Saturday, September 19, 2009

Rupiah’s recycled speech

Rupiah’s recycled speech
Written by Editor

In a time of crisis, people look to their leaders for direction, for hope, for inspiration, for guidance. No honest person living in our country today can fail to admit that we are in a time of crisis. The horizon looks bleak; the prospects for our people are faint.

Our economy has been in the doldrums for a very long time. The vast majority of our people live in abject poverty, something which is inexcusable in a country that is so well endowed with natural resources.

The poor performance of our economy has hit our people with the most vital areas of human endeavour. Our people have been robbed of their dignity. Many have no reason to look to the future with any hope.

Employment which should be a basic right of every citizen is a luxury many of our people cannot dream about. Education and health for the vast majority of our people is something they cannot reach. Food, shelter and clothing are in many instances an impossible aspiration for our people. This state of affairs is simply unacceptable. Such a status quo is a recipe for disaster. It is immoral and shameful to expect our people to accept such a situation indefinitely. It is even more shameful to talk about the current situation as if it’s normal and acceptable.

But this is what Rupiah Banda did yesterday when he addressed Parliament. Rupiah quite clearly is oblivious to the sufferings of our people. More disastrously, Rupiah is oblivious to his duty as president of a beleaguered country. For him, a few nice sounding words here and there are enough. Yesterday’s speech was a painfully flawed speech, devoid of any substance and meaningful material for the fixing of our wounded nation. Rupiah’s speech was a recycled speech which repeated the same old tired platitudes without really addressing the present challenges. Listening to that speech was like reading an academic essay which started and ended with the background and failed to deal with the issue at hand. Rupiah was repeating the same speech he gave nine months ago when Parliament was opening. It was like he just changed dates and added one or two figures.

To classify it fairly, one would have to say it was uninspiring, boring and besides the points. This would not be a disaster if it was not coming from a president whose duty it is to stir Zambia to prosperity. Rupiah has a duty to inspire our people and give them hope. This is why he is paid. It is his job to articulate a vision for our country that says to the majority of our people who are living in abject poverty that help is on the way. Not that hollow and fractured speech as the recently resigned Minister of Defence George Mpombo correctly characterised it.

Rupiah needs to learn that our people have a legitimate expectation that their problems should be addressed by their government. Blaming the global crisis and all sorts of issues for the ineptitude and incompetence of his government will not help him. He needs to learn that governance is serious business; hard work; difficult work. It is not a game for the immature and the lazy. The problems that our country faces are too many and very complicated. They require determined leadership, dedicated to lifting our people from poverty to plenty. It does not help anyone to keep repeating the same songs about how the government did that or the other. Trying to claim credit for the hard work and dedicated leadership of Levy Mwanawasa will not help Rupiah. His predecessor, with all his faults, was prepared to take difficult decisions in the interest of our people. Levy was not one for populist sloganeering. As a result, a number of projects were started which are still going on. And it seems Rupiah thinks that all he needs to do is to claim credit for those projects and all will be well. Our Bemba-speaking peoples have a saying that best summarises the folly of glorifying the past to try and pacify present inadequacies. They say “Ubulimi bwa kale tabutalalika mwana”. Literally translated, the saying means you cannot expect a child to stop crying from hunger by boasting about how good a harvest you had long time ago. The child wants to eat today. The food must be produced today. Telling the nation about this or that project that started three years ago under a predecessor whose legacy Rupiah and his minions are working tirelessly to diminish will not address the problems of our people.

It is not easy to inspire people and give them hope if you are not committed to principles of integrity and uprightness. There are not many things that will inspire people more than selfless and sacrificial leadership. This is something that we do not expect Rupiah to ever portray because for him, leading is about enjoying the benefits of power whilst giving as little as possible.

Yesterday’s speech did nothing to address a lot of the key problems that our people are facing. From what we see and observe, it seems to us that there is a liquidity crisis in our economy. Put simply, there is no money revolving among our people. This is causing job losses and suffering for a large number of our people. This is a clear problem that with no doubt is well-known to Rupiah and his advisors. What policy indicators or direction did Rupiah give in what should be his landmark speech, as we look to 2010, on the question of poor liquidity in the economy? The answer is zero, nothing. As long as Rupiah and his minions have cash in their pockets, what is happening to the economy and our people is of little consequence.

