’t be long before we start to witness a conflict between the men who possess more than they have earned and the men who have earned more than they possess. And this conflict is the central condition of progress. But the supreme function of statesmanship is to provide against preventable evils.

Hence, there is need to avoid the besetting temptation of all politics to concern itself with the immediate present at the expense of the future. Above all, people are disposed to mistake predicting troubles for causing troubles and even for desiring troubles; ‘if only’, they love to think, ‘if only people wouldn’t talk about it, it probably wouldn’t happen’. Perhaps this habit goes back to the primitive belief that the word and the thing, the name and the object, are identical. At all events, the discussion of future grave but, with effort now, avoidable evils is the most unpopular and at the same time, the most necessary occupation for the politician. Those who knowingly shirk it, deserve, and not infrequently receive, the curses of those who come after.

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