ECONOMIST Professor Oliver Saasa has called on the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to consider relaxing conditions for Zambia to access the COVID-19 emergency facility because the challenges arising from the virus could have a ripple effect across the globe.

And Professor Saasa says Zambia needs to be “free from want” for it to say it is free because you cannot be free and hungry at the same time.

In an interview, Prof Saasa, who is also Premier Consult Limited managing consultant, observed that there were several channels that the IMF could still use to help Zambia rather than wait for the country to meet the stringent conditions.

“One has to appreciate that the challenge of COVID-19 is not only a Zambian challenge. With COVID-19, what happens in Zambia has ripple effect across the globe because we have not realised how interconnected Zambia and the rest of the world is. So, addressing the problem in Zambia should be seen as addressing a global problem with respect to COVID-19 and, therefore, because of that, I expected the IMF, at least for this particular ring-fenced issue, to be a little bit more liberal than insist on the conditionalities. Now, insisting on the conditionalities is important and no one down-scales that, but at the moment, we are dealing with a crisis where, and this is my proposal, where the IMF, World Bank, AfDB…if they believe that our system is not ready to accommodate this, there are so many channels of helping. Whether you go through the international NGOs, the local NGOs, we have systems and structures in the country, the private sector, there are so many conduits. You can strengthen capacity and start channelling resources,” Prof Saasa said.

“If you are not sure, whether at the government system level, you have these issues that you keep on bringing, which are valid when it comes to accountability and transparency. The idea here is you are not helping the government. When it is comes to COVID-19, like in many developmental issues, it’s not government you are helping, it’s a national effort, it’s not a government effort. There is a difference between national and government; national means it goes way beyond government, government is part of the nation, but the nation is not government. So, if you have problems at the State-level, there are other systems, whether it’s church, faith-based organisations; we have NGOs that actually specifically are actually for that, that probably they are slightly more accountable, we have all these systems. So, for me, this is really why and how I agree with the central bank governor (Dr Denny Kalyalya), that you see, if there are challenges of this nature, it’s important for us to look at other modalities, other approaches of helping Zambia rather than just saying, ‘we are not giving you as a country’.”

He added that the IMF’s observations that Zambia had a debt problem should not be downplayed because there was need for government to address the issue.

“So, while the IMF are insisting that debt management has to be aligned to the national developmental priorities and needs, I do not see that this message must be seen as a message from the IMF per se; it’s a message of realism; it’s a message that comes from the Zambian people; it’s a message that comes from civil society; it’s a message that comes from professionals within the country, but it’s a message I must emphasize that the Minister of Finance, himself (Dr Bwalya Ng’andu), has continuously emphasized and has admitted that there is a problem. So, really, to look at the IMF as if they are the one that are bringing the bad message is inappropriate. In fact, if the IMF were not giving us these messages about best management and ensuring that we align our appetite to borrow to our capacity to pay, if the IMF were not saying it, we were supposed to say it and we have said some of us have continued, and I am not alone. So, this is very fundamental and we should not downgrade it,” he added.

“I think there are challenges, challenges that ought to be addressed, challenges that many professionals, stakeholders, both within and outside government, has been recognized that we need to do things differently at different levels. If we can start with the areas of contention, particularly by the IMF and the likes of the World Bank and multilateral institutions, debt management, debt contraction and debt overhang, these are issues that it’s not only the IMF that talk about them; they speak to Zambia and our DNA and what it takes for us to take our priorities in a way that ensures that we meet developmental obligations at different levels. If the IMF now say that, ‘yes, we have a programme that you are asking, but there are certain minimum conditions that we want you to meet and those are the minimum conditions that Zambia must set itself without having to think that they are coming from outside as a condition, you have to meet these. So, that becomes important. So, we have to take heed to our own voices, we must take heed to the like-minded donors, bi-laterals, we must take heed to the voices that have raised concern from the bi-laterals who are in effect our corporate partners.”

And Prof Saasa observed that there was no way that one could claim to be free if they cannot afford basic essentials.

“My definition of freedom goes beyond political freedom, the KKs of yesteryears played a very vital, important role in liberating Africa as freedom fighters, they are many of them, and they played a major role. You cannot talk about economic emancipation unless you have actually removed the yokes that tied your hands through political independence. Can somebody who is very poor, who cannot access a nutritionally food basket, can that person be called free? That’s the question you should ask,” said Prof Saasa.

“Can you be hungry and free at the same time? Especially if you are hungry when the silos are flowing, when the country has so much resources, but you are hungry, is that freedom? To me those are the fundamental questions. So, economic freedom is the next layer after Kaunda and his team, the next layer of focus. And when we talk about Africa Freedom Day, we should be actually talking about more economic freedoms, freedom from want. Freedom from want is really what we need to focus upon. Poverty reduction emancipates a human being, a human soul to be able to be worthy of being called a human being as opposed to an animal. If resources are there and are being abused, I would hardly listen to anybody who talks about freedom purely from the political perspective.”