from ARNOLD MULENGA in Lusaka, Zambia
LUSAKA, (CAJ News) – SOME 100 days after he was sworn in, critics are skeptical of President Haikande Hichilema’s government anti-corruption drive, which is criticized as targeting political rivals.
There are also growing concerns the apparently politicized campaign seeks to reward the president’s political backers and business associates.
The president’s intervention is such crucial sectors as agriculture and mining, which are the mainstay of the economy, has also come under censure amid appointments that are politicized.
With such compromised policies, critics doubt the ability by the new administration to revive an economy that is searing under debt and has not been spared the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
In his inauguration in August, after defeating incumbent Edgar Lungu, United Party for National Development (UPND) leader said his government would have “zero tolerance” to corruption.
“This will be our hallmark,” Hichilema pledged at the National Heroes Stadium in Lusaka.
“The fight against corruption will be professional and not vindictive,” the president added.
Weeks after this pledge, critics argue the president is reneging from this commitment.
“There are renewed concerns, however, that Hichilema’s campaign is targeting political rivals while also rewarding some of his own political and business backers,” stated Pangea-Risk.
The agency is a specialist intelligence firm providing analysis and forecasts on political, security, and economic risk in Africa and the Middle East.
A politicized anti-corruption drive has overshadowed the new government notable political and civil society achievements as well as efforts to turn around the economy.
Reports that Hichilema’s government plans to strip Lungu of immunity from prosecution has given credence the campaign against graft is politicized.
Following his swearing in as the seventh president, Hichilema immediately consolidated his power by firing key officials appointed by Lungu.
He appointed new military chiefs and replaced all police commissioners.
Denny Kalyalya, fired by Lungu from his position as central bank governor, has been reinstated.
Another key appointment was Musiyalike Nyambe as Director General for the Office of the President Special Division.
He faces a daunting task reining in on members of the ruling party that are allegedly eager to leverage Hichilema’s presidency as an opportunity for embezzlement and fraud.
There have been reports of extortion spearheaded by supporters of the new leader.
This is reminiscent of the previous administration of Lungu’s Patriotic Front (PF).
PF recently alleged graft had worsened under the administration of UPND.
“Corruption is too rife in his (Hichilema’s) administration now than it ever was even under President Lungu in just under three months of his (Hichilema’s) winning the polls,” Raphael Nakichinda, PF spokesperson was quoted.
Some politicians are meanwhile reportedly piling pressure on Hichilema to reward them for their loyalty at the elections.
Felix Mutati, formerly a finance minister and now Technology and Science minister, has mentioned among those.
Others are Leslie Chikuse of the Republican Progressive Party, Charles Milupi of the Alliance for Development and Democracy, the National Democratic
Congress’ Josephs Akafumba, and the National Restoration Party’s Charles Maboshe.
Kelvin Fube Bwalya and Ernest Mwansa of the Zambia We Want (ZWW) alliance are reportedly angling for the president’s attention.
They are said to be lobbying Hichilema to have their supporters appointed to other influential positions, such as permanent secretaries.
According to Pangea-Risk, the main concern is that more state officials would be appointed for their political allegiance rather than experience or skills.
“Hichilema is under growing pressure to allow his anticorruption campaign to be politicised by resorting to the favouritism and tribalism of his predecessors,” it stated.
Hichilema’s policies on the mining sector, particularly copper have been under scrutiny.
He has previously promised to revert to a value-added (VAT) tax mechanism but critics believe his mining sector policies remain unclear and vague, with the uncertainty adding to political risk concerns in the sector.
Hichilema might seek to end the liquidation process of Konkola Copper Mines (KCM).
The liquidation has resulted in job retrenchments and stalled investments with the matter currently under a lengthy arbitration.
Hichilema apparent; is seeking control over KCM’s liquidation process and indications are he will favour his political and business backers such as Anglo American and several South African companies that funded his campaigns.
Hichilema has also had personal business interests in the Zambian mining sector and According to the ICIJ database, he became a director of a Bermuda company, AfNat Resources in March 2006, and resigned in August.
Agriculture is seen as run along tribal lines.
According to Pangea-Risk, the results of the 2021 elections show that Zambia is now more divided along ethnic lines.
Local reports state that Tonga elites are already encroaching on farming interests outside of their southern regions and seeking to displace Bemba and other northern and eastern ethnic groups.
Hichilema is accused of rewarding his loyalists with lucrative stakes in the economy.
Zambia’s fertiliser import programme is toxic.
Under the PF government, the distribution of fertilisers to farmers was biased in favour of northern and eastern areas.
The UPND is allegedly intending to redistribute the fertiliser in favour of its own political strongholds.
Controversial government officials are reported to have improperly secured government contracts to supply fertilizer.
The Southern Africa country faces a myriad of economic challenges, including unstable power supplies, fiscal and external imbalances, heavy foreign debt and cash shortages.
Last year, Zambia became the first African country to default on its sovereign debt, exacerbated by the COVID-19.
It failed to keep up with payments on nearly US$13 billion of international debt.
Zambia is pinning its hopes on the Extended Credit Facility lending programme of the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
IMF forecast the Zambia economy to grow by a mere 1 percent this year.
“Zambia’s debt is unsustainable, therefore the IMF would need sufficient financing assurances from creditors before a staff level agreement on an extended credit facility could move forward,” Gerry Rice, IMF spokesperson, said at a recent media briefing.
– CAJ News