Chikwanda’s boredom is entertaining

Former Finance Minister Alexander Chikwanda in Lusaka-Picture by Tenson Mkhala

There must be a very strange spirit that possesses our leaders when they are in government. It seems this spirit has a special way of synchronising the brain with the stomach, such that before the mouth speaks, it gets a message from the belly. But immediately a person leaves government, this spirit vanishes and suddenly wisdom starts to pour out.

We are writing in reference to the recently released folktale from our retired grandpa, shikulu Chikwanda; a very interesting analysis of the state of the nation, as seen from the eyes of a veteran public servant, reminiscing about his illustrious career in government; from the comfort of his rocking chair.

We have reason to believe that shikulu Chikwanda’s statement is a product of boredom, but we would not be writing this if his pass time criticism was not constructive. Considering that this particular ex-minister joined government before a good number of current ministers were born, his views on governance must attract the attention of everyone who is willing to learn. Actually, we must thank this son of Zambia for still finding time, energy and most importantly, courage to speak truthfully against the party in power.

It’s a pity that a majority of leaders whom the former finance minister intended to communicate to may not get his encrypted message because, it appears as if shikulu Chikwanda attended the same English class as George Mpombo. In his statement, there was a lot of “inexorably, sacrosanct, wittingly, pious, invariably, unfettered, puerile”. But we tried to decipher these scholarly words with the aid of a dictionary.

Among many things, shikulu Chikwanda was advising the PF against adjusting the Constitution to suit short-term personal and partisan interests. Speaking now as a statesman, the former finance minister also raised the need for the PF government to avoid shifting policies, especially in the mining sector, which he recognised as the main stay of our economy.

It is difficult to disagree with Chikwanda’s wisdom, but from our viewpoint, we find it necessary to remind each other of where the old man is coming from. Is it not funny to hear Chikwanda guide PF against doing the same things he did while in government?

We recall that in November 2011, two months after forming government, shikulu Chikwanda’s PF government imposed a 10 per cent export levy on copper concentrates and ores to encourage value addition to copper exports. On October 4, 2013, the same shikulu Chikwanda signed Statutory Instrument number 89, reversing the very good revenue based decision of his government. Many people believed the (then) finance minister signed this favourable law to the mines because he had personal interests and allies in the mining sector.

In fact, we recall that when Chikwanda’s mischievous intentions were brought before Michael Sata, the (then) president invited us the journalists in Cabinet to record him as he admonished (then) Zambia Revenue Authority Commissioner General Berlin Msiska and his commissioner for customs Dingani Banda for allegedly “advising the finance minister wrongly”. It was laughable because everybody knew that Sata could not directly go that hard on his own nephew (Chikwanda), but the message was meant for him. The truth was that Sata was kind of agitated with his nephew’s conflict of interest in the mining sector through Sigma Enterprises, an international company that supplied to the mines, in which the finance minister had shares. People were talking and it was getting out of hand.

So we wonder why during his time in government, shikulu Chikwanda did not see it wrong to create laws that benefited personal or partisan interests. He can sound smart today, but he will have to wait a little longer, if time permits him, before we can forget how he superintended over our country’s resources.

Talking about inconsistencies in the mining sector which shikulu Chikwanda is telling the PF to stop, this is what the same man told Parliament after serving as a PF minister of finance for five years: “Mr Speaker, Zambia needs to establish the image of being a credible investment destination, however, this cannot be achieved unless our policies in the mining sector are anchored on two themes; predictability and consistency. If these somersaults are going to be our recipe, such will reduce investor confidence in our country. In the last one and half years, we have changed mining taxation policy three times; this is not good for the image of our country. It doesn’t induce stability in the mining sector, which is the main stay of our economy!”

By the way, shikulu Chikwanda was making this statement in the House, as he debated the Income Tax Amendment Bill, seeking approval to once again shift the mining taxation policy. If there was a time when Zambia recorded the worst mining policy inconsistencies, it was during Chikwanda’s reign as finance minister. So we ask, what kind of spirit is this that stops some ministers from reasoning when they are in government? Why do they allow their stomachs to do the thinking when it matters most?

Don’t get us wrong; we are not suggesting that there is nothing sensible from the old man’s counsel to his embattled Patriotic Front. As a matter of fact, we will focus on his political concerns in our opinion tomorrow because we feel he removed all diplomacy and laid his blunt message without restraint.

Maybe this is why some governance experts want an amendment to the law so that ministers can be appointed from outside Parliament, so that somehow they may maintain a certain level of professionalism without necessarily reducing themselves to puppets or tools of the sponsoring political party. Otherwise, apart from the above areas where he exposed a bit of hypocrisy, we find shikulu Chikwanda’s political guidance timely and on point.

         

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