ECONOMIST Professor Oliver Saasa says the recently launched Economic Recovery Programme will end up like the much acclaimed Zambia plus program if there is no commitment from government in ensuring that the plan is implemented.
In an interview, Prof Saasa noted that failure to implement the Zambia plus program worsened things for the country as the country’s debt makes it difficult for government to implement the plan.
“There are comments regarding how Zambia Plus performed and if you look at that, you will see how dismally Zambia Plus performed. Most of the parameters that we expected to see traction, we could not actually achieve that. One of them really relates to the extent to which we continued to over contract external sovereign debt which makes it very difficult, now sovereign debt is the elephant in the room. This has made it fairly difficult for us to make sense unless you are a magician, to make sense out of what government has itself to do. Debt alone combined with salaries of civil servants account for around 95 percent of the government revenue. And when you look at Zambia Plus, those are the very issues as you recall, that were being addressed but the situation worsened. So, what does it mean, does it mean that now that we have an Economic Recovery Program that looks quite fairly comprehensive and that we can start implementing it, can we say this is the best? Now, when we say it’s the best, relative to what? Because we had Zambia Plus which was also praised and we praised it as a good start. So the bottom line for me is implementation,” he said.
“When you look at the contents of the document, while it’s possible to identify one or two things where things could perhaps be done slightly differently, overall my verdict is that it’s a good document. It’s a good plan that allows us to hold accountable those in leadership, their words against their deeds. A plan is exactly what it is, it’s a plan, it does not operationalise itself and I think that is really the starting point. The relevance of a document is not how beautiful it is, it’s not how well detailed it is. Its relevance is dependent on opportunities to implement it, for it’s an implementation issue.
He emphasised the need for government to structure the implementation arms of government which he said are currently very weak.
“The fiscal discipline, to proceed and implement things in the manner that the document actually provides, but to do that, you need a number of things. One of them is structuring the implementation arms of government. The institutional framework in which we need to implement a program or a plan or a budget matters. If we are not re-engineering our implementers, whether we are talking about ministry of finance at that level you are talking about budgeting, expenditure control, debt management, all those if we remain the way we are then the economic recovery program will come to lot. At the sector ministries it’s the same thing, in fact actually that’s where most of the culprits are. The implementation capacity at ministries generally is very weak and we have seen ministers at sector levels sometimes taking over the responsibilities of permanent secretaries. The technocrats are given a back seat, politicians are the ones who are talking about developmental programs continuously,” he added.
Prof Saasa further urged government to focus on growing the economy.
“A normal government must focus on growing the economy so that whatever commitments, by way of debt, we must meet that obligation. We should not go to other countries to beg for forgiveness, no. So essentially what it means is that if the Economic Recovery Program has to see the light of day, it has to be in a manner that first and foremost recognises that it’s only Zambians that can grow their economy and the right policies must be in place. If these things are not happening, the Economic recovery program will actually go the same route that Zambia Plus had taken,” said Saasa.