Populist politics


With the general elections looming, there is every danger that Government will capitulate to opposition and media pressure to resort to populist politics intended to appease and woo the electorate.

This will be dangerous, counter-productive and a serious betrayal of trust which the Zambian people have placed in the Patriotic Front (PF).

This is neither the time nor circumstances in which soft options are embraced to  placate and appease the electorate for the purposes of  winning  favour while allowing the situation deteriorate beyond redeemable extents.

Zambians today, as they did during the 1991 transition, appreciate that serious economic and social measures have to be taken to create an enabling environment in which new growth and effective diversification will take place.

It took painful and hard decisions to break the monopoly in the mining industry to allow for greenfield investment from which the country is currently benefitting.

It took equally hard decisions to eliminate expensive subsidies to reach economic process which banished shortages in the country.

It is easy and quite tempting to adopt and respond to the egging of opposition populist rhetoric which belittles and in many respects underplays the gravity of the situation and crisis we are facing.

It is disappointing that individuals like Edith Nawakwi who served as Minister of Finance in the MMD government and never seriously proposed investment in energy would today offer spurious comments and suggestions similar to those offered by Poor People Party president Alex  Muliokela.

He has suggested that underground water should be pumped into the Zambezi to mitigate the water shortage.

There is no doubt that the impact of the  decline in commodity prices and errant weather pattern will have telling effects on the economy, but mitigatory measures can be taken,  and that such measures will entail sacrifice by all Zambians.

There is no doubt for example that our un-economic energy tariffs have to be adjusted. To date we have the lowest tariffs in the region, a reality that has impacted negatively on investment in the energy generation sector. There is no doubt that the tariff adjustment from 5.64 to 10.35 cents per kilowatt hour for industrial concerns will go a long way in mitigating the situation.

However it will be unfair and counterproductive if such adjustment is limited to one sector. Serious consideration must be given across the board so that only the most vulnerable should be spared from investing in renewable energy.

Similar determination must be applied in limiting the various demands on public coffers. There is a temptation for Government to be held to ransom over issues of personal emoluments by public officers.

Ghana had to face up to the crisis when doctors in public hospitals went on strike demanding for better conditions of services. For three weeks doctors stayed away from hospitals in the hope of pressurizing the government into submission.

The government remained resolute because the danger of making the award would have had farreaching consequences on the economy.

The strike ended without the award.

This week teachers in Kenya have gone on strike demanding  higher salaries as  awarded by the court, but President Kenyatta has rejected the demand and 14 million pupils have been asked to stay away from classes for the duration of the strike.

President Kenyatta has made it clear that teachers in Kenya earn far much more money than their counterparts in neighbouring countries and that an award would create serious economic hardship for the government and create inflation that would affect all citizens.

He equally made the point that it was unfair that the public service made up of less than 650,000 employees should consume more than 50 percent of the total government revenue.

We are bound to face the same crisis in Zambia where public service workers who are already paid a minimum of K3,000 compared to the private sectors K1,000 are demanding more from the coffers.

Equity, fair play and justice will unfortunately dictate otherwise.