It’s March 26, just four days before lecturers at the University of Zambia and Copperbelt University are owed two months salary arrears. They have begged, protested and cried for their February emoluments, but to no avail. Something has gone terribly wrong in the management of public resources and it’s high time someone owned up.
Surely, even if we are exceptionally talented to act or pretend that “everything is okay”, this is too big a crisis to downplay. Zambia has had financial problems in the past, but this is the lowest bottom we have hit in a long time. Really, what is there to lose if one admitted that we have a financial crisis and need help?
The problem that the Treasury managers serving in this government have is that they want to solve a problem without first admitting that it is indeed a problem. But you cannot heal if you are in denial about your illness because no one will help you. What is the point in claiming a healthy outlook when everything else suggests otherwise? Like former Attorney General Musa Mwenye stated on his Facebook Page on Saturday, ignoring reality is a recipe for one’s own undoing.
MUSA Mwenye: “Being unable to pay your workers, and meeting the needs of those in your household is the surest sign that you should urgently cut your expenses and avoid the purchase of expensive and luxurious things that are completely unnecessary and do nothing to add value to the living standards of those in your home or under your care. When faced with such a situation, one cost cutting measure is to act swiftly to stop those working for you from stealing the money that is meant to feed your children and pay your workers. Ignoring reality is a recipe for one’s own undoing.”
State Counsel is absolutely right. Zambia is in denial. Our country has been diagnosed with a terminal illness but it does not want to accept the situation and start taking sustenance or palliative care medication. They say if it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck. If you can’t pay civil servants on time, you can’t fund the social sector, and state institutions are becoming moribund due to budget deficits, then it is a financial crisis.
We are not speaking from without, the symptoms of Zambia’s terminal illness are all over the body and no one can doubt any more. If the situation at the University of Zambia and Copperbelt University is not enough proof that we are in the intensive care unit, one simply has to look at other institutions.
Parliament has not received funding and lawmakers are still waiting for their allowances since the current session opened; they don’t even have funding for Constituency visits to monitor project implementation. Last week, a UPND member of parliament raised a point of order over this predicament in the National Assembly, but his question was shot down. Why was it shot down? Denial, people are in denial. They don’t want to talk about the problem.
Meanwhile, hospitals have not been funded yet, their operations are limited. Drugs are depleted and patients are being asked to buy their own medicine. If you are unfortunate to get an injection prescription, they will tell you to stop over at a chemist every day on your way to the clinic so that you buy your own nyeleti.
There is no way we can claim that we have a financially healthy country in the face of all these problems. What our government needs to do is to start listening to constructive criticism, such as the one being offered by State Counsel Musa Mwenye.
To be honest, President Edgar Lungu actually needs to suspend his worries about the wellbeing of other nations for now. The moment he overcomes our own Cyclone Maggy at the Ministry of Finance, then he can proceed to export maize and all the other aid that Malawi and our other neighbours need. We are not being mean; this is the reality of life. No matter how kind, a person cannot be eligible to donate blood to a loved one if their own blood-count is critically low.
Zambia needs to urgently cut her expenses. We need to avoid the purchase of expensive and luxurious things such as presidential jets, which cannot add value to the living standards of the ordinary poor. These are the problems that we must admit and start addressing. We can’t live in denial forever.