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Time’s Up For Sata’s 90-Day Plan

Has Zambia's new president delivered his promised 90-day transformation?
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Sata's inauguration: are Zambians better off than they were 90 days ago?

On September 23 2011, Michael Sata became Zambia’s fifth post-independence president, defeating incumbent Rupiah Banda and ousting the Movement for Multi-Party Democracy (MMD) that had been in power for 20 years.

Sata’s electoral campaign focused primarily on the eradication of corruption and promises made to Zambians to provide “lower taxes, more jobs and more money in your pocket”. In addition, Sata vowed to deliver a transformed country within 90 days. Today this self-assigned period of time draws to a close, allowing the Zambian people to reflect on the extent to which Sata has delivered on his pre-election promises.

Strong on corruption

In Transparency International’s 2011 Corruption Perception Index Zambia scored 3.2 out of a possible 10 and it is recognised within the country that corruption is one of the biggest challenges to economic growth and political progress. In 2010, for example, it was reported that more than $300m of health funding to Zambia's government was to be suspended by the Global Fund to fight AIDs, tuberculosis and malaria due to concerns about alleged corruption in the health ministry.

In reaction to this issue, Sata pronounced himself to have an “allergy” to corruption upon taking office and has been very vocal in his commitment to good governance and fighting corruption, claiming, "we are putting in measures to eliminate corruption and we will stand firmly on the rule of the law". Furthermore, Sata has promised to improve oversight of exports in Africa's biggest copper producer: "nothing will be exported from Zambia without evidence that it will be paid for. Exports should benefit the people."

Despite these anti-corruption speeches, the jury is still out on Sata’s so-called “allergy” to corruption. Reuben Lifuka, president of anti-corruption group Transparency International Zambia, told the Mail & Guardian: “like the previous government there has been plenty of political rhetoric about fighting corruption but so far not a lot of concrete action or detail”.

However, there have been some tangible attempts made by Sata to back up rhetoric with action. For instance, the head of the Anti-Corruption Commission, Godfrey Kayukwa, has been sacked; Transparency International and opposition politicians had been calling on Kayukwa to resign as a result of accusations of mishandling enquiries into corruption allegations against Universal Print Group, the company responsible for printing ballot papers during the past two presidential elections. In addition, Sata has also sent a significant message to all relatives and politicians by permitting a corruption probe against his son, who has aroused suspicion after purchasing two motor vehicles that far exceed his income, to go ahead unimpeded.

Changes over China

Prior to his election this year, it could also have been said that Sata had an "allergy" to China. During most of his time in opposition, Sata capitalised upon public sentiment against Chinese businesses. He once labelled salaries at Chinese-owned mines “slave wages” and threatened to sever diplomatic ties and deport Chinese “infestors”. Indeed, the vehemence of Sata’s anti-China stance was such that many categorised this year’s presidential election as a referendum on China.

However, despite the election apparently returning a vote of no confidence against China’s existing projects in Zambia, Sata has taken a more pragmatic stance on the issue, recognising how key Chinese investment is for Zambian economic growth. In 2010, China trade with Zambia nearly doubled to reach $2.5 billion and the TAZARA railway line, the Levy Mwanawasa Stadium and the Lusaka General Hospital are just a few examples of the historic and fruitful relationship between the two countries.

Significantly, Sata’s first public meeting as president was with China’s ambassador, Zhou Yuxiao, to discuss the importance of China’s investment to the country and the sanctity of Zambian regulations. Moreover, in his first week as president, Sata told Beijing that he welcomed investment from Chinese companies but only if they obeyed the law, especially in terms of employing more Zambian workers. In fact, the Chambishi mine operators had already pre-empted government pressure and collective action in raising wages by 85% following Sata’s election victory.

Sata’s U-turn over Chinese investment has been reinforced more recently in a meeting with Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister Zhai Jun in Lusaka on December 12, in which Sata reiterated his desire for continuous co-operation and exchange with China. Furthermore, China has pledged 75.3 billion kwacha ($15 million) for poverty reduction programmes – K43.3 billion as a grant and K32 billion as an interest-free loan. Far from raging against poor working conditions in Chinese projects and making antagonistic comments about Taiwan, his first 90 days suggest that Sata in office is more pragmatic than Sata in opposition and that strong economic ties with China will be a feature of his Zambia.

More money in their pockets?

Achieving assurances of improved working conditions and higher wages from Chinese firms goes some way to fulfilling the mandate of reducing rising levels of rural poverty, inequality and high unemployment. Indeed, Sata has a huge majority in the Copperbelt mining province and so delivering on promises made to labour has been a priority for the new president.

Under the MMD, many workers in these areas felt that foreign capital took precedence over the welfare of nationals. Although many of these workers continue to labour under ruinous conditions and without proper protective equipment, Sata has directed that the minimum wage for non-unionised industrial workers be increased from 419,000 kwacha ($82) to K1 million ($195) per month.

Sata’s commitment to improving the lives of Zambians is clear and his government is targeting a number of development policies, including a “very ambitious road works programme” that he believes will provide employment for up to 2000 people. However, this has not yet been enacted and, in terms of labour, most of Sata’s first 90 days have been dedicated to rhetoric. It is not yet clear whether Zambians have more money in their pockets as a result of his presidency.

Hirings and Firings

Sata has been more decisive when it has come to his appointments. The Human Rights Commission has praised Sata for showing willingness to place women in significant decision-making positions. For example, women are heading the Anti-Corruption Commission and the Drug Enforcement Commission while out of the ten commissioners of police, six are women. In addition, Sata has also been commended for making critical appointments to support his anti-corruption agenda whilst also firing those who have not shown themselves to be honest in political positions.

However, some of Sata’s appointments have come under scrutiny. Retired High Court judge Kabazo Chanda has voiced his opposition to the inclusion of five individuals in the Constitution Technical Committee. Judge Chanda reacted to this appointment because they were members of the "infamous, ill-fated National Constitution Conference (NCC) which gobbled unprecedented colossal finances". Moreover, he questioned “why the same personalities are being brought back to try and do the job which they failed to do”.

The appointment of former Ministry of Health permanent secretary Dr Simon Miti as Zambia’s Ambassador to Switzerland also raised eyebrows. In 2009, Dr Miti was placed on forced leave in the course of an investigation into a K27 billion corruption scam that occurred during his tenure. This scandal led to Sweden and the Netherlands freezing their aid to the Ministry of Health over embezzlement of the funds. The backlash against this appointment was such that Sata was forced to revoke it shortly afterwards, making the government look weak and erratic.

90-day transformation?

One of Sata’s key electoral promises was to deliver Zambia a new constitution within 90 days. While this promise has yet to be fulfilled, Sata has named a 20-member Technical Committee to draft the new Republican Constitution. This is emblematic of his presidency so far. Although he has undertaken some tangible reforms, with differing outcomes, most of his first 90 days in office have been spent proselytising.

However, this is not necessarily a bad thing. With Sata’s personality as a populist and radical, the Zambian Stock Exchange took a tumble on September 23, signalling a fear amongst investors that the new president would destabilise Zambia with his erratic style of leadership. Despite this blip of hysteria, these apprehensions have proved unfounded. Sata has shown pragmatism and rationality in decision-making. Thus, while it may appear as if he has failed to deliver on his campaign promises, Sata’s first 90 days has seen him grow into the role of president and present himself as a politician capable of overcoming some of Zambia’s more pathological problems, as well as one ready to react sensibly and effectively to any that may occur in the future.

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