THIS is the last publication of “Beyond the News” in 2013 and so, I have decided to pedestal this particular edition of the column on revisiting some of the national issues that made the headlines in the ending year.
From the economic continuum, certain policies deemed as “contentious”, were implemented by the Government in 2013, igniting feral debate among concerned stakeholders, leaving the nation gripped with uncertainty regarding their welfare.
If I recall correctly, around the first quarter of 2013, Government reduced the consumption subsidy on maize and farming inputs, and also eliminated the subvention on fuel.
Predominantly these measures were aimed at balancing the “lion’s share” in terms of granting money towards development of projects such as the construction of hospitals and schools.
The reasons behind these policy measures as presented by Cabinet and President Michael Sata, were well intended and should be supported by all stakeholders.
Yes Government should have consulted widely on such matters or implemented the policies gradually, to avert pessimistic effects in the interim.
But not in this case; Government had to hit the nail directly on its head and so the State must be commended for taking a bold decision to benefit Zambians in the long run.
By fully subsidising farming inputs, Government was spending K250 on supporting every small-scale farmer with seed and fertiliser per annum.
Nearly 1,000 small-scale crop farmers are on this Government support scheme annually; clearly it was unsustainable for the State to continue subsidising farming inputs fully.
Subsidising maize on the other hand meant Government was meeting a certain proportion of the production cost incurred by millers in maize processing.
Yet the millers did not reduce the price of mealie meal and to date, consumers still cannot purchase the commodity at an affordable rate.
Now the Zambian people are in need of so many amenities and implementing projects simultaneously is the only way that social services will be decentralised promptly.
This exercise requires ready funds and the reduction of the agriculture subsidy has at least provided additional revenue for Government to advance such projects.
Government units should endeavour to ensure that these funds are applied prudently to benefit the designated sectors.
On the other hand, eliminating the subsidy on fuel could have been preceded by consultations and careful analysis, as the move has escalated petroleum prices in the country by nearly K2.
Prices for petrol have now gone up to K9.91 per litre for petrol, K9.20 per litre for diesel and K6.83 per litre for kerosene in the latter part of 2013.
So in as much as this measure to remove subsidies is intended to earn revenue for Government coffers, removing the subvention on fuel was not the correct route to go at all.
Immediately the price of petroleum goes up by any margin, it automatically augments the cost of other essential products and services.
This in turn makes life unaffordable for the marginalised in society and the general set of consumers.
Yes, one may rightly argue that Government was losing billions of Kwacha by subsidising fuel for the motorists; however, this policy still needs to be tabled for concerted dialogue as the high cost of energy is economically unsustainable.
Another debatable, though unnecessarily so because it was clearly a well intended policy, was the revision of the country’s labour laws where Government raised the minimum wage for employees across all ranks.
The new minimum wage regulation demanded that domestic workers be paid K520.40 per month of service whereas shop attendants and other general workers are entitled to a wage of K1.132 a month.
It is gratifying to note that the majority of companies are complying with the States’ directive on the new minimum wage requirements for their employees.
However some companies, especially those owned by foreign investors should be closely monitored to ensure continued adherence to the country’s labour laws.
In October this year, employees from all Shoprite Stores across the country staged a work stoppage demanding for better conditions of service.
If not for quick interventions by the Government and labour unions, today, something else could have been obtaining at Shoprite.
This is a clear example of how much work still needs to be done to ensure total adherence from existing and incoming investors.
As per promises prior to the 2011 general elections, the Patriotic Front (PF) Government has demonstrated its determination to improve the welfare of the Zambian worker.
This willpower was however put to the test in 2013 which was characterised by further industrial unrest emanating from threats of job cuts.
In May, mining giant Konkola Copper Mines (KCM) threatened to retrench 2,000 workers due to high costs of production affecting operations.
Advocates of labour in the country had to put their foot down against the pronouncement, forcing the Vedanta Resources owned conglomerate which currently employees 20,000 Zambians to rescind its decision.
Unpredictably in November this year, KCM announced that it had declared 1,500 of its employees redundant citing plans to modernise in operations in line with modern trends.
What could be termed as “hucus pocus” by KCM, upset Government to the extent that President Sata threatened to revoke the company’s mineral license.
The Head of State was right; Government should not be blackmailed by investors because the country’s mineral wealth is there to benefit the Zambians.
For now the situation at the mining giant may be calm though we all wait to see a clear roadmap from KCM.
KCM chief executive officer Kishor Kumar has since been declared a prohibited immigrant after his spontaneous departure from Zambia.
The year 2013, sadly was marred by electoral violence that characterised the Parliamentary by-elections in most parts of the country.
But visibly concerted efforts to curb this vice have been enhanced by strategic interventions by law enforcers in collaboration with the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) and civil society organisations.
These stakeholders should be commended for ensuring that the electorate are constantly reminded that voting is a democratic right to be enjoyed by every citizen.
Blood was already shed during the struggle for independence in 1964 and that history should never at all report itself as the country is now democratically independent.
On another rather sad note, road accidents continued to be a thorn to the livelihood in our country especially in the first half of the year.
Over fifty lives were lost on the spot when a Lusaka bound Post Bus collided with an oncoming truck in Chibombo on February 7, 2013.
But the latter part of 2013 has seed a reduction in road carnage, a development which could be attributed to interventions by stakeholders concerned.
The Road Transport and Safety Agency (RTSA) are evidently working tirelessly to curb drunken driving and members of the public should take keen interest in such interventions.
All in all, the year 2013 has indeed been a time to server, it brought forth a lot of highs and lows for everyone and as 2014 bemoans, expectations remain aloft among Zambians.
The Government still has a long way to go in fulfilling their mandate to the people especially now that Zambians are eager for economic development as the country commemorates its independence jubilee in 2014.
Those in the private sector should tap into Governments development agenda and supplement the States’ efforts where possible.
Happy New Year dear readers and I wish you God’s blessings in a prosperous 2014 ahead.
Remember to celebrate this festive period responsibly and stay safe.
For comments and contributions write to; firstname.lastname@example.org or 0964317110/ 0973182006.