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PRIVATE COMMERCE AND THE LAW

When countries like Botswana progressively renegotiate the commercial terms on contracts for their diamonds, the idea is not to gain political milage. The point is to share economic value of resources with citizens. This is one of the several ways of transferring, sharing and securing the economic future of citizens. In Zambia, the mining sector was liberalised after 1991 so that citizens were legally allowed to have mining licences for the first time. This is another way of sharing value with citizens.
The transfer and guarantee of economic value sharing with citizens became reality in Zambia after the introduction of democracy. Today, the constitution in Article 10 guarantees the following, in summary:
(1) The Government shall create an economic environment which encourages individual initiative and self-reliance…and wealth. (2) The Government shall promote the economic empowerment of citizens… development. (3) The Government shall promote local and foreign investment and protect and guarantee such investment through agreements with investors and other countries.
Constitutions are documents of progressive reflection of the status of a country at any given time, so loopholes in earlier constitutions simply reflect the mindset at that time. This is what makes the three sections of the constitution above unique because for the first time, the individual citizen was guaranteed access to economic resources and safety to have private wealth. The law-imposed incumbency on the sovereign to guarantee citizens attendant economic rights which they were denied hitherto.
Government must, per mandate guarantee and foster individual initiative; promote and ensure direct individual liberty and remove barriers to international trade for citizens. The only qualification is citizenship. In this sense, political patronage is eliminated because economic advancement cannot be associated with connections to the ruling party or elite – a mistake Zambia repeatedly makes. Cadreism, regionalism, tribalism or racism should not be financial springboards.
According to the law, the state is an enabler for individual economic and financial prosperity without minimising or conceding its authority to a lesser creed wherein democracy becomes kleptocracy. Without naivety, power does create economic opportunity for the ruling class, but the real test of leadership is how that financial power is transferred outward. At theoretic level, this portion of law cited above means that the state creates and enables private commerce to thrive on one hand; but ensures that less fortunate citizens are protected from the downside of free markets. Governments could provide (smart) subsidies, safety nets or basic welfare schemes to help uplift the welfare of the less privileged.
What Zambia does well in its development plans and national budgets is to split between growth sectors and support sectors. The growth sectors are propelled in great part by the texts cited in Article 10 of the constitution. The support sectors are where government’s role as caretaker in-chief comes alive. The danger is the potential to be overly bureaucratic with commerce – creating red tape and inefficiency instead of efficient fluidity within progressive legal confines.
If the constitution proves more theoretic than realistic, even in its professing personal liberties, a few things will happen. Firstly, when people talk about the brain drain, the underlying score is that labour migrates to the most enabling environments where there are minimal restrictions to their ability to provide for their families and retain savings; and grow their wealth. Ultimately, the final show of disparity between government leaders and the people is a change in the status quo through an election.
Interestingly, this bridge between constitutional guarantees (in theory) and their implementation is an opportunity for politicians to engage the electorate. Politics understands that the truth is at the mercy of the one who is favoured by the masses at that time. Citizens have the responsibility to be attentive and in charge of their collective national destiny.
This is because a people without grasp of who they are will always weigh less than a leaf in the face of strong wind. Such become easy prey for political paranoia and fictions of manicured legacies; slaves for the semi-intelligent who prize slander and self-promotion above truth. In all this fray, the document that anchors and protects the aspirations and entitlement of citizens is the constitution. There has never been a better constitution for public interest than the current one, it is important to protect and use it.

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