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PLAYING THE POLITICAL BLAME GAME IN PARLIAMENT

By MUBANGA LUCHEMBE

THE national budget tabled by Finance Minister SitumbekoMusokotwane on Friday (Oct 29) is currently being debated by Members of Parliament at the National Assembly beginning Tuesday (Nov 2).

Based on the parliamentary sitting calendar, the 2022 national budget is scheduled to be discussed at the policy level for several days, and will be wound up by the ministers of the relevant ministries for some days before being discussed at the committee level for some more days.

Given UPND’s yet-to-be-fulfilled myriad of campaign promises, uneven pace of projected socio-economic reconstruction and the Covid-19 pandemic’s deep economic scarring effects that are still unfolding, PF’s lawmakers are now in overdrive, trying to deflate UPND-crafted national budget.  But UPND’s lawmakers see them as out to undermine the finance minister’s political career, and view the blame game as tactics influenced by malice and sour grapes after PF’s regime fell out of power in the August 12 polls. No wonder the budget presentation has caused a political storm in parliament, as the audacious proposals therein have given UPND’s opponents a field day.  

UPND lawmakers, however, are troubled and have mounted a counter-offensive to turn PF, into an item of national scorn. But critics were quick to point out that scapegoating PF and other opposition groups was an old tactic to divert attention from the UPND regime’s spectacular failure in dealing with prevailing problems such as the effects of climate change, the Covid-19 pandemic and the lack of jobs for the educated and semi-skilled youths. Shame, shame, shame: three words that best sum up what had happened in parliament in the last few days. An unruly opposition and an arrogant government had created a situation where parliament had been turned into a vociferous warzone. Sadly as the blame game continued between the government and the opposition, it was parliamentary democracy which became the loser.

Clearly though, success and even survival in politics frequently depends on the ability of politicians and public officials to extricate themselves from various types of predicaments. Indeed, politicians are particularly adept at extricating themselves, with a wide range of explanations at their disposal to avoid blame for unpopular actions and decisions.

As knowledgeable observers of the country’s political landscape are acutely aware, the period after the national budget’s presentation is a characteristic mix of the not-so-good, the downright ugly and, of course, the unpredictable. Worth noting though, the blame game, with its finger-pointing and mutual buck-passing, is a familiar feature of politics and organizational life, and blame avoidance pervades government and public organizations at every level. Political and bureaucratic blame games and blame avoidance are more often condemned than analyzed.

In their analysis, these knowledgeable observers suggested a different approach by showing how blame avoidance shapes the workings of government and public services. Arguing that the blaming phenomenon was not all bad, they demonstrated that it could actually help to pin down responsibility, and they cited different kinds of blame avoidance, both positive and negative.

After all, it is an undeniable fact that 7-years ago, Zambians were faced with one of the unprecedented economic challenges of our generation. The hitherto acute power shortage that had spiral effects such as down-scaled production and generally dwindling national productivity had triggered another vicious circle. This included indiscriminate cutting of trees for charcoal burning, which in turn affected the climatic condition hence poor rainfall and therefore more and more load-shedding. These challenges were compounded by plummeting mineral commodity prices on the international markets that in turn adversely affected the performance of our currency and job security.

Amidst all these challenges there was too much blame game, instead of soberly seeking for short, medium to long-term solutions, the then-opposition UPND lawmakers squarely heaped the blame on the PF government. The PF government on the other hand attributed the challenges to nature and global forces. In all these, there weren’t any demonstration of unity of purpose by key stakeholders in finding solutions to the economic woes Zambians found themselves in. What was evident were the effects of the challenges such as increased cost of living, poor quality of life due to power outages, increased prices of basic foods such as bread, cooking oil and sugar, among others.

Recently, during the opening of parliament, our newly-elected President Hakainde Hichilema outlined the projected government’s interventions through short to long-term measures. Indeed the speech was rated as generally inspiring by most stakeholders – albeit others still criticised it as mere rhetoric and that the President did not address all UPND’s yet-to-be-fulfilled myriad of campaign promises which he made before being voted into office. Nevertheless, Zambia is blessed with highly competent technocrats in the line ministries coupled with the opposition, civil society, the private practice, in academia both local and international. The question is why can’t they sit down on a round table, share and brain storm on progressive ideas to find solutions for the embattled 2022 national budget?

The Finance Minister announced tax breaks for mining companies, thus drastically cutting Zambia’s budget deficit target and promised that he expected to conclude debt restructuring talks with creditors early next year. He told lawmakers in his first budget speech since his party won power that mining royalties will be deductible from income taxes. Though he didn’t announce changes to the royalty rates. But was Zambia’s newly-elected government seeking to ease investor concerns about how it will return the nation to debt sustainability and economic growth?

Besides, many observers have advised that turning to the IMF for a rescue programme will be injurious to Zambia’s national security as we are currently witnessing the events in Sudan. Sudan also asked for a US$2.5bn IMF facility which was conditioned on the same old demands of freezing public wages and employment, cutting on subsidies to vulnerable citizens and devaluing the local currency among others. The result of this has been the emergence of instability in Sudan which compares to what happened here in Zambia in 1990.

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