Zambians are politically fatigued. They have seen and heard so many depressing developments on news which have forced them to detach themselves from the political circle of their country. Families have resolved to mind their own businesses and fight their own struggles after realising that the people they voted in power have abandoned them. So when a scandal breaks, they merely post a comment on Facebook or share a joke about it on WhatsApp and move. They don’t care anymore.
It is the same with organisations. They have shouted and screamed at those in charge of the country’s leadership, challenging them to put the interest of the citizens at heart as they govern, but there has been no change. Press conference have been organised, critics have raised the alarm continuously but nothing has changed.
Recently, there has been a commonly abused word “dialogue”. For over a year, the church and civil society have been advocating for dialogue on national issues. Today, they are also fatigued. They are tired of challenging government leaders to consult stakeholders when making decisions, but no one seems to care.
In fact, the Republican President has been lying to citizens that he promotes an open door policy. President Edgar Lungu has been bragging that he is the most listening Head of State.
“There was a time when people believed that the PF is full of ignominious leaders; people who knew nothing and have never been to school. But look, we have transformed the economy of this country. The secret to success is consultation, even when you don’t know; when you consult you are bound to succeed. That’s why when we think, we plan, we consult, we [then] listen to what you have to tell us. They said Edgar Lungu is not an economist so he will grind this country into a halt… but look at where we are?” bragged President Lungu in February this year.
But the Zambia Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) exposes our president as a man who lies through his teeth. The organisation’s president used a rare opportunity on Labour Day to confront the Head of State and bring out his hypocrisy.
Mr Chishimba Nkole wanted President Lungu to explain to citizens why he went ahead to assent to the National Health Insurance Bill without subjecting it to a consultative process involving the labour movement. He also wanted the Head of State to explain why State House has never welcomed trade union discussions under his rule.
“Dialogue and consultation are cornerstones of democracy, we cannot call ourselves democrats if we short circuit dialogue. The National Health Insurance Act, Your Excellency, is an unpopular law and workers of Zambia will pursue it until justice prevails. The Zambian worker is already overburdened. We made all the efforts that any labour movement worth its sort can do to pursue a matter before it becomes law. We wrote letters, we communicated in the press and we were on radio. We are talking about a bill which concerns our own members, but unfortunately, we did not have a chance to explain the lacunas,” said Chishimba.
“Your Excellency, as we talk about dialogue, you also happen to be, I don’t know what word I am looking for, whether victim will be the correct one, but I want to say that even yourself, have not opened your doors officially to the labour movement in Zambia. Since you came into office, we have been writing letters to talk and sometimes we ask ourselves as to what the problem could be. Sometimes we say ‘maybe the President thinks that we have no issues or rather, we just want to go and spend a few minutes there and waste time’. Your Excellency, I will continue saying that we are aware of your schedules and responsibilities as Head of State and when we make calls, it is not just meant to say hi to you, it means there are a lot of problems. I know busy people sometimes would think that ‘maybe these people just want to say a greeting’, there are issues and when you say no to me, it means you are saying no to the workers of Zambia and their families because we carry heavy responsibilities and messages.”
Actually, the word Mr Chishimba was looking for is “culprit”. President Lungu is a culprit of intolerance for dialogue and consultation. In fact, we gave the ZCTU president a lot of credit for being blunt, but extremely diplomatic when addressing the Head of State.
But Mr Nkole was practically telling President Lungu that he is an arrogant man who makes unilateral, and irrational decisions. In plain English, he was telling him that ‘when we come and knock on the door of State House, we don’t follow food or to take selfie picture, we have serious concerns to raise with you’.
Our Head of State was very ashamed on that day and we could see his guilty face. ZCTU hammered the nail on the head, and President Lungu had no excuse for approving the National Health Insurance Bill without consulting stakeholders.
“We will continue consulting you. Even in the National Health Insurance Bill, we will continue consulting you. Parliament will continue sitting, if there is need for amendments, we will take this to Parliament and we will make amendments. This is not cast in concrete because even concrete we can break it and rebuild. But we will not be held back because you have differed with us, no! Keep talking to us, we will hear you,” said President Lungu.
What a response! The President can’t say ‘we will not be held back because you disagree with us, then in the same breath, direct that parliament amends the law if the people whom it affects are not happy. Why was he in a harry to consent to this Bill? Why were the trade unions not consulted in the first place? Why has the President closed the State House door to labour issues? Those are the questions for which Zambians are demanding answers, because we didn’t hear President Lungu dispute the claim by ZCTU that he has never welcomed the labour movement to his office.
This is the hypocrisy that lives in President Lungu. He encourages people to engage in dialogue, but he doesn’t value dialogue himself. He lies that he is a listening President but he never listened to the Zambia Congress of Trade Unions.
So it is true what Mr Nkole said that by saying no to the labour movement, the Head of State was saying no to the workers of Zambia and their families.
President Lungu has to change. We respect the fact that he was never interested nor prepared for this job, he found himself in State House by circumstantial coincidence. But unless he steps aside, he has no option but to grow on the job. Zambians want a President who has their interests at heart. So saying “we can’t be held back because you disagree with us” is a senseless statement because ZCTU is not a political party, it represents the interests of the workers.
If Mr Chagwa wants to remain stubborn, he must know that he is digging his own grave. This rejected Health Insurance Act that he has imposed on the poor Zambians is one of the long strides towards his end. We know he can’t see it now because he is a man with no vision, but we will be here to remind him.