Inflation not in tandem with economic variables on ground, argues Sichinga
By Kombe Mataka
FORMER commerce minister Robert Sichinga has strongly questioned the monthly inflation statistics being churned out by Zambia Statistics Agency.
He says they do not appear to be in tandem with the economic variables on the ground.
On debt, he says “you know there is ego to be massaged… If we had the President going to China it would have been completely different. It would have been much easier to sort out that creditor’s issue.”
Dr Sichinga said when he appeared on Hot FM’s beyond the Headlines programme on Wednesday evening that all the prices of commodities and services had been going up throughout and that it was difficult to understand the argument by the ZamStats indicating that inflation had dropped.
“What we are seeing at the moment is the expenditure that was made last year under the PF is impacting what is happening now. In order regularise the situation and bring back to normality you would have to take money out of the system meaning that people do not have the liquidity, the money to spend. It means there is not enough money. It has got a negative effect to the extent that you don’t have liquidity. If I cannot pay you because I am owing you money, what happens to you? You can’t pay the other guy. If you can’t pay the other people what happens? There is no expenditure. There is no multiplier effect. Also you would expect it to reduce prices. In our case prices have gone up. Fuel has gone up and because of the ripple effect of that fuel into the economy, you cannot say the prices have come down. Hardly. All the prices have been going up throughout and this is why my argument has been you cannot expect that the prices will drop therefore you say inflation dropped because when prices are going up inflation is a reflection of the rising prices. You cannot say the prices are coming down. It is not mathematically possible,” Dr Sichinga said. “Let us take the value of fuel just as an example. It was at K17 in August last year. What is the price now? K23 now. Last week it was K26. So when a price goes up like that, at K26, in other words its gone up by K10 (from K17). That is a very high percentage. You cannot then have a reduction in inflation. It is not possible. How do you have a reduction in the inflation rate when fuel is hitting the entire economy and I have just used that as example? So over the months your graph which reflects changes in your pricing is going to go upwards not lower. In this case when you say inflation has come down to a single digit, it means the graph is no longer going up. It has come down from a higher figure to a lower figure. Now how does it come to a lower figure when the fuel has gone up from a lower figure?”
Dr Sichinga said in his 50 years of doing business, it was not possible to record single digit inflation under the prevailing economic variables.
“As far as I am concerned, it is an unrealistic claim. You would have to be doing something else. I have just given an example. I am talking about fuel. This has impacted so many other items. If you go in the market, talk to people and ask them, ‘do you have cash to do this?’ Consumers are having difficulties meeting their obligations and when that happens it means you have got prices people cannot afford. So there is no way that you can talk about a lowering of inflation to single digit figures. So that particular manoeuvre for me, based on my knowledge, experience, is not possible. However, you should invite those that claim that this is possible, I am talking about our friends from central statistics, let them come and explain how they achieved that,” he said.
Dr Sichinga also said the monthly review of fuel was disruptive as it made it difficult for businesspeople to plan.
Asked if the appreciation of the kwacha would cushion the impact of the monthly review of fuel prices, Dr Sichinga called for honest.
“There is no strengthening of the currency. Let us be honest about it. It is good to want it to strengthen. It is good for the country if the price was genuinely lower,” he said. “The issue that is taking place is not because of the performance of the Zambian economy. It is because the US dollar has weakened against other currencies in general. We are beneficiaries of it. It is not because we are producing more. It is not because of the prudent management on our side. It is not because our exchange rate has been favourable because it has been at K17 (to a dollar) until just now. It is today that it dropped to K15. No currency drops at that rate because of good management. It does not happen like that. It is because there is a specific incidence that has taken place in the marketplace globally. We appreciate that we are going to benefit from this exchange rate difference which is favourable to Zambia.”
Dr Sichinga said it was important to aim for a favourable exchange rate based on production.
“I hope my friends in the UPND will not think that they are being bashed, no. All I am saying is we need to be realistic in terms of the effect. If we don’t do that we will not have identified the problem that we need to address,” he said.
Dr Sichinga advised the government to get on a homegrown economic recovery programme with focus on restoring resources from the mining sector.
“We can now develop a homegrown economic plan because right now there is no recovery plan other than the one that was done by the PF, which is the 2020-2023 revival of the economy. That is what we have,” he noted. “We cannot drive a recovery programme without resources. Therefore, we have an opportunity to do that not to give it to Anglo American, no! That for me is a no go area. They were here before. All they are interested in is what they will get from the mines just like Glencore. Just like Vedanta.”
On debt, Dr Sichinga said whether “you like it or not China is an issue you cannot ignore”.
“Our biggest debt, of the US $21 billion that was being owed to the creditors, we are told that US $10 billion of that is with China. Shouldn’t that be the first call? Shouldn’t you deal with that first? And start looking at the small ones?” asked Dr Sichinga. “You know there is ego to be massaged… If we had the President going to China it would have been completely different. It would have been much easier to sort out that creditor’s issue.”