AN ARGUMENT FOR A FEDERAL SYSTEM OF GOVERNMENT
By Sean Tembo – PeP President
1. There is no question that Zambia has a huge economic potential in pretty much all sectors of the economy whether it be tourism, agriculture, mining, visual arts etcetera. There is also no question that from the time of independence on 24th October 1964, the levels of poverty in this country are getting worse and not better. This means that each of the administrations of the 7 Republican Presidents that we have had so far have been destroying the national economic base that we inherited from our colonial masters upon independence. No one has built on it so far, just destruction.
2. For the past 58 years, Zambia’s 7 Presidents have pursued the same development model; collect tax revenue from across the nation and then seek to deliver development to all corners of the country from Lusaka, the capital. This has not worked very well, largely because when the tax revenue reaches Lusaka, it mysteriously shrinks and most of it does not go back to the various parts of the country to catapult development. Almost 80 percent of the developmental projects undertaken in the provinces are not funded by taxpayers money, but are donations by various well-wishers ranging from the World Bank, African Development Bank, the Civil Society Organizations, Church Based Organizations etcetera. Each successive Government has failed to properly account for the use of taxpayers money.
3. The Levy Mwanawasa administration was the first to advocate for decentralization. That talk was carried on by Rupiah Banda’s administration, then Michael Sata’s administration, then Edgar Lungu’s administration and now Hakainde Hichilema’s administration. But none of these Presidents have been sincere or serious about decentralization. They all saw decentralization as a politically correct word to be used every now and then and not a development tool that needed to be actioned. I mean, how can you claim decentralization when a local authority has no say about who and how many employees to hire, and all manpower decisions are made by the Local Government Commission in Lusaka? One of the arguments that was made by Chipata City Council for failing to pay salaries to its workers was that after the local authority was granted “City” status, the Local Government Commission imposed hundreds of unnecessary additional professional personnel on them, who significantly increased their wage bill. Chipata City Council argued that they did not need those additional personnel, but the Local Government Commission insisted that they did; because of their newly acquired city status.
4. Another general trend of late which has significantly undermined national development is the community’s aversion to commercial projects intended for their areas. There is a tendency by traditional leaders to reject the establishment of certain mines, processing facilities or certain factories in their areas, using one excuse or the other. While in the same breath the traditional leaders would lobby Government for certain developmental infrastructure such as schools, roads or hospitals. Unfortunately, most traditional leaders do not see the connection between the need to establish commercial enterprises in their areas and the ability of Government to fund their social needs.
5. Given the above, it is a developmental necessity that Zambia should consider revising its system of Government. For 58 years, 7 Presidents have tried to bring development to this nation, using the current system, and have failed. It is time that we consider a federal system of Government. There are various iterations of how such a system could work, and the one that comes to mind is whereby each province is run by an elected Provincial Governor as the head of the provincial executive. The current Members of Parliament for each constituency in the province would constitute a Provincial Assembly which would be the legislative wing for the province. The same MPs would seat in the National Assembly when it is in session. Each province would be responsible for collecting certain types of taxes such as Pay As You Earn, corporate income tax, property transfer tax and withholding tax, while ZRA as the federal tax authority would collect taxes such as customs duties, excise duties and Value Added Tax. Each province would be responsible for certain types of civil servants such as teachers, medical personnel, police personnel etcetera. While the national government would be responsible for the military, national police, DEC, ACC, immigration, wildlife, environmental etcetera. Strategic economic interests such as mining, hydroelectric power stations etcetera would be under the national Government so as to ensure equity among the provinces. Certain inter-provincial highways would be the responsibility of the national Government, while the provincial government would be responsible for internal roads within the province.
6. Such a system would ensure that each province is responsible for attracting as much investment to their area as possible. This will be achieved by being investor-friendly and offering reliable manpower as well as cutting down on the cost of doing business such as licensing requirements or the time it takes to process applications. Provinces that develop a reputation of being well-run and corruption free, would attract the most investment and would be a source of envy by other provinces. The Provincial Governor of successful provinces would make a good case for being elected as a Republican President because they’ll have a track record to point at. Indeed, we need to seriously consider adopting a federal system of Government. There’s no harm in trying. If it failed, we could always revert to the current system. But at least we would have explored all alternative development models.