18th September 2014 : STATE OF THE NATION
Fellow countrymen and women, tomorrow, the 19th September, 2014, President Sata will be opening parliament. Why is this day significant? It is significant because this particular session of parliament is the one that discusses our national budget; the singular most important document that underpins our development as a country. There will be pronouncements in the President’s speech, pronouncements that will state how much progress the PF government has made since 2011.
Contrary to those PF pronouncements, here is what is really happening in Zambia; today a teacher has spent extra time with a student who needed it, and did her part to up lift Zambia’s literacy levels to a level higher than last year. A nurse stood up longer than necessary to administer a drug and monitor the patient come out of danger to contribute to the higher life expectancy we are talking about today. A doctor went out of his way to ensure that, a mother who had a complicated pregnancy lived so that she does not become part of the statistics on maternal deaths.
A farmer in Lundazi, went into the field. He cleared that field so that he can produce enough food for his family and the nation at large so as to contribute to national food security. A young man and young woman have woken up, set up their small businesses and are planning to add to the job creation that President Sata will most likely be talking about in his speech to Parliament. A miner on the Copperbelt just emerged from the bowels of the earth where he has been since 18 hours last evening up till 6 hours in the morning today. That miner has indeed made his contribution to the Gross Domestic Product of our country.
As President Sata sets the policy direction for the next year, the people I have mentioned above, and many others, must be central in his speech. What did the country pay back these people in 2014? The teacher was told, you will not get a helper because we are freezing employment. The nurse was fired when she asked for better conditions of service. That Doctor has been crying for diagnostic equipment and better facilities so that he can do his job better, but the PF Government has responded with a high portfolio of Ministers and ignored his calls. That farmer in Chipata has been responded to by delaying his inputs and later, delayed payments for his produce. The young man and young woman have ideas to expand their businesses so that they can employ more youths and help augment the local industry but they cannot borrow due to high interest rates as a result of Government’s carelessness and bad economic policies. That miner has shown that he can put in so much, yet pays more tax on a comparative basis, than the mine he works for. And sadly, our miner will get nowhere near owning a piece of that mine because this PF Government has no interest in creating wealth redistribution policies.
This particular session of parliament must address the needs of our citizens. We expect President Sata to address the high cost of agriculture production. We cannot continue buying mealie meal at close to K100 per bag. We cannot expect our citizens to get to hospitals where the nurse is frustrated; understandably so, because she has not taken her nights off due to staffing constraints caused by the employment freeze and firing of her colleagues. The nurse is over stretched because someone somewhere thinks it’s alright to fire 500 nurses at once. Citizens get to the hospital but the Doctor has to guess what has brought them there because he is using outdated diagnostic machines. As if that is not enough, patients are sent home with prescriptions and not medicines because the pharmacies are empty.
When that teacher in Zambezi West goes into a class room, he stands because there is no teacher’s chair, he uses charcoal to write on the board while his pupils seat on the floor because there are no desks. Not to mention that most of the children had to walk a long distance to get to school. These are the conditions our people live in, if at all we can call this living. Let us for once pull in the same direction, let PF listen to other people’s opinions on Governing this country. A citizenry which is economically empowered, healthy, educated and above all properly fed, will deliver this country into the 21st century. The Zambian people are hardworking but the PF has failed them.
In this session of parliament, as debaters stand up to deliberate on the budget, they should ask themselves these questions: Am I being progressive or retrogressive? Is what I am defending making this country a better place for all or making it a good place for only a few? Am I here out of the will of the party or will of the people? How one answers these questions will determine the course and future of this country. We in the UPND are committed to making PF answerable to the people who put them in Government by providing checks and balances.
This country needs to make progress. This country needs a robust constitution which will limit the Presidential powers and protect the rights of the citizens. We need a constitution which will ensure a democratically elected, majority Government. We should no longer play hide and seek over this important matter. As a country, we have spent huge sums of money starting with the Chona Commission in 1972. In the interim we have had the Mvunga Commission, the Mwanakatwe Commission, the Mung’omba Commission, the National Constitutional Conference and now under President Sata, the Silungwe Technical Review Commission. Still the people’s constitution has not seen the light of day. Give us our constitution now. Only a strong constitution will help our Ministers become useful by making them accountable to the people. Only a people driven constitution will protect the independence of the Judiciary. A people driven constitution will guarantee the independence of the Electoral Commission. It will restore pride and professionalism to our men and women in uniform by protecting them from abuse by politicians.
It is now three years since PF came to power. In these three years the prices of food, transport, fuel and electricity have risen continuously. In this short space of time; the cost of one 25kg bag of mealie meal has increased by at least 170 percent. The Kwacha has similarly depreciated considerably within these short three years. The consequence is that our country has increasingly become uncompetitive. We cannot export competitively because our prices are untenable. A ton of Maize in Zambia costs US$213 before transportation costs, yet the same commodity in South Africa is only US$162/ton.
Today, our people think they can exist without the Government. This is the reason they don’t see any value in participating in elections. This voter apathy is a sad story and is a topic for another day. Many times people arrange their own education, their own security, their own waste management and sometimes even their own roads. So where is the Government? Why do we pay tax at all?
I call on everyone who is patriotic about this country to call upon this Government to deliver on its promises to the people of Zambia. Let us engage everyone in analyzing what others are calling progress and give constructive criticism. Those being criticized should be magnanimous enough to ensure that they take the point before looking at who is saying it.
Lastly allow me to share with you our vision as UPND. Our vision is to build our nation on the basis of four pillars; (i) a strong economy to ensure stable prices and deliver quality jobs, (ii) quality affordable food for a strong citizenry, (iii) quality healthcare and (iv) free education to act as feed stock for national development. As you can see the four pillars support and complement each other. On this basis we can build our middle class; the single most important driver of consumption and savings. We need to lower the interest rates to support growth. We must collect equitable revenue from the mines and other businesses for reinvestment to other parts of the economy and the social sector.
As UPND, we will manage the fiscal side to broaden local participation in the economy and transform it to an export based economy. We will enable more Zambians to participate in the manufacturing industry. We will promote value addition in the agricultural sector for export to encourage price correction and also job creation.
We must exploit to the maximum our geographical positioning, our plentiful water resources, our vast tracks of arable land, our mineral resources and above all our generally honest and hardworking people.
Brothers and sisters, all is not lost. Our current conditions may be gloomy but the future can only be bright. Together we can build a nation which we can all be proud of. We can build a country where every child has an equal chance to succeed. A country where a citizens will be judged on the basis of their character and ability and nothing else; a country which will truly resonate with our national motto; one Zambia, one nation.
I thank you fellow citizens.