News Column

Black Friday Campaigners Decry Rising Prices, Falling Kwacha

June 2, 2014

Editor

STATEMENT BY BLACK FRIDAY CAMPAIGNERS ON THE RISING COMMODITY PRICES AND DEPRECIATION OF THE LOCAL CURRENCY

issued Friday, 30th May, 2014 at FODEP House by its Chairperson-McDonald Chipenzi

Members of the press,

We welcome you to this briefing aimed at updating you on the current socio-economic environment in Zambia.

BENEFITS FROM THE REMOVAL OF SUBSIDIES

The last time we met was last year when we were talking about the unilateral removal of subsidies on maize products and fuel by the government and the envisaged ripple effects on such a decision on the 68% poor and 61% rural people in Zambia due to rising cost of the essential commodities.

You may recall that our advocacy on the need for government to put remedial measures to cushion the chilling impact of the removal of subsidies on the poor and the rural citizens has fallen on deaf government ears. Instead, all sorts of bad adjectives were prefixed on our campaign leading to us being beaten at BIGOCA in Matero on 31 May, 2014.

Ladies and Gentlemen, today marks one year since that regrettable BIGOCA incident happened in Matero where our esteemed and senior citizen Bishop John Mambo and others were severely beaten up by the PF cadres in the Church for speaking out on the plight of poor and the rural citizens. As we are speaking today, we are proud that we have been vindicated because the concerns we had last year have come to pass and now many Zambians have come to appreciate the campaign as evidenced by many institutions calling for the reinstatement of the subsidies.

Though government has failed to resolve the high cost of living, the revelation by the government that there were no savings from the removal of subsidies exposed the lies behind the action. Many of you were made to believe that the savings from subsidies were to be used for the construction of schools and other social amenities. Have those things been done? Has government come back to apologize for cheating you? The answer is no. Where is the accountability from our elected leaders?

Ladies and Gentlemen, as we are gathered here, the prices of essential commodities such as mealie-meal, kapenta, beans, transport costs etc have continued to skyrocket at an alarming trend This upward trend of costs is a threat to the survival of majority Zambians who are living below US$1 a day and to Zambia's robust construction industry. Currently, the cost of building is now becoming unbearable as the cost of building materials such as, fuel, cement, timber, sand, blocks, and roofing sheets continue to skyrocket. Unless something is done quickly by the government, all the good plans and efforts on the construction of good roads across the country will be meaningless if not fail to be completed. Inversely, the country will have to cough a lot of money to complete the construction of these roads, schools, hospitals and universities as contractors would have to demand either more money or abandoning the projects.

DEPRECIATION OF THE KWACHA

Ladies and Gentlemen, the depreciation of the kwacha is something that is of great concern to us members of the Black Friday demanding for a just society and fair distribution of wealth to all Zambians. This depreciation has spurred an increase in commodity prices across the country. It is important that government quickly arrests the situation before it harms the economy any further. This is the first time local currency is hitting a record K11.00 per pound and the relevant authorities seem to have no clue on how to contain the problem. We challenge the Bank of Zambia and Ministry of Finance to tell the nation exactly what is causing this unprecedented depreciation of the Kwacha. The silence that is coming from these two public offices is surprising. Have they failed to contain the problem? Could we be wrong to speculate that these are wrong persons in these institutions? The depreciation has further negatively impacted on the minimum wage which government, with good intentions, had introduced last year. The purchasing power of the kwacha is now back to pre-minimum wage period making the minimum wage increase meaningless. Government has further punished the workers by unilaterally introducing wage and employment freeze. With the way things are going and without any tangible solutions, we foresee labour unrest in the nearest future. We call on government, the largest employer to immediate lift the wage and employments freeze.

DEBT CONTRACTION

The rate at which Zambia has developed an insatiable appetite for borrowing is very alarming. It seems we are not learning from history because it was just a few years ago when Zambia and Zambians campaigned for debt forgiveness or relief which consequently led to Zambia qualifying to the High Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiatives and Zambia's external debt was written off. You cannot be proud that your debt is now standing at US$4.2 billion and that since it does not exceed the international required ceiling then it is ok. This is recklessness of the waste kind being committed by people who do not care for the future.

It is surprising that now Zambia seems to be developing an insatiable appetite for debt and this will take the country back into the archives of the 1970s and later mount another campaign for debt relief. This should not be accepted in a country where wealth is plenty but just being mismanaged or badly tracked properly. Disturbing though is that 60% of Zambia's GDP is going to personal emoluments coupled with a bloated government and government is not even thinking of reducing the cabinet size.

Our observation is that the current Minister of Finance has again, for the second time, led the country to the contraction of debt which will later be unsustainable. We feel that the argument that the borrowing is within international threshold is unconvincing. To us, it doesn't matter whether it is sustainable because it is within the threshold or not but the fact that at time of repayment, Hon. Alexander Chikwanda and his team will not be there. So they are just creating a problem for the future generation and the country.

In this vein, we call on Hon. Chikwanda and Bank of Zambia Governor to think their relevance to the positions they currently hold in the face of the poor performance of the local currency and the economy as a whole. We demand that the duo resign before they plunges the country into worse borrowing and also for the preservation of their names.

We also want to know where K44.2 million for the constitution which was allocated in the 2014 estimates of expenditure is, for the government to say that it does not have money for the referendum. Has it diverted it to support the bloated Cabinet?

Finally, ladies and gentlemen, we want to request government to tell us where the subsidies are. Can government tell us how many schools, hospitals and clinics have been built out of the subsidy savings? If none, can we then say this was another set of lies from the ministers involved which was aimed at hoodwinking the public? Black Campaigners are still waiting for the benefits from subsidy removal.

Thank you and God Bless Zambia


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Source: AllAfrica


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