Holiday for what? Is it Achalasia Day?

There are a lot of Zambians employed in the formal sector who are happy that they are not going for work today. They are happier because after yesterday’s holiday, they will continue to relax, socialize and probably drink the whole long weekend until Tuesday. These are the citizens President Edgar Lungu wanted to please with his strange declaration of today’s holiday.

But the employers of those people who are enjoying this holiday are not happy because they have to be in operation every working day of the month in order to make enough money and pay salaries as well as VAT to the Zambia Revenue Authority next week. To big multinational companies, an hour without electricity means loss of millions of dollars; to waste one day of operations because the President has declared an unwarranted holiday is a huge blow to their income, and of course Zambia’s economy.

It’s not only the big companies that have been hit by this declaration; in Zambia today, the majority of women and youths whom we are honouring this long weekend, are self-employed in the informal sector. For these people; bus drivers, marketeers and vendors to survive, they have to make money through the sale of goods and services. On a holiday like today, there is no business.

In fact, there has not been good business since the beginning of 2018. The economy is suffering because we lost the whole month of January to the Cholera epidemic. Public gatherings were banned, movements were restricted and trade in all markets of the major cities was halted. An economist will tell you that this will have a devastating effect on the GDP our poor and highly indebted country, Zambia.

But that’s only on the economic front – academically; schools, colleges and universities were shut down owing to the Cholera outbreak in January. Students and pupils who only resumed classes late last month were told that they would close a week late because they have so much catching up to do.

Here comes a President who, for no apparent reason, wakes up and condemns the country to another unproductive day. Why? We were very curious to know the rationale behind this holiday and we must say that we are not satisfied with the explanation.

“The basis for that was basically to honour the cause for women; to give it (International Women’s Day) more support and momentum and then prepare to transition into the Youth Day (on Monday). Given that it was coming on a day like Thursday, propositions came from different stakeholders within the government administration, particularly Cabinet Office and State House, and that was accepted. So it was simply in solidarity with the women folk,” said Mr Amos Chanda, the President’s spokesperson.

We are glad that Mr Chanda was honest, in his usual fashion, to disclose that President Lungu was coerced into declaring today a holiday by people who work around him. This is exactly what we mean when we say our Head of State is surrounded by wrong people, and he has no aorta to defuse useless advice. It confirms that the President has no position of his own; he does what he is told to do by those who have usurped Presidential powers under his weak leadership.

In fact, those who went to President Lungu and said “Your Excellency let’s declare a holiday on Friday so that the country’s economy can slow down for another 5 days” don’t love him. They are using every opportunity to push the President towards a noose

But we wish to remind the Head of State that people don’t care who gives the President wrong advice. They voted for Lungu and it’s Lungu they will vote out if he fails to steer the country into economic prosperity. An alert President would have quickly realised that, much as it was a popular decision in the short term to declare a holiday, the economic consequences in the long term were grave.

Finance Minister Margaret Mwanakatwe knows very well that such decisions cannot help realise her pledge to pay public servants’ salaries on time. Her sinking fund for repaying the Eurobond is empty, she has contractors to pay, she has government bills to pay; what advice did she give the President on this decision?

Imports and exports will not be cleared today because the customs officers at the boarder have been told by their President to go home and rest. Cheques which were supposed to mature today, will mature on Tuesday next week because banks are closed today. How can we promote this kind of laziness as a country?

We know that this decision was political, inspired by the campaign fatigue among those who have been toiling around the country soliciting for 2021 votes. So they needed time to rest. Of course President Lungu has the power to declare a holiday, any day, but he needs to exercise those powers with a lot of foresight and caution.

We wish to also remind the President that this laziness does not tie in with Michael Sata, a man whose legacy he claims to be advancing. Michael was about productivity. Unlike President Lungu, when he was elected into office, Michael refused to immediately go on holiday in Mfuwe to recover from a grueling campaign trail. His explanation was that he had not worked for the Zambian people to deserve a holiday yet.

Even when the Zambia national soccer team won the Africa Cup on Sunday February 12, 2012, there was no holiday declared on Monday when the team arrived from Gabon. People had to sneak out of their offices to go and catch a glimpse of the African Champions. We are no saying that was a wise decision, but we are trying to demonstrate the desperation that President Lungu’s predecessor had for growing the economy through productivity among citizens.

But the fact that President Lungu feels it was in the interest of the nation to declare this day a holiday, and force institutions such as the judiciary to adjourn the numerous court cases and judgments which would have been delivered today, shows that we have a shortsighted leadership in charge of our country.

This must never be allowed to happen again. It was a bad decision. Those in State House must know that Zambians are desperate to make money, pay the so many taxes that government is demanding and eat something from the little change.

Next time when President Lungu gets too tired, he must take a day off alone. If he wants to commemorate his 2015 collapsing tragedy during the International Women Day, he is free to declare Friday his personal Achalasia Day and stay at home; but let him not drag the whole nation into laziness.

         

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