Former Defence Minister George Mpombo says the Energy Regulation Board’s (ERB) upward adjustment of fuel pump prices and electricity tariffs will reduce people’s lives to total misery.

And Mpombo says President Edgar Lungu’s decision to cut his salary between 15 and 20 per cent is laughable and exposes his lack of leadership to solve Zambia’s economic crisis.

In an interview, Mpombo said 2019 had exposed the tragic leadership failure of the government due to a number of negative developments.

“2019 has been a turbulent year politically and economically. It also exposed the tragic leadership failure of the government, (and) because of the negative developments that have happened in 2019, we are going to face a lot of economic and political brouhaha in 2020 because of the leadership’s incompetence! We are going to see major upheavals in the manufacturing sectors, major upheavals in the agriculture sector because, right now, the agriculture sector is on its knees. The principal purpose of the Ministry of Agriculture has now just become the mere distribution of fertilizer. Major components of the sector like irrigation, appropriate measures to prop up small-scale farmers, all these have gone,” Mpombo observed.

“So, 2020 will be a terrible year. The recent upward fuel adjustments and in electricity tariffs are a major blow to the economic performance and also people’s lives will be reduced to total misery because these measures will have ripple effects on the economy because these are major drivers of the economy. And as transport fares go up, I can tell you that 2020 will be a very tough year for Zambians compounded by poor leadership. At the moment, government is not able to arrest the situation; (it’s) out of control at an alarming rate! It will be very difficult for Zambians to make ends-meet. So, 2020 is a calamitous year for Zambians, both politically and economically.”

He further observed that Zambia’s economy remained fragile as it was still entirely dependent on the mining sector’s performance.

“At the moment we are producing low copper. So, the economy is in a very fragile state and then you compound that misery with the African Development Bank (AfDB) imposing sanctions, something that has never happened before, economically, government has failed. It is on ropes,” Mpombo said.

And Mpombo scoffed at President Lungu’s initiative to cut his salary and that of ministers and other top government officials, dismissing the gesture as a simplistic solution in trying to resolve a complex economic crisis.

Last Friday, President Lungu’s Special Assistant for Press and Public Relations Isaac Chipampe announced that the Head of State had ordered a marginal reduction in his salary and all other Cabinet members, including the Secretary to the Cabinet, Dr Simon Miti, by an average of 15 per cent, effective Wednesday, January 1.

According to Chipampe, the initiative was motivated by President Lungu’s desire to realize savings to allocate towards cushioning the vulnerable amidst the high cost of living worsened by higher fuel and electricity costs.

However, two days later, dismissed Information and Broadcasting Services Permanent Secretary Chanda Kasolo told the media that the President’s pronouncement should be interpreted as “voluntary” as his salary cut directive was not backed by any statute.

“That decision is a whole bunch of malarkey! It shows a very simplistic solution to a complex problem because 20 per cent or whatever personal emoluments you want to divert, it’s not even a drop in the ocean. It’s nothing. This is deep-seated economic problems, which cannot be resolved by that simplistic attitude. In any case, I worked in the government and the salary of a Head of State or a minister is nothing,” said Mpombo. “The decision to cut the 20 per cent is laughable and does not show leadership. If, for example, the President cuts K20,000 of his salary, will that K20,000 go round the whole country? It will not. So, this is an exercise in futility, it has no consequences. The government should look at issues in a broader sense; save the collapsing manufacturing industry; inspire confidence so that erosion of direct investment is restored.”