It’s hard to advise govt when it’s not willing to listen – Saasa

Premier Consult Limited chief executive officer Professor Oliver Saasa says knowledge brokers like himself often fail to advise government on how best to run the economy because its doors were usually closed.

And Prof Saasa says if government plans to sell Zesco to China as reported by Africa Confidential, the process must be transparent.

Meanwhile, Prof Saasa says Zambia is not in debt distress but it is quickly gravitating towards that direction.

Speaking when he featured on the Hot Fm’s ‘Frank on Hot’ programme, Prof Saasa observed that many professionals were failing to advise government because pertinent discussions were usually caderised.

“[Lack of national interaction is worrying because] as someone who sees himself as a knowledge broker, who spends much of his time interrogating knowledge and information and yearning to share it with those that want and if I feel that each time I knock on somebody’s door and I’ve done that many times; sometimes successfully but many times I must say the doors are not opened, and I have this information that I would want to share with my colleagues in government and then I am left with only talking to the press. And yet we also know that talking to the press is not usually the only medium and perhaps the most effective media to engage government. Essentially what that means is that if you are not opening up the political space to allow those that are not in government to advise you and to help you run the government better, then you deny yourself the opportunity to know where the requisition for the information that is so important to make informed choices,” Prof Saasa said.

“So for me and of course for many professionals, there are many situations where discussions get cadrerized, we always just coil back in our shells and say ‘I don’t want to be messed up [or] I don’t want blood here’ because sometimes you feel wow, so this is how we would want to manage issues even where information suggests something else. There are so many Zambians out there who have information that can help government but why aren’t we building them? I am against building walls because walls prevent people from discussions and I want bridges that allow us to the other side and to see ourselves as collectively part of developmental discourse.”

And Prof Saasa said if government planned to sell Zesco to China as reported by Africa Confidential, the process must be transparent.

“I do not believe that the government is yet to sell off Zesco to the Chinese, but if they do, I will be the first one to raise the red flag like ‘if you do it, do it transparently, in an accountable manner and that everybody sees that that’s what you are doing, but mostly importantly, float it’ do not single source,” he said.

Commenting on Zambia’s relations with China, Prof Saasa said government needed to draft a proper document to define its relations with that country.

“China has a very clear strategy towards Africa for the next 50 years. This strategy is well defined. Its, resource driven, that is a ballooning economy in the next ten years it might surpass America, it will be economy number one. So even when we talk about ‘boot them out’ and sometimes we hear xenophobic expressions which is sad, you are actually talking about an emerging elephant, a huge animal but it knows what it wants in Zambia, in Kenya in Tanzania or in Africa. They have a clear strategy. For them when they invite you to go and talk to them and pledge for the next year or the next three years how much they are going to give you, they are very clear as to what they want. What is important is that for each individual African country, must sit down and also have clear policy and strategy as to how it can maximize its benefits from China. If you don’t do that and then they decide what you want from them, then you are in trouble,” he said.

“I have heard the Head of State indicating that they have come here in our own terms but I am yet to see a Zambian government document that clearly defines our relationship with China. If we don’t have it, this is the time we better, for the next one year or two years, let’s define in a clearly understandable manner how we want to interact with China because the Chinese are here and no matter how much we shout about some of the transgressions we associate with what they do, unless we are putting in place systems that clearly defines what we want from them, we will always be on the losing side.”

Meanwhile, Prof Saasa said Zambia was not in debt distress but it was quickly gravitating towards that direction.

“Zambia is not in debt distress but is gravitating in a significant speed towards debt distress which might lead to an economic crisis. If we continue to be in a state of denial and you allow people with the limited information but which can access additional information to lead the show in debating national issues of significance, and you allow anger to guide how Zambians interact over these issues, you politicize it in a manner that even the Africa Confidential, what they said if you challenge it and then you even assume that if they said that it’s because of another political party that has said it, then you miss the boat. Zambians are intelligent, we have very intelligent people in the Zambian government by the way. Why can’t we talk to each other and be able to utilize the human resource we have and the knowledge that we have at out command, and find solution to this? I don’t understand it why we have cadrerized, why we have politicized many issues of national significance and start name calling?” he asked.

“At personal or household level there is a crisis if you like but when we talk about debt and when we talk about debt distress, we reserve that classification, we reserve that when government fails to meet its debt obligation repayments when they fall due. Presently, Zambia is paying its debt commitments, presently Zambia has not yet defaulted on any of the payments, to my knowledge, presently if you look at the three Eurobonds, the first one is due as a bullet payment in 2022. So what we are saying is that we are gravitating perhaps in a significant speed towards debt distress but we are not yet there.”

On President Edgar Lungu’s speech to parliament, Prof Saasa said he was disappointed that the Head of State did not explain details of the national debt, which is a controversial issue.

“If there is a disappointment that I had in the President’s statement to Parliament was that I was really yearning to hear him talk about the debt, debt contraction and the controversy that was going on. He made reference very briefly to the importance of ensuring that we borrow within our means and that we should not contract debt beyond our capacity to service it. That is what was implied in the statement and then he kept quiet. And I was ‘wow’ this is like a pine in the sky, it just fell in the speech, there is no background a bit [and] so there is recognition he has made it but I wanted to hear a little bit more, because it is a topic that has occupied our interests so much,” said Prof Saasa.

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