Thursday, May 03, 2012

The ABC of how to get out of poverty

COMMENT - The PF's Finance Minister is as much out of touch as the previous MMD's finance ministers (except perhaps FM Ng'andu Magande, when he wasn't pushing the official neoliberal line).

The ABC of how to get out of poverty
By The Post
Thu 03 May 2012, 15:40 CAT

Alexander Chikwanda's Labour Day message in Kasama deserves the attention of every Zambian. It was not meant just for that audience of Bemba speaking people of Kasama. Alex gave the nation the ABC of how to get out of poverty and of how to live in a country that is developing. There is no need to patronise our people.

They need to be told the truth and challenged. They need to be told that if they want to continue living in poverty, then they can continue drinking beer every day, loitering or malingering and reporting for work late with no sense of seriousness or purpose. They need to be told that if they want better things, they must work hard.

[Actually, it is the PF government that needs to get busy on collecting all the taxes that are due from the mining industry, which after all makes their profits from OUR natural resources. It is the job of a sovereign government to collect all the taxes that are due to them. Instead, the PF has backtracked on the highly collectable Windfall Tax, and has put forward no proposals that prove they can or are willing to collect all the taxes due under the 'variable profits tax'. Variable indeed, because it is up to those to be taxed to state how much taxable profits they made last year. Of course, they have been lying and money laundering through offshore companies in Madagascar, like the Glencore AG owned Mopani mine.

One of the main reasons there is high unemployment is because bank lending rates to both entrepreneurs and consumers are sky high.

All of this would change if the PF collected $1.4 billion a year from the mines in taxes.

They could set up a series of provincial or district banks, and push money out into the economy at very low interest rates. That would enable Zambian entrepreneurs to set up their businesses and expand them, which would create a lot of jobs. Need I add, far more jobs than can ever be created in the mining industry.

When you have 80% official unemployment, it is not the poor people's fault that they are poor. 80% of the people of Zambia did not suddenly wake up and decide to start leutering around and get drunk on cheap alcohol.

Where are they supposed to loiter to? Go looking for non-existent jobs? Because that is the implication of saying that it is the poor who are to blame for their poverty.

The truth is that it is the PF that must ensure that there is enough cash going through the local economies, not the poor. If they could, they would have done so a long time ago.

It is time for the PF and the finance minister to face up to his responsibilities, which is his responsibility to collect all the taxes that are due to the Zambian state. Collect $1.4 billion a year from the mines, and use it to set up small business banks, infrastructure projects.

Also, that $1.4 billion a year could be used as leverage. Say you can borrow at 5% interest at some institution. If $1.4 billion is 5%, you can borrow $28 billion and push that into the economy at 0% interest. (The mines would effectively be paying your interest.) You could lend this to provincial or district banks at 0% interest. Or charge 1% interest and start making money right away. You could also set up a few state mines that would at least pay off the principal with their profits - more jobs too.

$28 billion would of course be the high end number, but it shows you what can be done with a little inventiveness.

However, it would transform the economy, unlike telling the poor masses to stop loitering around. - MrK]

Alex and other leaders will not do it for them; they must do it for themselves.

[Actually I disagree. The problem of poverty is not the mindset of the poor, but the absence of cash. - MrK]

Leaders lead, but in the end, the people govern. We shouldn't look to Michael Sata and his comrades for a revolution in this country; we must look to them for leadership. What we should want from them is to make a start, and that they have done. They want us with them in that task, head and heart. We must do it together.

We cannot buy our way into a prosperous society. We must work for it together; it can only be done together and we must plan for it together. Michael and the PF didn't just ask for our votes; they decided, instead, to offer us a vision of the Zambia they hoped to create. They widely publicised their manifesto, their vision for our country in a manner no political party in this country has done. They wanted people to vote for them not simply because they were the most ardent and consistent critics of the corrupt and abusive regime of Rupiah Banda, but because they were the best qualified to bring about the kind of Zambia our people hoped to live in.

But just as they told the people what they could do, they also told them what they could not do.

This was necessary because some people were starting to think that life would change overnight after Michael wins the elections; there will instantly be money in their pockets to buy whatever they wanted. But we hope now, as they should have done then, they do realise that life will not change dramatically, except that they will have increased their self-esteem and become proud citizens. They must have patience. They might have to wait five years for results to show. And there is no need to patronise them in whatever way. But they have to work and work very hard. And if, like those Bembas in Kasama Alex was addressing, they just keep on drinking every day, they will continue to wallow in poverty and have poor meals every day.

