Commerce Minister Christopher Yaluma says government has issued two Statutory Instruments to regulate the businesses that foreign companies can venture into in Zambia. This is an effort to protect small and medium enterprises from collapsing, as foreigners seem to be taking over every other business, leaving Zambians with diminishing opportunities to make a living out of trade.
We must admit and note that the intentions are good, and resonate with the cries of many Zambians over a long time. But we are concerned that the move may be a little too late, and can best be described as a knee jerk reaction. It is very frustrating to see government churn out Statutory Instruments without any plausible mechanism for enforcement.
It’s a mockery to people for the government to prescribe a law for regulating activities of foreigners in the market place, while on the other hand the same government is busy issuing permits to the same people.
Why are our institutions tasked with the responsibility of monitoring the operations of foreigners in this country so ineffective?
The Minister cites block-making business as one that should be left to Zambians. Indeed one can observe that most of the block-making businesses in Zambia for instance are in the hands of foreigners.. What government is ignoring is that most of such companies are only financed by foreigners, but registered by Zambians. You can go to PACRA and search today, you will hardly find a single Chinese company that deals in poultry, but there are plenty of them registered by citizens while funded by Chinese. Secondly, even those foreigners who registered their business in their foreign names, they did not break any law. They followed procedure and PACRA issued them business certificates. So how will this StatutoryInstrument help in this regard?
This government wants to govern with Statutory Instruments, but these laws are usually useless from the onset because they are not well though out. In fact they have dangerous loopholes which will only open government to litigation.
It is our firm belief that laws do not cure everything. Honourable Yaluma’s Statutory Instruments will remain an academic exercise for as long as there are no proper mechanism of screening and monitoring the activities foreigners once they are on Zambian soil. It is much easier to restrict entry of foreigners who are not coming in as expatriates with documented proof from the company that is inviting them.
But the problem we have in this country is that even those in government, especially the Immigration Department, is that everything foreign is good. Anyone foreign is smarter than a Zambian. That is the inferiority complex that we suffer from. ‘The solutions to economic growth and development are anchored on foreign investment.’ This is the toxic narrative that the Zambian government is peddling. With that mentality, we don’t expect Mr Yaluma’s Statutory Instrument to protect small business for the local people.
Our development model is wrong. The sooner we realise that the better for everyone. What is Zambia learning from the developments in Tanzania for example where the leadership there has switched to domestic solutions, focused on growing the capacity of domestic producers of goods and services while stamping out corruption involved in trade. Look, the results are already showing. Even Zambians who used to pick cheap items from Dar- Es Salaam using some loopholes to evade tax, do not do so anymore because the leadership there has acted decisively. It has become tough for them. So, our leadership may pretend to be doing something about foreign businesses, but in reality the political elite responsible for public policy and enforcement have gone to bed with foreigners, the Chinese in particular.
A Chinse man producing and selling chickens at Soweto market may not be the biggest threat to the Zambian entrepreneur. Have we stopped for a second to reflect on the influx of South African owned shopping malls across the country and asked ourselves what the impact of those malls are having on local small businesses. The malls are taking over strategic land and turning Zambia into a dumping site for cheap foreign products.
And because these big foreign companies are able to negotiate for tax and non-tax incentives which small Zambian businesses are incapable of negotiating, they land on the market with business practices that take away opportunities for small Zambian businesses. We also have rich citizens in this country who can build shopping malls at every corner, but our government doesn’t have deliberate policy to prioritise support for such local investment.
Any rich Zambian who shows such financial muscle is in fact regarded as corrupt while foreigners are treated as clean investors. This attitude where foreigners receive preferential treatment when dealing with government over Zambians is what is effectively killing the business growth prospects for indigenous Zambians.
There is also a general negative attitude towards Zambian products that must be addressed. To address this we need to be serious about enforcement of standards. It would not make sense for a citizen to bypass a Zambian takeaway and go to buy shawarma from a Lebanese restaurant if the local shop makes them even better. But you find that some Zambian entrepreneurs in this sector are struggling with everything starting with hygiene standards.
What the government needs to do in order to promote such private sector entrepreneurship is to support knowledge transfer and skills training programmes. Citizens need to appreciate that their government is willing to support their investments once they meet a certain level of standards.
So, a Statutory Instrument is one thing, but we would like Honourable Yaluma to address parliament on how this law will be implemented and six months later, he must go back to the House to announce how much achievement it will have recorded. He needs to give statistical data of how many Zambian business will have benefited from this Statutory Instrument and how many foreign businesses would have been closed.