I trust that you are well and preparing to take on the huge challenge of restoring Zambia on the path of prosperity. I write again to you sir and hope that my concerns shall be favourably considered this time around. As an ordinary concerned citizen who voted a few days ago, the following are the issues that are most supreme in my mind for the next 5 years of your term of office and I hope and pray you shall deal with them.
1. Corruption: This is the first thing you need to deal with from day one in office. We are tired of reading the Auditor General’s report and seeing huge sums of money embezzled, misappropriated, misapplied or unaccounted for. We are not seeing erring controlling officers facing the law. We are tired of reading in the newspapers about the endless financial scandals at Ministry of Health for years and years. We are not happy to see money meant for widows and orphans stolen by the people entrusted to administer it. We are tired of seeing ministers flaunting their ill-gotten wealth as they build their mansions and buy Range Rovers using money not commensurate with their known earnings. We want to see concrete action by the Anti-Corruption Commission on the dossiers generated by the Financial Intelligence Centre. As we say in Zambia, “umulandu taubola”. We want to see the crooks who stole tax payer money or got kickbacks from corrupt inflated contracts to face the law. We want to see their assets seized because they are proceeds of crime. It is high time people in political office and the civil service get to see that corruption does not pay.
2. Devolution of power: As Lord Acton aptly observed, absolute power corrupts absolutely. One of the worst things about our current governance system is that there is too much power in the hands of the president and Cabinet. It seems no Zambian president can resist the temptation to abuse and misuse that power. I implore you sir to voluntarily kill a lot of your own powers. The best defence against abuse of power is to diffuse it. Spread it around. There is no need for the president to be appointing Permanent Secretaries anyhow instead of letting them rise and be chosen from within the ranks as career civil servants. There is no need for the president to be declaring districts willy-nilly whenever some chief petitions him. Why is the Ministry of Local Government there? Why should everything be decided from Plot One? Why are technocrats there in the civil service? Why should the president be picking winners and losers or sticking his nose into the Justice system by preventing his henchmen from getting punished by the law when they break it? Why should the Police be used and misused to settle political scores using the evil Public Order Act? The less you micro-manage the nation, the better. I think you should seriously consider creating a Federal State like the USA where Governors are directly elected and can make decisions at a local level without waiting for instructions from Plot One.
3. Wasteful expenditures: So much money is wasted in Zambia it is unbelievable. We are poor but want to live beyond our means. We have pointless Ministries like Religious Affairs. What on earth do they do? Or ministry of Gender. Do we really need a whole ministry for Chiefs? Why can’t all these be small nimble departments under other ministries? Did we really have to split so many ministries? The USA has only one Education Ministry and one Finance Ministry despite being a much larger economy. Do we need a whole Presidential Affairs Minister? Or a PS for the Vice-President? Why is the Chief of Staff there? I urge you sir to reduce the number of ministries down to 15 and also the Ministers. We need to live within our means. Civil servant emoluments already consume 75% of local revenues which makes us go with a begging bowl for donor support every year and we end up having our sovereignty compromised. We must balance the budget and generate our own revenues for the budget 100% locally without donors financing a third of our budget.
4. Debt: The runaway public debt must be arrested immediately. First we have to stop borrowing like there is no tomorrow. Our borrowing comes from the budget deficit, which itself is because of a bloated civil service. Trim it down and you need less money. Killing corruption will remove inflated infrastructure contracts that have driven much of our new debt. Reducing the budget deficit by cutting the civil service means government will not crowd out the private sector by borrowing money from banks as much.
5. Lawlessness: Zambia has descended into an increasingly lawless nation where people ignore the law with impunity. Whether it is people in political office, civil servants, private sector, marketeers or ordinary private citizens, it is most appalling. Minibus drivers park and load people anywhere on the road. Street vendors have choked our once beautiful capital city and are selling anywhere with no permits. Procedures are ignored or circumvented in government and there is no sense of respect for rule of law. You need to come down hard on law breakers sir and bring back respect for the law. The strength of the judicial system, especially its ability to enforce contracts is one of the pillars or prosperity.
6. Caderism: This is a huge cancer that has been left to grow and consume our society. Political cadres are more powerful than the police and law enforcement agencies. They beat up anyone anyhow, disrupt radio programmes, storm police stations and beat up police officers. They are wealthy and untouchable. This is unacceptable and needs to be stopped immediately. Late President Levy Mwanawasa dealt with them and we never saw any cadre violence during his reign because no one was shielded from prosecution. You would to well to take a leaf from him.
7. Mines: Although it is fashionable in Zambia to bash the mine owners, they need to be handled with care whilst ensuring laws are obeyed. KCM needs to be given back to Vedanta immediately and government should get their hands off the mining industry. Most people unfortunately do not appreciate that a few large companies in Zambia are generating much of the income. The mines generate 80% of our forex and pay lots of salaries which are taxed. Not to mention the other taxes they pay. You should create a predictable environment for investments, especially in mining. We need to ride the coming wave of electric cars which shall need lots of Copper. We should not be seeing the appalling spectacle of mine owners going to court to battle questionable liquidations. Whilst some mining houses are culpable for pollution or other offences, you can firmly deal with them by enforcing existing laws. But you should not fall prey to being bought by the mining houses.
8. Title deeds: We need an accelerated decentralised programme for issuing title deeds en masse. Owning property makes it easier for people to borrow and start businesses.
9. Urban development: Please sir, can you get rid of shanty compounds. They are an eyesore and untenable. You can negotiate with property developers to buy off the land and compensate the occupants and build proper structures. The structures can include affordable high rise flats with proper water and sanitation.
10. More economic freedom: We need Zambia to be business friendly. Less complicated and cheaper licensing procedures. We need lower Corporation Tax which at 35% is one of the highest in the entire world. This needs to come down to 20% so that producers are rewarded and stimulated to produce more. Lower taxes in general are also good to help development.
As I conclude, remember that you have a short 2 year window to really push your agenda. If you miss that window, it becomes increasingly difficult to implement your ideas as you approach your next election. Also remember not to take the people of Zambia for granted and always stay truly humble. If you do your job well, we shall gladly vote for you again in the next election and you won’t need to resort to authoritarian methods to retain political power.