THIS is hell on earth, exclaims Socialist Party presidential candidate Fred M’membe, in describing the predicament of the poor in Zambia.
On Thursday afternoon, Dr M’membe spoke at a virtual rally for Northern and Muchinga provinces.
The rally was being broadcast live by 35 mainstream media organisations and two online media platforms (Kalemba and Mwebantu), and the Socialist Party Facebook page.
Dr M’membe is promising to downsize the size of Cabinet to 10, government fleet, and also to reduce local and international travel of government officials by 60 per cent, “if not more.”
With a trace of emotion, he said the lamentations of the poor in Zambia have to be heard.
“These lamentations have to move us; we cannot ignore them. We cannot turn a blind eye to the sufferings of our people. This is hell on earth!” Dr M’membe said. “Christ cared about the material conditions under which people lived. He did not ignore them. Despite that He came to serve us so that we can go to heaven. He did not wait for heaven for us. He attended to all material needs here on earth. That is the leadership of Christ. We who claim to be Christians, it means we have to be like Christ. Being like Christ means doing what Christ would do in this situation.”
He said Zambians are today living in a country where the economy has totally broken down.
“Broken down in the sense that the economy is no longer growing! When the current ruling party came into power in 2011, the economic growth rate was averaging 6.4 per cent. [But] today it is in the negative. There is a recession!” he explained.
“The economy is contracting. Economic activity is decreasing [but] the needs of the people are not decreasing – the population of our country is not decreasing.”
Dr M’membe wondered what the future holds for Zambians, “in a country that today is saddled with such huge debt? Such a gigantic debt!”
He noted that Zambia’s debt did not drop from the skies.
“It’s a product of decisions, actions of our own people. People we call our own leaders! Today we have a debt that we have difficulties repaying,” he said. “Debt service today is taking away 70 per cent of our domestic revenues – the taxes we pay and other revenues that the government collects locally.”
Dr M’membe explained what it meant to be extremely indebted, as Zambia is.
“It means [that] out of every kwacha the government gets from you – the poor Zambian, 70 ngwee is used for debt servicing. Only 30 ngwee remains to pay our soldiers, police officers, nurses, doctors, teachers, our President, Vice-President, Cabinet ministers, permanent secretaries and so on and so forth,” Dr M’membe said. “And in this 30 ngwee, we also have to ensure that there are medicines in the hospitals, the schools are functioning, there is water supply and so on. Is this working? Definitely it’s not working. It can’t work! It’s not magic.”
He continued, saying Zambia’s economic crisis is a reality that deserves to be confronted, earnestly.
Dr M’membe said when a country is in a debt crisis, like Zambia, there are serious challenges.
“Things cannot be done the usual way. It can’t be business as usual! It can’t be a question of fixing this, fixing that. No! Revolutionary changes are needed. Short of a revolution, forget it – we’ll not get out of this,” Dr M’membe emphasised. “You can’t start to employ the same measures that have gotten us to where we are today. The debt has to be tackled, in the first place. When you owe people money, what do you do?”
He added that: “umuti uwankongole kulipila (the solution to indebtedness is to pay back).”
“Ngawafilwa ukulipila, kucita (if you fail to repay, it’s to) negotiate for re-scheduling and debt write-offs. We are not able to pay, we are not able to re-negotiate the terms because nobody will listen to us,” he said. “If I owe you money [which] I can’t pay [but] you are seeing me driving expensive automobiles every day, seeing me in restaurants eating expensive foods, seeing me in new suits every time, seeing me surrounded by prostitutes all the time, are you going to agree for a debt re-scheduling?”
Dr M’membe cited: “a very sad occasion” he experienced one time.
“I was travelling [to] somewhere outside the country. On that plane, there was the Swedish ambassador to Zambia travelling in economy. We had officials of the Zambian government travelling in business and first class, going to the same destination, to seek aid from Sweden…” Dr M’membe recalled.
He pointed out that there should be a change in the way government business is conducted.
“We can’t continue the same way; it’s not possible. We can’t, we can’t, we can’t continue this way,” Dr M’membe stressed. “Drastic measures have to be taken; revolutionary measures have to be taken. We have to be frugal!”
He also pledged that one of the first things the socialist government would do is to reduce the size of cabinet.
“You can’t run a Cabinet of 22 people right now [because] you don’t have money for it. That money is needed for health services, for schools, for peasant agriculture,” he said. “Your socialist government will reduce cabinet to 10 people and those 10 include the President and the Vice-President. Some ministries have to be merged, amalgamated. There has to be downsizing of government activity. Moreover, why do you need such a big government when the people govern themselves?”
Dr M’membe noted that this time around, the people would govern themselves.
“Leaders lead, the people govern. When the people govern themselves, they cannot tolerate and accept government money being wasted in the way it is being wasted today. Buying very expensive automobiles!” he said. “Government fleet will be reduced by not less than 40 per cent. Some of the government vehicles we’ll have to take them to be ambulances. They will have to be re-conditioned to be ambulances.”
He further indicated that the socialist government would cut the salaries of top government officials by 50 per cent.
“You can’t live so well, so much on the moon, when the people you are leading have no food, no access to medicine, their children can’t go to school. Top government officials will have to accept a salary reduction,” Dr M’membe said. “Those who don’t [accept] can find other jobs. They can bug off! It’s not compulsory to work for government. You can go to the private sector!”
He also talked against government officials’ excessive trend of travelling around Zambia and abroad.
“It’s taking a lot of public resources. We have to cut down on this! We’ll cut it down by 60 per cent, if not more. There are workshops, conferences all over. The boardrooms at the government ministry offices are empty – nobody sits there,” said Dr M’membe. “Nobody sits or meets in those boardrooms at ministries, because there are no allowances paid for sitting or meeting in there. So, they go outside or to the next town so that they get allowances. Those will go!”