It is not possible to build an economy or a society purely on the basis of entitlement, on what Michael can do for them. They have to make a contribution. The responsibility for reducing poverty among our people will depend on mobilising the sweat equity of the people themselves. The wealth of society is not created by leaders but by the people themselves - the workers, peasants and working intellectuals. If they take their destiny into their own hands and take an active attitude in solving problems instead of evading them, they will have many things they need.

It is sheer fantasy for anyone to think that just after casting a vote for Michael, then all will be plain sailing and they can spend their time drinking and expect to live well. The reversal of fortunes in this country will only come through the efforts of our people. Of course, committed political leadership is required to mobilise our people so that they can make positive contribution to the development of our country. And the type of leadership required has been well articulated by Alex:

"This government is there to serve the people. It is not a government for those who want to amass wealth. Those who are planning on personal aggrandizement, you are going to see them because people in Zambia now have the rights. The reason for this government is to protect people and not to look after you in a cruel manner…"

Clearly, this means that we have to be demanding of the men and women we have put in government. And our desire to solve problems as soon as possible should not lead us to improvise. We must understand, above all, that the only way to tackle systematically the problems of our economic development and overcome our weaknesses is by dealing with the situation in its entirety; that no administrative or propaganda measures are capable, in themselves, of automatically eliminating the vices or weaknesses that have become habits.

On the other hand, experience has shown that in such circumstances, it is necessary to avoid unilateral judgments, avoid excessive zeal, and now, also watch out for those who are too demanding, the demagogic champions who tend to crop up in such situations in order to divert attention from their own faults and weaknesses and pretend to be demanding when they are really opportunists trying to avoid being called on to account for themselves.

We must be demanding to the utmost, but we must also watch out for those super-demanders. We must be firm but just in our demands. If criticism is valid, it should be made. It is true, and as Alex correctly pointed out, our civil service has a work culture that needs to change and urgently so.

Our civil service needs cleansing because it is full of people who are not working, who just come there to sniff around for deals, foreign travel and workshops. Truly, they have no commitment to the nation of today and that of tomorrow. And this is not a question of simplifying the criticism, making it seem that all public workers are irresponsible and all administrators and administrative officials are not working; it is not a question of joking about issues that, rather, should be food for thought.

Sometimes the criticisms are expressed in such a way that one cannot tell whether they are denouncing something that was done, condemning a practice, or simply making fun of those involved. Discipline must be restored at all costs and in all spheres, and to do this, we must start at home and start from the top. The fact is that there are many instances of lack of work discipline.

Again, the country calls on all of us to surmount the difficulties that come with efforts to improve the economy and to move forward in a different direction and under a new leadership.

In the name of Kenneth Kaunda and all others who have struggled and sacrificed their lives to give us a dignified homeland, we call on the people of this country to work hard and in a disciplined manner to improve our economy. It's up to us all to better our country. Let dignity and decorum, courage and manliness, spirit and revolutionary honesty take the floor. Let criticism of defects be constant and be directed at all alike. We are referring to correct criticism, well-founded, healthy, constructive criticism at the right time and place and formulated in the right way.

We make a clear distinction between criticism formulated by progressive people and ill-intentioned, insidious and slanderous attacks made by crooks, corrupt elements, scoundrels or which play into the hands of corrupt elements who have lost power. We must be firm in countering attacks passing for criticism, whenever they are made manifest, as in the high points of the changes that are taking place in our country today. Everybody in this country has a place and means for correctly expressing criticism. We should not break the progressive criticism of the masses; we must stimulate it.

It is sometimes argued that we should not publicise our defects and our errors because in doing so we are helping crooks and corrupt elements. This idea is completely false. To not be open and frank in facing up our errors and shortcomings in a courageous, resolute way is what makes us weak and what helps our adversaries. The constant fight against our defects and weaknesses is, in fact, a fight against our adversaries; and we must always be on the ready.

Let us fight with the same energy and firmness of spirit against our defects and the remnants of the previous corrupt regimes that hope to raise their ugly heads. Let us wipe out all our shortcomings and show progressive intransigence in putting the detractors and the fainthearted in their place. That workers give their all and that the political leadership make their lives and work examples of dedication and industry!

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