Lungu’s addresses on COVID-19 exposes absence of RBM approach in govt

In front of me are the speeches made by President Edgar C. Lungu to our country on the COVID-19 pandemic that has severely ravaged the world economy for the first time in a very long time, according to development historians. Before I miss my words, let me say it at the beginning: in all the four national addresses made by the President regarding COVID-19, there was clearly a total absence of a results based management (RBM) approach to give an empirically inspired and fierce fight against this pandemic. The last address was even the worst and now I fear that the fifth address (if it will come) might be devastating to the country’s development prospects. Because we need to fight COVID-19 together as a country and as individual citizens of this wealthy yet poverty sunken Zambia, I have decided to echo my constructive criticism to our leaders.

Decision-making is undoubtedly one of the most critical requirements the world currently needs to survive the effects and eminent negative impacts of COVID-19. But the utmost requirement at the present moment is not ordinary decision-making but we inevitably require swift, accurate, honest, sincere, truthful, courageous and knowledge-based extraordinary decisions. Almost five million people globally have tested positive to COVID-19 and of which over 300,000 lives have so far been lost. Since January 2020, we have seen different approaches adopted by countries to address the outbreak of this deadly virus. Expectedly, divergent approaches have been employed by governments. Good and bad approaches have so far been reported by the mass media across the globe. As a result of decisions individual countries have taken, others have managed to contain the COVID-19 spread while other decisions have exacerbated the spread—increasing infections and deaths. What has come out vividly to be crucial so far is that, at the centre of finding solutions to the pandemic, decision-making is paramount.

My serious concerns started right when Zambia recorded the first COVID-19 cases on 18 March, 2020. When I had those initial concerns about how our government launched the fight against the pandemic, I expressed my views through this column by writing two articles titled: ‘7NDP Technocrats and Implementers, safeguard Zambia’s development path and future amidst COVID-19’ and ‘Use M&E Frameworks to re-plan broken economy amidst COVID-19’. The effort was to share with the decision-makers views that would make Zambia remain afloat socio-economically during and in the post-COVID-19 periods. Why hasn’t President Lungu been conclusive when providing his proposed solutions? Why has it been that pertinent questions and debates pop up from the citizens each time he finished his addresses? Why do Zambians struggle to comprehend the president’s messages? Why have many citizens and stakeholders persisted to encourage the president to relinquish the duties of some ministers including the frontline COVID-19 announcer Dr Chilufya Chitalu? Why is it that on the day Zambia recorded the highest new cases of COVID-19 (8 cases) in a day was the same day the president deemed it appropriate to allow Churches to resume worship services (though refused)? Why is it that a day after his address, the country woke up to a rude shock that new COVID-19 cases had escalated to 86; 174; and later 208 in a day? Total cases shot up from tens to hundreds in less than 14 days after the president’s address—why? As you can see, I can go on and on asking ‘Why’ questions. Fundamentally, there is a problem (real or imaginary). Answers are needed.

A watertight decision-making approach is what the Zambian government, led by President Lungu needed to offer the economy. To say it even more correctly, all the addresses President Lungu made needed to be inspired by the Results Based Management (RBM) approach. The actual proposed government decisions communicated (either by himself or his Minister Chitalu) begged for empirically-anchored evidence and actions. When the President relaxed some socio-economic regulations for religious gatherings, casinos, selected sports and now all examination grades across Zambia, I expected to hear and later see an RBM-oriented action plan to actualise his decisions. Instead of merely giving us a list of sub-sectors permitted to open up for the sake of social, economic and spiritual gains, I expected President Lungu to unleash some more robust, hands-on and authoritative directives to all government and non-government wings. It was never enough for the President to just end at listing how citizens and stakeholders needed to conform to his presidential directives/wishes.

I can make some guesses why the President finds himself in such challenges. Zambia lacks pragmatism in the practice and culture of RBM. The situation is terrible at (political) leadership level. It is sadly the problem which many Zambians may selfishly or ignorantly defend to be less important. But fellow Zambians, RBM is results-focused and is the only way to pursue a thriving society. RBM, if inculcated in the citizenry, our leaders and indeed institutionalised in our governance systems, Zambia will be positively turned around in one-five-year National Development Plan. To help you appreciate what I mean, I ask again: Why did President Lungu leave and instill fear in Zambians with children in examination grades? What was difficult to clarify further what his government had practically done to ascertain safety of the hundreds of thousands of our children in grades 7, 9 and 12 domiciled all over in rural and urban areas? What was hard in producing a table showing all schools in the country–private and public? What was then difficult to make an approximation of how many pupils and members of staff across the country? And why didn’t the President assure Zambians that his government had purchased and distributed so many face masks, gloves, alcohol-based hand-sanitizers, washing buckets, soaps, etc for all the schools in the country? What was difficult in demonstrating to citizens that no child will lack any essential regarding COVID-19 for all the days in term two? What was even hard for him to assure citizens that since children come from all over the country, government had put in place measures to test and quarantine each child for two weeks before interacting amongst themselves in the school? Why did he not assure the country that teachers were too going to be subjected to the same health regulations before getting in touch with children? Why did he avoid assuring the nation that test kits for COVID-19 were more than enough? Was it not important for the President to factually demonstrate the adequacies of frontline health workers to attend to all pupils in the country without compromising ongoing works with the rest of the population? Honestly, my questions have not ended.

A careful and sober internalisation of the issues raised above will make every Zambian arrive at my conclusion that: President Edgar C. Lungu’s national addresses on COVID-19 have exposed increasing absence of RBM Approach in his Government. This can change and it must be changed!

Dr. Vincent Kanyamuna holds a Doctor of Philosophy in Monitoring and Evaluation and is lecturer and researcher at the University of Zambia, Department of Development Studies. For comments and views, email: vkanyamuna@unza.zm

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