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SPEAKING during one of Vice-President’s parliamentary question times, Ms Mutale Nalumango responded that the debt-swap for civil servants had been suspended to allow the newly-elected government to assess the programme.

She added that, the debt-swap initiative was implemented towards the PF administration’s end and that the financial institutions involved didn’t seem to be ready for such government-initiated programmes. 

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Ms Nalumango also explained that the debt-swap was not well-articulated and that the UPND administration was relooking at this programme to assess whether it could be implemented.

Yet, civil servants are not holding their breath as an election year anywhere in the world is usually a year when the government is supposed to be compassionate to the electorate. 

With various players wanting to grab power and rule, appeasing the ordinary people tends to be at the heart of the sitting government’s initiatives. 

Not so in Zambia, it appears, whereby the  just-been-elected President Hakainde Hichilema who promised a counter-initiative to scuttle the PF government’s debt-swap initiative by pledging to increase salaries for all civil servants in the country by K1, 500 across the board once voted into office appears to have back-pedalled on this promise. 

With UPND’s yet-to-be-fulfilled myriad of campaign promises, what are the civil servants’ expectations regarding President Hichilema’s pledge to have their salaries increased by K1, 500 across the board?  Could it be one of the campaign promises which his administration will not deliver? Are some UPND campaign promises made to be broken? Will time tell?

One thing is for sure – there is much sniveling and gnashing of teeth among the demoralised civil servants whose take-home pay has been affected by the resumption of debt-deductions that hitherto had been suspended for three months to facilitate reconciliation processes. 

Meanwhile, Civil Servants and Allied Workers Union of Zambia president Davy Chiyobe indicated that the union was anxiously waiting for the new Public Service Management Division Permanent Secretary’s appointment to sort out certain issues regarding the debt-swap. 

He also indicated that there was need to have a clear direction over the debt-swap as its suspension has seriously affected the civil servants’ take-home pay and subsequent productivity.

Likewise, the Zambia National Union of Teachers Secretary General Newman Bubala had initially denied social media reports about the new government’s suspensions of the debt-swap adding that there had not been any debate as to why the debt-swap must be suspended. 

He added that if the new government had any challenges on the debt-swap, they should call ZNUT officials who would submit the reasons why the unions want it to continue.

But despite all this, it’s important for politicians to try to keep promises made during election campaigns. Failure to do so can breed voter disenchantment, with both politicians and politics in general. 

It’s also democratically dubious: many voters cast their ballots with these promises in mind, so it’s not an overstatement to regard breaking them as a betrayal of voters’ trust. Are politicians blind to the patently obvious to how electorates react to their broken promises? 

According to marketing and advertising research finding, consumers tend to be angrier when a product fails than happy when it lives up to expectations. Further, when products are deemed to be poor, consumers tend to generalize their anger to other similar products. 

When applied to politics, this finding helps to explain both why voters often get very angry over broken promises, and why such broken promises can poison their view of all politicians. 

No wonder 60 percent of Zambians, as reported in a 2016 post-election study, think that parties and candidates “only want their vote.” Are all politicians in Zambia really serial promise-breakers? 

In a 2016 post-election analysis of several studies that explored the question of government promise-keeping, political scientists estimated that parties fulfill an average of 70 percent of their campaign promises once in office. 

This is not a perfect record, but far from the image of reckless politicians in Zambia who change their minds with the same frequency that Zambia Meteorological Department’s meteorologists change their weather forecasting reports on ZNBC television. For the most part, voters must get the policies they vote for.

This raises the question why most Zambian voters tend to view politicians as promise-breakers. Political scientists suspect that this may result from widespread mainstream and social media coverage of broken campaign promises. 

But let’s flip things around and ask: are there situations in which politicians should break their promises? I think the answer is “yes.”  Politicians sometimes have trouble squaring their ambitious campaign promises with the cold reality of governing, once in office. 

Candidates simply cannot know of all potential problems and limitations to the promises they make until they are elected. 

Further, both economic and political conditions can change rapidly over the course of a politician’s term in office. As the circumstances within which politicians made promises evolve, those promises can make less and less sense. 

In these cases, it’s reasonable to think a politician would not keep all her/his election promises. In short: politicians should do everything possible to keep their campaign promises, but only if it’s in the public interest to do so.

Politicians may cynically break promises, but they may also cynically keep promises for their own benefit, when doing so is clearly not in the public interest. 

Governing is about more than checking off promises from previous campaigns. And voters are smart enough to tell the difference between an incumbent who is meeting promises for the sake of their own re-election chances, and an incumbent who has governed to the best of his ability and is willing to defend potentially unpopular decisions, including breaking his promises when it’s necessary to do so. 

Worth noting though, managing power is more difficult than capturing power. Most Zambian political leaders ride into office on a popular vote and depart on a stretcher of disappointment and condemnation. Opposition elements and those new to power in the country would do well to remember this.

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