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Margaret Mangani and Nebert Mulenga
With his national address on radio and television on Tuesday night, acting President Rupiah Banda effectively asserted his authority and appears intent on galvanising the country out of the hangover from the 21-day period of mourning president Levy Mwanawasa.
In the wake of president Mwanawasa’s demise in a French hospital on August 19, and his subsequent burial on September 3, a 21-day period of national mourning was declared which ended on September 9.
In his inaugural national address as acting president broadcast on Tuesday on State television and radio, Mr Banda unveiled his key issues of attention during the transition period leading to the forthcoming presidential by-election, and also touched on a number of areas needing immediate attention.
The main sectors of his concern include: economic policies, the constitution-making process, human rights, public service management and performance of the media, especially in the run up to the presidential polls, which the acting president set for October 30, 2008.
On the economic front, Mr Banda says his administration would seek to build on the late president’s pro-market economic policies, that had led to significant achievements in almost all sectors.
Over the last seven years of Dr Mwanawasa’s reign, Zambia recorded an annual economic growth of five per cent, and for the first time in 30 years, inflation remained in single digit throughout 2007 while the Kwacha greatly appreciated against major convertible currencies.
Dr Mwanawasa re-introduced national development planning, which was abandoned during his predecessor, Frederick Chiluba’s 10-year-rule, and in 2006 launched the Fifth National Development Plan (FNDP) as well as the Vision 2030. The FNDP is credited among other things, for the speedy economic recovery that the country has attained at macro-level over the last two years, while the Vision 2030 remains a guide for the country’s progress from a poor income to a middle-income status by 2030.
“These hard-earned economic strides have been appreciated in the international financial circles to the extent that Zambia is now poised to have a sovereign credit rating for the first time ever,” said Mr Banda. “We are determined to continue with the implementation of prudent economic policies to score even more successes particularly a rapid reduction in poverty among our people.”
The country’s inflation, however, early this year slipped back into double digits on the back of the global food shortage and escalating fuel prices. The upswing in fuel prices resulted in Zambia, as a non-oil producing country, experiencing a sudden upsurge in the prices of all essential commodities including foodstuff.
By August this year, a 25kg bag of mealie meal had risen to K52,000 from an average of K33,000 during the same period in 2007, while several other prices of commodities such as cooking oil, sugar and bread trebled over the same period.
According to the Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection’s Food Basket for August 2008, even the trends in the cost of living have continued to show an increase with Ndola recording the highest at K710,920 for basic food for a family of six. Across the surveyed towns of Livingstone, Kabwe, Mongu, Kasama as well as Ndola, Kitwe and Luanshya on the Copperbelt, huge increases were seen in the cost of mealie meal, dry fish and cooking oil.
In that vein, the acting president called for the re-examination of fuel prices in Zambia, and took cognisance of the fact that the oil prices on the international market had started reducing.
“I direct the ministers of Finance and National Planning and Energy and Water Development to sit together and examine the matter with a view to reducing the price of fuel,” Mr Banda said.
Energy plays a pivotal role in the socio-economic development of the country. But the country in recent years has experienced disruptions in the form of power-outages which have triggered a public outcry impacting negatively on the overall performance of the economy.
In order to address these constraints, Mr Banda disclosed that in the short-term Government was undertaking a rehabilitation programme at Kafue Gorge and Kariba North Bank power stations respectively.
The work at Kafue Gorge power station is expected to be completed before the end of the year, while work at Kariba North Bank will be over by March next year. The two projects will result in an increase in power generation while reducing on power deficits.
In addition, new power stations are earmarked for construction in the wake of the growing economy. These areas include Kafue Gorge lower, Kariba North Bank extension, Kalungwishi, Kabompo and Itezhi- tezhi hydro-power projects.
In an effort to promote alternative power sources, Mr Banda’s administration will encourage the production and utilisation of bio fuels and solar energy.
During Dr Mwanawasa’s reign, in which Mr Banda served as vice-president in the last term, the agriculture sector consistently posted an annual surplus crop on maize.
This year, Government has already started distributing farming inputs under the Fertiliser Support Programme (FSP). The State has since increased the subsidy from last year’s 60 per cent to 75 per cent, while the number of beneficiaries under the Food Security Pack has risen from 150,000 to over 200,000 peasant farmers this year.
The sector still remains one of the key priority areas of the country.
“We shall continue to implement the policies and programmes of our departed president the ultimate goal is to ensure sustenance of household and national food security,” said Mr Banda, adding that his administration would continue to develop agricultural extension and research services.
The mining industry is undoubtedly, Zambia’s economic lifeblood, accounting for 80 per cent of the country’s foreign earnings. Zambia has over the last five years experienced massive investments in the sector following the record prices of copper on the world market.
Major investments include Chingola’s Konkola Deep Mining Project, Solwezi’s Lumwana Copper Mining Project and Kansanshi Mining Project. Others are Mulyashi Copper Project in Luanshya and the Munali Hills Nickel Project in Mazabuka.
Analysts say other than the favourable policies, the influx of investments in the mining sector has also been prompted by the rise in copper prices on the world market. Copper prices have since 2006 been trading at record highs of around US$8,000 per tonne – the average in 2000 was $1,200 per tonne – on the back of strong demand from China and India.
Government early this year upped the royalty tax from 0.6 per cent to the global norm of three per cent, thereby significantly increasing earnings from the country’s chief export, copper.
All mining companies have since reiterated commitment to continue their operations in the country, according to Mr Banda.
“I want, in this regard, to assure both local and foreign investors that there will be no departure from the current policies and focus in the mining sector,” he said.
The media, which is the Fourth Estate of government, has consistently offered widespread coverage of the national mourning period with both the public and private media highlighting various programmes around the life of the late president.
Without the media’s active involvement in the burial programme of the late president, Mr Banda said the public would have been starved of the vital information that was required to keep them updated on all the funeral events.
The acting president has pledged to continue providing a conducive policy, legal and institutional framework for the development of a free media on the basis of free expression of views being fundamental to good governance.
Government will also continue with the policy of liberalising the media industry for continued private sector participation. In this respect, the review of media laws will continue in a quest to find an appropriate media legislation that will enhance freedom of expression.
The late president Mwanawasa fought hard for the country to have a people-driven Constitution that could stand the test of time. Following Dr Mwanawasa’s death, there has been growing anxiety among citizens concerning the ongoing constitutional reforms through the National Constitutional Conference (NCC) with some people calling for its dissolution.
Mr Banda has, however, reaffirmed his government’s commitment to the process, saying it would continue to its logical conclusion.
Such is the enormity and versatility of the master plan that the acting president has unveiled for the country!
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