LUSAKA lawyer and businessman John Sangwa State Counsel says the Patriotic Front government has no capacity to resolve the debt capacity that it has plunged the country in, arguing that if there was capacity, those in leadership would have avoided engaging in excessive borrowing.
And Sangwa says the fact that government has not provided a roadmap of how it intends to dismantle the over US$15 billion external and domestic debt, show that there is a leadership vacuum in the country.
Sangwa was commenting on a letter written by former finance ministers Ng’andu Magande, Situmbeko Musokotwane, Felix Mutati, former commerce minister Dipak Patel, former Bank of Zambia Governor Caleb Fundanga and former economic advisor to late president Levy Mwanawasa, Dr Moses Banda, who have advised President Edgar Lungu and his Finance minister Dr Bwalya Ng’andu to enlist help from the International Monetary Fund.
“You have a situation whereby the former ministers are saying one thing and Mbita Chitala who is another former minister is saying another thing. That is a sign of lack of leadership in a country. Whilst you are debating, the country is on fire. Right now there is simply no direction for the country on the economy,” Sangwa observed.
“It should be the government spearheading solutions to the debt situation, not the private sector. There is no feasible roadmap from government on how they intend to dismantle the debt. This shows that the government is not on top of things. The fact that these former ministers are now trying to step in, it means there is a vacuum in national leadership. Politicians are elected to prevent the situation that we are in, the situation we are in should not have arisen in the first place, or at least they should have a solution for it. So the issue we have is not a debt crisis as such, but a national crisis.”
Sangwa said it was highly unlikely that the PF would fox the collapsing economy.
“Someone who drives you into a ditch cannot be expected to have the brains for pulling you out of that ditch. When you look at the PF, there is no capacity to solve the economic problems. Look at it this way, they inherited basically a debt free country and 10 years later, you are sitting on a debt of US$15 billion. Now, asking the PF to resolve that debt position is like asking an arsonist to come and put out a fire. If PF has the capacity to resolve the debt problem, if they had the capacity to fix the economy as it stands, then they would have shown that capacity in the first place by not contracting the debt that they have accrued all these years. It’s a contradiction. You cannot torch the house and then say you have the capacity to put the fire out. Where were they when this debt was growing? When the debt is growing you apply breaks,” he said.
“This is the problem, whether the former ministers are right or Chitala is right, the point is that something has to be done. As you are debating, the house is on fire. It’s like Zambia is waiting for its creditors to come and provide the solution to the debt problem. It doesn’t work that way. The economic indicators in Zambia are all negative. There is instability in the exchange rate. People don’t understand how damaging the instability in the exchange rate is. I am not an economist, but I can tell you that planning becomes impossible in business. Any businessman will tell you that I don’t care what the exchange rate is, but can it be stable! You can’t have your exchange rate running up and down like a yoyo! Right now people have started pegging their goods and commodities in dollars, those are effects because people want to save their businesses.
Sangwa said the argument from Chitala who had opposed the proposals from the former ministers were not feasible.
“Remind the people that Kaunda already represented one extreme; he cut ties with the IMF and embraced the home grown policies, they never worked. If they had worked, Zambia’s economy would have worked, and Kaunda would not have been voted out of office. I am speaking as a citizen who is feeling the impact of the collapsing economy. I have lived through Kaunda’s home grown policies that Chitala is proposing, they never worked. They failed. Kaunda was forced to go back to the IMF towards the end of his reign and he was given conditions,” said Sangwa.
“We have a crisis in the economy and there is no leadership capacity to deal with it. This is my opinion, I do not believe that PF has the capacity to to address this debt situation. It boils down to my point that if you have basically torched the country, there is no way you will be the person to put out the fire. Debt is not an accident, it’s a deliberate decision taken over time. It is very sad that we are going through this process again where we are debating whether to go back to the IMF or not because we have been there before. It means as a country we have learnt nothing because this is where we were in 1990-1991. We have learnt nothing. We have lived through both the IMF and the home grown policies, as Chitala is saying, we have tried them before. It failed. You have no choice but to cooperate with the international community because you are part of the global economy and be able to work within the rules that are formulated.”