There is a certain uniquely Zambian government cruelty Hakainde Hichilema and his UPND government are finally confronting: the Zambian government disrespect, contempt and absolute disregard for the plight of government pensioners. For this, every Zambian must be very grateful to Hakainde and his UPND government.
The Zambian government has been suffering from budget deficits for more than 45 years now. Apart from the first 11 years after our independence in October 1964, by 1975, the Zambian government begun to suffer lower revenues from copper exports, higher oil import bills, the inevitable growing budget deficits and mounting debt.
Sadly, Zambia has never confronted head-on, the tension between resolving these problems from our own resources and by ourselves and or external borrowing and from the obnoxious IMF. All previous Zambian governments starting with the Kaunda regimes have failed to stop Zambia from its sliding ever deeper into an impoverished debt driven country.
And yet the solution to this debt enslavement has always been staring us in the face: stop contracting new unpayable debt, take full stock, ownership and control of our human and natural resource, mobilise and organise them on a higher level of productivity for the development of Zambian people and Zambia first, and slowly, with accumulating surpluses, pay off debt, without stopping to develop our own human and natural resources for ourselves!
How to actually do all this is why and what we should be putting every Zambian on a lifelong publicly funded highest quality education programme for, from birth to death. In the meantime, we must stop the evil torturing of those who are the weakest when it comes to enforcing their rightful demands on the Zambian government: public service pensioners. This layer of Zambians has the least possibilities and abilities to cause the Zambian government to act in their interests.
Hakainde Hichilema must be thanked for selecting pensioners to be among the first sectors whose cries his government has responded to. From time immemorial in Zambia, there have always been public service pensioners waiting for their pensions to be paid. Many have gone to their graves cursing the Zambian government for not paying them their pensions. Pensions are the deferred earned wages of workers. They are not gifts. These monies belong to the workers – it is their money. All pensioners must be paid, on time.
The idea behind pensions is that a worker, while able to sustain employment, must save money for the time when she or he may no longer be able to work, for whatever reasons, including advancing age. Usually, but not always, the employer deducts the pension contributions from the employee’s salary, and together with the employer’s contribution (which in reality is also the employee’s money!) remits it into the employee’s pension fund.
The extreme cruelty, therefore, of all our past governments, lies in the fact that it is precisely at the time when a worker cannot work anymore for themselves and they badly need their pension money that the government tortures them, by not paying them!
Our past governments have been taking advantage of public service pensioners extreme weak position and therefore inability to organise themselves and enforce their demands, not to pay them their pensions. Our governments have been quite happy to parrot that we are a Christian nation while actually killing pensioners from hunger and curable and treatable diseases by not paying them their pensions. Ironically, this evil of not paying pensioners took deep root and grew very fast during President Chiluba’s time, the man who christened Zambia a “Christian Nation”.
Hakainde Hichilema would do Zambia a great service if a thorough review of the entire public service and its pension schemes were to be reviewed with the objectives of enhancing the quality of the public service, improving and upgrading, on a continuous basis the education and skills of our public service workers, improving the conditions of service, salaries and pensions of public service workers and therefore making serving Zambia in the public service to the best of one’s ability the most honourable and rewarding career a worker should aspire to. This is doable, very doable, actually.
There is also the colonial legacy of extremely low pensions for all workers in Zambia in general, and for public sector workers in particular. Apparently, 57 years after independence the majority of Zambian workers are still expected to “return to their land/village” after their working life is over, and therefore do not need pensions large enough to live on, when they can no longer work. This is a cruelty matched only by the torture of not paying pensioners their pensions, when they are due.
Why and how on Earth do we expect tired men and women who have spent a life time of work in a company or government to end up, when their energies are ebbing and their greatest desire should be to lay back and enjoy a quiet sunset to the end of their lives, to now confront the back breaking farming or gardening work, for a living, till their death? No wonder many who actually return to their villages do not last long, they die upon their arrival in the village!
To correct this situation requires revisiting our national private and public sector employment laws, policies, regulations and practices, wages and salaries, pensions and compensation establishment, productivity and employment regimes. Our trade unions must, all of them working together, lead the campaign and national energies to restore the dignity of work by ensuring that every worker is paid more than a decent wage; a worker must be paid sufficiently to enable them to retire in dignity!
Finally, of course there is the machinery of government and what Hakainde Hichilema and his UPND government can do to improve how it works. This automatically speaks also to the rot and corruption which have set in our government, properly nourished especially by the PF regime of Chagwa Lungu. Hakainde and his UPND government cannot solve this problem by themselves.
For such a transformation to occur, it will require a national restoration movement involving all Zambians of goodwill in all our social and economic sectors. This will need us to initiate a seismic transformation of how we relate to one another, and how we work and do things.
This will need a new work and reward ethic to emerge. It is impossible to do this in an ideological, political, economic and cultural environment which celebrates private greed and wealth no matter how this is acquired and despises honest hard work, especially if such work has low material rewards.
Our uniquely Zambian corruption permeates all sectors and spheres of our lives including in the family, in schools, churches and mosques, public and private sector work places, and of course our politics. To defeat this corruption requires a national ideology of renewal, a movement to restore Zambia and its people back to sanity and decency, and of course to establish a just ever developing economic system that rewards honest hard work and productivity, rather than corruption.
All this is doable, and no time is better than the beginning of a fresh new year to resolve to do all this. Happy and productive 2022 to all my readers!