President Hakainde Hichilema, there comes a time when what needs to be said must be said before things fall apart.

You are the President of Republic of Zambia. You are the most powerful person in Zambia. You are the one who is not taking action; so don’t blame the bureaucracy and embarass us in London by telling them foreigners that delay in reforms is because of bureaucracy. You are what you do, not what you say you’ll do. Mr President you talk a good game, but the fact remains that you have been unable to deliver any meaningful reforms since your inauguration. You say you are methodical but in reality you are the opposite.

Mr President, our people are looking to you to make things better in their lives so that they can thrive and let the private sector create jobs and revenue for the government. Today less than 20 companies contribute 90 per cent of the tax revenue that the government generates. You say you listen but you don’t hear. There is real frustration in the air. There is a growing disappointment amongst the citizens and businessess.

Whilst the international community think you are a rising star and shower you with accolades as you continously showcase yourself as their blue eyed hero in Africa and bask in the glow, here at home there is an increasing feeling it’s all talk and no substance. Life for ordinary citizens is tough. Cost of living is high. There are no jobs. Hand -outs will only go so far and in the long run are non-productive. The NAPSA hand-out will be spent soon, then what? Creating government jobs is not sustainable either. Government needs increased revenues and investment. There are so many things that need fixing.

Mr President, you warn your Cabinet ministers not to undertake too many foreign trips, whilst you remain a prolific frequent traveller. We have fact checked: there is no other President in Africa or elsewhere who has made as many foreign trips in less than two years in office as you have. Your Minister of Finance had to go to parliament to get authority for increased expediture for State and Presidential Affairs. The appropriation Act of 2022 states under Cabinet Office that for “State and Presidential Affairs” an additional amount of K344,178,779 was needed to be approved, in addition to what was originally approved under the 2022 budget. That is about US $19 million. For the year 2023, Public Affairs and Summit meetings has been allocated K322 million (about US $17 million). You have to be kidding Mr President.

Mr President, to add insult to injury, you then take a delegation from State House and the ministers of commerce, mines, energy and several other government officials to attend the Invest Zambia Forum in London to hear you preach about the utopian Zambia that does not exist. Reading through your endless tweets in the past 10 days would make every Zambian scratch their heads for thinking whether you have understood the realities in Zambia, based on the illusory Zambia that you are trying to market to potential investors. Mr President it is you who needs a reality check. You tweet, “We showcased Zambia’s land linked position as ideal for production, processing and distribution hub, focussing on minerals, tech and innovation”. Why did you not tell them about the chaos at Kasumbalesa border post and other border posts; about the road blocks and the need to pay “ka something”? Why didn’t you tell them about the insane regulatory framework and the inconsistent policies?

Your advisor Greg Mills last year released a video where he bemoans the road blocks in Zambia, perhaps you should see it.

Zambians will not be fooled by words. One of your special assistants on social media is prolific in trying to make us citizens think there is an El Dorado in the making. This motor-mouth in your team once tweeted, “The Zambia story of it’s move from potential to prosperity is being written, and we are on the verge of an enormous breakthrough”.

In London you said, “Zambia is ready for business hence the country is creating strong institutions that support an enabling environment for investment”.

Unbelievable! This in Tonga is called “kulota, eechi nchiloto” – pure daydreaming. It bears no resemblance to actual reality. Please give us a break from all this rhetoric. Please! It’s all just an elaborate illusion, people are seeing through all this. Mr President if you and your team continue with this rhetoric you will lose all credibility.

Despite all the rhetoric and platitudes things are not going right in your government. There is dysfunction which citizens can see but you are unable. And if you are able to see it, then you have chosen to do nothing about it. For all the number of record breaking foreign trips and meetings that have been undertaken, what is there to show when the business enviornment is not changing at home?

Mr President you have carefully created a persona as man who means business and wants to create change in the economic well being of our country. This has become your motivating chant. Where are the deliverables of economic reforms and as you describe the removal of rigidities, even a few of them, so that people and business can see and feel the change? Only in February this year, the straight talking US Senator Lindsey Graham reminded your ministers that “I like what you are saying but you need to deliver”, and he was right to say so.

The employment Act is a disaster for business. Yet there is silence from the government. Mr President you through IDC approved the establishment of Zambia Airways, when you explicitly said that it was a bad idea. US $30 million public money was pumped into Zambia Airways, what is it doing today? Have you not noticed what a private sector airline, Proflight is doing and succeeding with far, far much less than US $30 million investment? How many of the IDC owned companies are profitable? Would you keep unprofitable companies that are draining money in your private investment portfolio? We doubt it. So why keep them at IDC?

You were at the forefront of getting the First Quantum Mines deal which the public is unaware of its details. Why? Is it not in public interest to be transparent? In Panama, the government published the draft agreement with FQM for public discourse. You say you want to learn from successful countries, then why not do just that? You once said you will send a delegation to Indonesia to learn how they have managed their natural resources. From what we already know the Indonesian government does not allow mining without value addition. In Zambia we do. Are you now going to send a delegation to South Korea after your London meeting with the South Korean Prime Minister Han Duck-Soo?

