You are a President not Octopus

“There is no project too small for me to commission; it’s unfortunate that I can only be in so many places at the same time. But if time allows, I’ll be everywhere to commission all projects, even if it meant commissioning just a toilet I would gladly do so,” says President Edgar Lungu.

We disagree with the President’s availability to commission projects as small as toilets. In fact we don’t even think it’s proper for a Head of State to desire to be everywhere to commission every developmental project, unless he thinks all his Cabinet ministers are useless.

But before we disagree with President Lungu any further, we would like to first congratulate him and the PF government for actualising the Lusaka-Ndola dual carriageway. The President also spoke very well and we totally agree with his thoughts on how many lives this road will save, especially given the great economic importance attached to it.

“Road safety is a huge component of public health. It saves us money. It saves lives. This road, the Great North, is the main artery to the heart of the country. We need it in good shape always, so that we can cut on the unacceptable high number of accidents we currently witness. This is an important route connecting southern and central parts of Zambia to mining towns on the Copperbelt and Northern parts of the country. I am glad to note that during construction period, this project will create over 3,000 jobs to our people. I am therefore hopeful that the contractor will give an opportunity to residents within the area where the road construction project is being undertaken,” said President Lungu.

We note that the announced cost for the construction of this dual carriageway is under very heavy criticism from Zambians who feel US$1.2 billion is too much for the Lusaka-Ndola stretch, but we would like to leave that argument to technocrats. Instead we want to appreciate the significance of the project.

The Great North Road has become notoriously famous for road accidents, as it takes hundreds of people’s lives every year. A month doesn’t end without hearing of fatal accidents on this High Way. Politicians have come and promised to do something about this road, but they have left office without delivering.

That is why we would like to congratulate the President and the PF government for making the dual carriageway construction a reality. No doubt, the separation of south-bound and north-bound traffic will significantly reduce fatal road accidents on this High Way. We always read Cabinet resolutions to borrow money for the same “Water and Sanitation” projects every year but citizens remain with water problems. People complain when the government is borrowing for useless project which hardly affect them. They hate it when their government gets Eurobond money to build new hydro power stations but loadshedding does not end. We are sure that when Zambians hear that their government borrowed money for this project, very few of them will complain because the Lusaka-Ndola road has been a death trap.

We also agree with the President that, for non-expatriate labour, the contractors must consider employing the local people where the road will pass. We want the villagers at John Chinena to have more money in their pockets because once this road is closed for construction, there will be no one to buy their roadside tomato and other farm produce they sell to earn a living. We need to see more of such projects, which directly affect the people, being launched.

That said; we disagree with President Lungu that all projects are big enough to warrant being commissioned by a Head of State. While we appreciate that there is a campaign in Zambia to end open defecation, we don’t want our President, humble as he might be, to add commissioning of pit latrines on his busy schedule.

A President has State House assistants, ministers, permanent secretaries and directors to assist him oversee development projects in their line ministries. If he thinks they are all lazy to do their jobs, we insist that he involves traditional leaders to launch construction of minor projects. He is a President and not an octopus. Let him stay in his office and concentrate on his job, until there is a worthy trip to make.

And what is the significance of a President launching a project other than politics? What role does a Head of State play at a road construction-commissioning ceremony? Is it not just to gain political mileage for his political party? But does he expect Zambians to give credit to the Rainbow Party for the construction of the dual carriageway? Of course it’s the Patriotic Front in power who takes the credit, so there is no need for a President to waste money travelling to these construction sites to lay foundation stones or unveil plaques.

This is just a stupid tradition that has been abused over the years with all the political parties that have governed this country. It’s like marching on Independence Day, Labour Day and all the other national events. Somebody in some government office somewhere thinks marching is the best way to celebrate our national events – printing T-Shirts and walking past the President or whoever it is they have invited as guest of honour. Surely, these are useless traditions that we need to stop wasting time on, if we want to develop the country.

         

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