By DERRICK SILIMINA
After serving as a case study of a five-time almost president, Hakainde Hichilema is finally Zambia’s seventh Head of State and Government, and Commander-in-Chief of the Defence and Security Forces.
In 2020, for the first time since 1998, Zambia plunged into a recession caused partly by the accumulation of an estimated $12bn (£8.6bn) debt which the country owes to foreign lenders. Zambia reached a point where Government ended up spending at least 30 per cent of its revenue on interest payments, according to credit ratings firm S&P Global.
In addition, last year Zambia missed an interest repayment, making it the first African country to default on a loan during the Covid-19 pandemic. It is also facing difficulties repaying other loans.
The former governing Patriotic Front (PF) which came into power in 2011 on the promise of “less taxes, more money in people’s pockets and more jobs,” which did not materialize for many young people, saw voters turn out in their millions to elect Hichilema popularly known as ‘Bally’.
Hichilema, who defeated his main rival Edgar Lungu by more than a million votes after the August 12 polls, has taken over national leadership pledging to sort out high unemployment levels, the high cost of living and debt stock among others.
In his inaugural speech, President Hichilema said his administration’s focus over the next five years would be on restoring macro-economic stability and promoting the growth of the economy.
“We will pay special attention to lowering the fiscal deficit, reducing public debt and restoring social and market confidence,” Hichilema affirmed.
President Hichilema expressed dismay that over the last decade, the country witnessed the erosion of its economy as the debt situation had become unsustainable, reducing the country’s capacity to invest in productive areas of the economy and address the gaps in healthcare, education and other social services.
“Our national budget has been overwhelmed by debt servicing, emoluments and consumption, when there should be greater room for investment, for growth. The high levels of unemployment, especially among our youth are of great concern to us and this will be high on our agenda to address. Food should be available and affordable for the people,” he stated.
The head of state expressed optimism that people were hopeful of his ‘new dawn’
Government, adding that his administration stood ready to address the cost of living that is beyond the reach of the majority citizens.
In his quest to root out corruption, Hichilema highlighted that the scourge had not only eroded the much-needed resources, but had also robbed the country of opportunity for growth.
“We shall have zero-tolerance to corruption. This will be our hallmark. The fight against corruption will be professional and not vindictive. The institutions mandated to investigate and prosecute will be given unfettered autonomy to effectively and efficiently carry out their mandate without fear or favour or political bias.
“We are determined to free our country from the ills of mismanagement and malpractice, and promote that which is better. We will undertake an ambitious economic and social transformation agenda to move Zambia forward, create equitable opportunities for all our people, and reduce poverty. We believe that a time will come when poverty in our country will not be tolerated.”
The head of state reiterated that his administration will also prioritize establishing a stable and predictable environment that would promote private local, regional and international investment, protection of private property and growth and generate value for all stakeholders in the country.
His government would aggressively promote the creation of jobs and opportunities that would create wealth, especially for the youth, women and indeed all citizens.
“God has blessed us with abundant natural, human and other resources that we will derive greater value through value addition and the promotion of greater supply chain participation by our citizens,” he noted.
He stressed that some of the key priority sectors that will drive economic growth and reduce poverty were agriculture, mining, energy, financial services, tourism, technology, health and education.
“In agriculture, we will work to enhance production, agricultural extension services, market access, value addition and lowering the cost of inputs. In mining, we will strive to increase copper and other mineral production so that Zambia can reclaim its place as one of Africa’s leading mining countries.
“We shall promote the expansion of the mining value chain as well as the promotion of mineral diversification. We will, therefore, encourage the production and processing of gemstones, gold, nickel, manganese, iron, industrial and other minerals. We will put in place measures to facilitate local ownership and increased participation of Zambians in the sector.”
In recognizing the importance of energy for development, President Hichilema clarified that his administration will transform Zambia into an energy surplus country.
“We will, therefore, implement an ambitious energy investment plan to increase power generation and further broaden the energy mix. In addition, we will put in place a conducive policy environment to encourage private investment in generation, transmission, distribution and retail in the sector,” he said.
President Hichilema further echoed that the potential of the tourism sector would soon be realized through the promotion of Zambia and its various tourism endowments as the destination of choice.
He highlighted that this will include reviewing visa requirements, building support infrastructure and revising tax rates. Economic cooperation, trade and investment, security for peace and stability, and development, will form a critical base for our foreign policy.
In terms of improving land administration and management in the country, the head of state said, “My administration will put in place a transparent policy framework. We will promote equitable access to land for all citizens. We will strengthen the land tenure security and enhance sustainable utilization and productive management of land resources.”