You have begun decentralisation, yet not a single council has published accounts as required by law. How will they be made accountable? Your ministers of mines and commerce say that the government has already procured land to set up a Electric Vehicle Battery Plant, when only a few weeks ago the same ministers were officiating at a function to “launch a pre-feasibility study” for such a plant! This is irrational, if not incompetent discourse to say the least.

Mr President, you talk of good corporate governance and you have been the chairman of IDC for over 18 months, but there is none at IDC and all its affiliates. None, including IDC have published their accounts as required by law. Will PACRA fine and sanction IDC? Yet, if it was a privately owned company, PACRA, SEC, LuSE would have moved in. Zambia is not an animal farm where some are more equal than others. There is political interference from your own staff at State House at IDC and ZCCM-IH and you stay quiet? You talk of investments coming in billions of US dollars in the energy sector, yet this sector is riddled with roadblocks by Zesco and rigidities in policy and regulations.

You talk of shortages of mealie meal, yet your government is at odds with what and how to support a free market in the agriculture sector. How are commercial farmers to plan and invest when there is no consistency or clarity? The Food Reserve Agency was created for strategic reserves and not become a market player, so we thought. The Minister of Health talks about private sector investment in the sector, yet it’s a punitive regulatory nightmare. This scenario is played out in every economic sector.

Mr President, despite your publicly stated frustration the tourism sector still needs multitude of licences to operate, as do many other sectors. You often talk and encourage Zambian businesses to export, but there are bureaucratic and regulatory obstacles in the way, and little investment in the infrastructure that is required. Mr President you continously talk of diversification and value adition for exports. Where is the enabling enviornment for this? Your own Minister of Commerce in February 2022 said and we quote, “Zambia has requested more time before committing to the African Continental Free Trade Agreement, as government needs to fully engage the private sector. The accord as it stands favours countries which already have well establshed value adding activities.” The Minister in this rare instance is right, however we are not aware what consultations he has had with the private sector or done about it to fix it.

Bally and his government has to first fix things in the local manufacturing enviornment, before one pontificates value addition, diversification and exports. Mr President, you chair the Public Private Dialogue Forum to deal with business related reforms. After 18 months, it has delivered ka nothing.

Like a scratched record on repeat, every other week your Minister of Mines announces that the KCM and Mopani deal will be concluded very soon, and then silence. Firstly, ZCCM-IH is the shareholder in KCM and Mopani. Why is ZCCM-IH not leading the negotiations? Why at the very initial stages of negotiations were Greg Mills, Valentine Chitalu amongst others involved in the negotiations? Now ministers and bureaucrats are leading the negotiations. It is also a known fact that one of your Special Assistants has been soliciting for Vedanta. ZCCM-IH reports to IDC of which you are the Chairman, is it not? Is ZCCM-IH not a listed company and therefore requires a transparent process and full disclosure? One cannot politicise a business decision of a publicly listed company. Why are the regulators, SEC and LuSE quiet? No wonder Dolika Banda, the chairperson of ZCCM-IH has now resigned, a person you selected. Mr President have you asked yourself why she has resigned? Good people are now starting to leave you.

This is the chaos and reality that any investor, be it local or foreign will find in Zambia today. So, Mr President what will you say to the foreign investors when they come here and face rigidities, regulatory and policy hurdles instead and not the glowing business enviornment that you help create in their minds?

There is no communications plan or strategy at State House or in government. Almost anyone is a spokesperson and say what they wish. Some have even begun behaving like thugs gatecrashing radio stations because they don’t like what they hear from the opposition. And more often than not, when they do communicate it makes little sense or has any positive impact. This is a receipe for disaster and that is what it is; a disaster. You said you were to have regular Press Conferences, instead you start and stop, and when you do have a press conference, it goes on for three hours. Yet you have on your staff a “State House Communications Specialist”. Your own office is dysfunctional.

“Bally Will Fix It” is becoming rhetorical. It just remains a slogan. What, instead, that needs to be fixed is the way affairs of the state are managed. Everyone by now knows that your Special Assistants are bickering amongst themselves and are amateurs, and one in particular is a smooth talking glory seeker. Some of them have either given themselves a new job description or that at the time of their appointment were not made known. Recently, we saw a letter signed off by Dr Lawrence Mwananyanda, who was appointed as the Special Assistant to the President for Project implementation and Monitoring is now also signing off as the National Security Advisor? When did this happen? What experience does he have in national security matters? When we googled his name his biography reads that he is a Clinician/Scientist with a wealth of experince in conducting medical and public health research. And surely if such an important appointment was made it should have been made known in public interest. Whilst we understand that it’s your prerogative to appoint whomsoever, at least appoint experienced people. Mr President, they are all making you look bad. Some ministers we have talked to say that they have no regard for any of your Special Assistants. What does that say? And how will the rest of government respond?

Leaders who don’t listen will eventually be surrounded by people who have nothing to say, and Mr President you are in even a worst position because you have surrounded yourself with people who don’t even know what to say or do, they lack experience, as do several other ministers. We implore upon you to introspect; to listen and fix things before things go pear shaped.

Barrack Obama said, “You can’t let your failures define you. You have to let your failures teach you”.

Mr President, something for you to think about!- The Mast


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