President HH’s checklist: How it looks 9 months after he took office
President HH’s checklist
How it looks 9 months after he took office
ON HIS ascendance to the office of President after a landslide victory in the August 12,2021 polls, Hakainde Hichilema promised to fulfil the party’s vision as set by its founder Anderson Mazoka when he formed the United Party for National Development in 1998. President Hichilema promised “A Zambia which is united prosperous and equitable’’. A Zambia that guarantees basic needs for all its citizens. A Zambia in which the fundamental human rights and property of its citizens are protected.” He promised a “new dawn”. President Hichilema then told a packed stadium of jubilating citizens: “Today, we begin our journey towards realising this dream.” A dream of re-uniting and re-building our mother Zambia.
It is now nearly nine months into that journey, which had six main targets: to achieve national unity, accountability and inclusion; to strengthen governance; economic transformation and job creation, as well as economic recovery and stabilisation.
The other targets were to institute public administration reforms, and to make Zambia a player in global affairs.
For a country that was tearing at the seams because of tribal talk, regionalism and political violence, national unity was paramount and it was one of the first successes Mr. Hichilema scored, first by stopping his own supporters from taking over the running of markets and bus stations, which were breeding grounds for political violence.
Following his strong stance on violence, which he has repeated many times since becoming President, political violence has, to a large extent, been curbed, and citizens are freer to exercise their freedoms regardless of the political party they belong to.
It was the first sign of regime change, and a huge departure from the old system where police, to a large extent, abused the Public Order Act to stifle dissenting voices, usually resulting in police brutality.
One of the freshest incidents of that abuse is the killing of public prosecutor Nsama Nsama during peaceful protests by UPND supporters in Lusaka.
And now Government, through Cabinet, has approved the review of the Public Order Act, promising to amend it. If the Public Order Act is repealed or amended, Mr. Hichilema will have done something that his predecessors failed to do despite public outcry.
There has also been a change regarding media freedoms.
In its latest quarterly report, Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Zambia noted a marked improvement in the country’s media landscape, with far less incidents meant to suppress the media recorded.
President Hichilema has also shown willingness to be more engaging with journalists, promising to date them quarterly to answer their questions concerning the governance of the country. For instance, the President spent more than half a day interacting with journalists to mark World Press Freedom Day, something unprecedented in the history of media engagements by a head of State.
He has positioned himself as a leader with zero-tolerance for corruption and also a champion of good governance. Although there is yet to be a major conviction of those suspected to have stolen public resources, Mr. Hichilema has been unrelenting in his quest to end corruption and recover what was stolen.
In October last year, security agencies seized K65 million and US$57,000 from Faith Musonda. In addition, more than 400 properties, suspected to be proceeds of crime, have been seized. These are undergoing legal processes before they could be formally handed over to the people of Zambia.
That money that was recovered from Faith Musonda has since been channeled to support 2,200 university students from underprivileged backgrounds across the country.
Government has also set up a fast-track court to speed up the prosecution of cases involving corruption.
At the start of Mr. Hichilema’s tenure, the country’s economy was teetering on the brink of collapse, with a US$26.9 billion debt that had become unsustainable.
Zambia’s economic growth was in the negative and the government then was struggling to clinch a bail-out deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), while the cost of living had reached uncomfortable levels for many citizens.
In January 2021, the cost of living had skyrocketed to a new all-time high of K8,400 per month for a family of five, mainly triggered by high inflation, as reported by the Catholic think tank Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection (JCTR).
The country had also become unattractive to new investors because of eroded investor confidence and poor rating by credit rating agencies.
In September 2020, the credit rating agency Fitch had downgraded Zambia to nearly junk status due to its mountain of debt.
The outlook could not be dimmer. Someone had to turn the ship around.
Although negotiations over Zambia’s debt restructuring are still in progress, there is now hope an IMF deal will be reached around mid-year. Last November, the country reached a Staff Level Agreement with the IMF, a major leap forward in the negotiations. And most recently, China, which Zambia owes US$6 billion, has also joined efforts to restructure the debt, giving the country and its citizens more room to breathe.
The economic outlook has since changed, and showing signs of recovery, even in the midst of another impending global crisis caused by the Russia-Ukraine war.
The annual inflation rate has declined to 11.5 percent from 23 percent last year, while the exchange rate has stabilised, and in recent days has been registering marginal improvements.
On Monday, JCTR recorded a marginal reduction in the cost of living, which has been a source of worry for many citizens.
President Hichilema has not been shy to admit that the current state of the Zambian economy is hurting many citizens. “I feel your pain,” he said at a recent press conference, commenting on the high cost of living in the country. But he has also been assuring about the country’s future, and what his government plans to do to revive its economy.
There are now signs that the country could be headed for economic recovery.
The investment climate has improved, with investors now making decisions to invest huge amounts in Zambia. Last week, for instance, First Quantum Minerals staked US$1.35 billion for Kansanshi Mine expansion, and opening of Kalumbila nickel mine.
It is the biggest single investment in a decade.
But there are also home-grown initiatives meant to spur economic growth.
One such initiatives that was recently laid on the table as a roadmap to economic recovery is the Public-Private Dialogue Forum, which will act as a platform for Government to work with the private sector to identify and remove bottlenecks to Zambia’s economic growth.
President Hichilema has also signed two key bilateral agreements with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and Angola. The agreement with the DRC is meant to create a joint value chain for the now hyped electrical vehicle sector and clean energy sectors in both Zambia and DRC. The agreement with Angola is meant to promote trade between the two neighbouring countries.
Trade agreements have also been signed with Rwanda.
The increase in CDF from K1.6 million per constituency to K25.7 million is a major milestone meant to decentralise the operations of Government by taking financial resources to the people.
The move is also expected to spur economic development by encouraging small and medium-scale entrepreneurs to access cheaper capital through cooperatives.
The funds are being released quarterly, with guidelines issued on how citizens can access and benefit, but there is now also oversight from the Anti-Corruption Commission to ensure that there is no corruption in the process to access the funds, or theft by those administering the funds.
That Mr. Hichilema has stamped his foot on the global stage is without doubt, projecting himself as a pan-Africanist, whose interest is to unite the continent around trade and promoting peace.
His most recent trip was to South Africa, where he delivered a keynote speech at the mining indaba in Cape Town, getting a standing ovation for what some described as a “breath of fresh air”.
Mr Hichilema has also been keen to forge new partnerships with progressive countries on the continent, such as Rwanda and Botswana, and has often referred to himself as the country’s number one salesman.
But, unlike his predecessor, who usually travelled abroad with huge delegations, Mr. Hichilema is a “light” traveller, only carrying a handful of staff. He is said to have cut down his delegations by up to 90 percent, resulting in serious savings for the Treasury.
Without doubt, one of the most sweeping policies of the new dawn government has been the implementation of free education from Grade One to 12 – a dream come true for many poor and low-income households that were failing to take their children to school.
Government has also paid off 128,000 pensioners who had been waiting for their money, some for as long as 10 years.
The new Government has also paid off all the 15,000 Tanzania-Zambia Railways Authority workers, plus 34,000 council workers who were not receiving monthly salaries. Over 258,000 farmers who supplied maize to Food Reserve Agency have also been paid. The recruitment of 42,000-plus teachers and health personnel is in full swing and shall be concluded soon.
Source – Zambianobserver.com