Rupiah told the nation that there is reduced international assistance coming into our coffers. The question is why? The international credit crisis that has affected a number of our helpful friends could be a reason. But we all know that poor governance and a feeble pretence at fighting corruption is at the root of the problems that Rupiah may be having with the donors. Rupiah would rather risk international assistance that is critical at this stage in our development than deal with corruption decisively.

It is also clear from what the Zambia Revenue Authority has been telling the nation that there is likely to be a shortfall in the collections of domestic revenue to fund government programmes. Again the question is why? When an economy is starved of liquidity, there is a domino effect. The taxpayers have no cash to pay tax. And the government which is undoubtedly the largest consumer of goods and services in our country has, as a consequence of poor revenue collections, no money to pay its suppliers of goods and services. This sets in motion a vicious cycle that could grind an economy to a halt. This is also true when one looks at the drop in duty collections. If there is no cash circulating in an economy, trade suffers and importation declines, and as a result, revenue collection on that front also suffers.

We are not experts in these matters but the fact that we are able to raise them shows that there are issues that require dedicated and serious discourse by a government that is responsible. Clearly, these matters do not have easy solutions and are not as simplistic as we have put them. But does Rupiah have the time to sit and actually understand the state of the nation? Does he have a clue what the nation actually needs to move forward? We say this because it is now abundantly obvious that Rupiah is Mr Goodtime. He doesn’t seem to have patience to deal with serious matters of state. He is the traveller-in-chief.

Rupiah said that we should stop relying on international aid to run our affairs. Everybody knows that. In fact, it is foolish to try to run a country on the basis of handouts and international charity in perpetuity. At least we seem to agree on something. But what is Rupiah’s plan for ensuring that the country is run on the basis of revenues that we generate locally?

Rupiah’s predecessor, Levy, had started a process of trying to rationalise the revenues that we get from the mining economic activities that go on in our country. Common sense and equity seemed to suggest that the people who are extracting mineral resources from our country should make a fair contribution to the national treasury. In boom times, they should pay taxes at a premium. This is logical and far better than begging. What did Rupiah and his minions do when they came? They reversed a windfall tax on the pretext that the price of copper had collapsed. If the price had collapsed, it follows that there was no windfall. And if there was no windfall, there was no windfall tax to be paid. Why remove that tax? Today, the experts are telling us that the price of copper is headed to the US $7,000 mark. Who is to gain from this misery? The incompetence of Rupiah and his economic advisory team is costing us. [I would say not incompetence, but corruption. The removal of the windfall tax was completely driven by the narrow financial interests of the mining companies. They knew the price of copper was going to rise, and they wanted to avoid paying any tax whatsoever. - MrK]

It seems Rupiah has no staying power when it comes to fighting for our people. He is a coward. But when he is fighting for his political benefits and the benefits of his minions, he is ready to defy anybody. Rupiah in those cases does not back down. When it comes to giving away our copper revenues, Rupiah will back down and rescind decisions that were made in a cabinet where he sat as Vice-President.

But the same Rupiah is not prepared to back down when defending the criminal single sourcing of RP Capital to sell one of our nation’s prized possessions – Zamtel. With his son, Henry’s interest, clearly written all over the transaction, Rupiah has no shame in going to Parliament to defend this wrong.

We know that people are going to chew from the mobile hospitals nonsense. Characteristically, Rupiah is doggedly defending this nonsensical programme. He is determined to bring containers from China which he will buy for US $5 million each and claim to be addressing our people’s health needs.

This is what happens when a leader thinks he is in power to look after himself and those closest to him. Rupiah’s speech did nothing to identify the root causes of the many problems that our country is facing or suggest any meaningful solutions. A critical analysis of what he was saying will tell you that that whole speech was about which contracts are going to be given out to whom and when. Nothing about the people.

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