It is now time for an urgent economic kamukunji. Kamukunji is a Swahili word for Public Deliberation on an urgent basis. I learnt that term the very first night of arriving at the University of Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, years ago. There was, I heard, to be a Kamukunji at Student Square the next day. The way the word and information was passed around, spelt majesty and urgency. The word has stayed with me ever since, though this is the first time I am using it in a column. Kamukunji is not an ordinary meeting where resolutions are passed and shelved. A Kamukunji is only called for rarely and to solve an urgent crisis that is threatening the community and in our case, Zambia.
Unlike the National Dialogue Forum (NDF) whose principal aim was to cement the political hegemony and survival of the ruling political class and whose benefit would principally ensure to the political ruling class and associated political support infrastructure, an economic Kamukunji would be a deliberation for the economic benefit of the majority Zambians. And there would be no need to legislate an Act with threats of criminal sanctions for non-attendance.
Unlike the NDF whose platform points for debate were pre-fabricated elsewhere and what was needed to be resolved was already straitjacketed from prior secret deliberations, an economic Kamukunji would start off by using objective and observable common cause economic crises.
Zambia is in deep economic crises. Everybody agrees with that. The evidence is all around us. It is objective and undeniable. The Kwacha has slid to an all time low of K13 to one US dollar. The inflation rate is close to 8 per cent. It is very difficult and without a formula how to ever bring the inflation rate to single digits if it ever climbs to double digits. Ours is inching towards double digits. Your currency becomes worthless the higher the inflation rate goes. Segments of civil servants, including university lecturers, have increasingly not been paid on time. Delayed pay is one of the surest measures of national economic crises. Youth unemployment is at an all time high. You wonder what the vaunted benefits of education are if you can’t get a job and there is no encompassing social welfare safety-net to tide you over during the crises in the interregnum. Prices of everything are at an all-time high including foodstuffs, fuel, transportation, electricity, service fees for everything, TV subscriptions, school fees and et cetera. And more belt-tightening is being called for. An Economic Kamukunji is called for.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has so far refused in a diplomatic way to bail out Zambia because of its unsustainable debt load, a debit load whose actual figure is not publicly disclosed. Does anyone dispute the fact that the IMF has so far diplomatically refused to engage in salvage operations for Zambia is evidence of Zambia’s economic crises? The very repeated trekking to the IMF to beg is evidence of economic crises. Does anyone doubt that we are indebted to the Chinese to the tune of unknown or undisclosed billions? Does anyone doubt that we are in such economic crises that our economy is essentially run by the Chinese and supplemented by American, British, German, other European and Scandinavian aid? That Turkey, the Saudis and Indians are all our saviours!
As demonstration of our economic crises that justifies an urgent Economic Kamukunji, Zambia has embarked on the following unprecedented measures:
The world has 195 Tax Jurisdictions and out of these jurisdictions, only 30 engage the Sales Tax as the primary vehicle for raising national revenues. The rest of the 165 jurisdictions do not use Sales Tax regime, they use the VAT system. The majority of the 30 that use the Sales Tax are Muslim countries, military regimes or failed regimes. Sales Tax is used in a few advanced democratic countries like the US because of the existence of State taxing systems and well thought out exemptions that mitigate the devastating effects of the Sales Tax on businesses. Muslim countries have oil and Muslim-specific tax measures which mitigate negative impacts. Zambia intends to exempt exports from Sales Tax but that is not enough. Hold off on the legislation and implementation of the Sales Tax until the jury has been empanelled and deliberated. Parliament is not the jury I have in mind.
Meanwhile billions of Kwacha are allowed to go to waste as evidenced by the reports of the Auditor-General and the Financial Intelligence Centre. Zambia is not broke, the money is simply wasted and unaccounted for through wastage and corruption. But those who waste money or engage in corruption are not soft targets, so the government is not going after them. The hearings of the Public Account Committee displayed and exposed such wastage, corruption and impunity one is constrained from calling for a political revolution. But those engaged in wastage, corruption and impunity are not soft targets. An Economic Kamukunji to lay everything on the table or else, is an emergency.
To discuss all the above matters, economic matters which are indisputable justifies the Economic Kamukunji that I am calling for. Zambians are over-taxed. Zambians are suffering economically. The sparse rains this year will increase the woes of Zambians. The belts which they have been tightening for years are about to snap their torsos. But the torsos and cheekbones of the majority of those attending the NDF are intact as you saw from various pictures and poses. You have seen the girths of the military generals when they stand with the President as they have done severally since January 2019, their belts are loosened. It is the majority Zambians who need to loosen their tightening belts. It is time for an Economic Kamukunji for the benefit of all Zambians and not only for those looking to score electoral victories come 2021.
Dr. Munyonzwe Hamalengwa particularly enjoyed the following three courses at Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto: Tax Law; Tax Policy, and International Taxation and has written papers in these fields and continues to maintain interest in Tax matters.