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Zimbabwean born Zambian president accused of 'buying' votes

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20 Jun 2011 at 05:51hrs | Views
Both President Rupiah Banda and senior members of his administration have been brushing off critics who have accused the administration of "abusing public resources" in order to win votes in Zambia's forthcoming elections.

The MMD government has launched a flurry of projects and schemes in the run-up to the election.

Among them are urban road rehabilitation, the power connection deferred payment scheme and the distribution of free solar geysers in urban areas.

Outstanding amounts on the purchases of houses formerly owned by state-owned companies have also been written off.

All have been launched with suitable pomp and ceremony by Banda.

The opposition have been made to seem idle and have been left with little but claims that they would do things better.

They are feeling the heat from Banda's brisk pace - constantly launching one project or another.

Patriotic Front (PF) leader Michael Sata was the first to react, and wondered where the money was coming from since there was no provision for these projects in the budget.

In response, Banda said government had borrowed from the capital market and pointed out that any "creative" government could not fail to raise funds.

But that did not stem the tide.

Former finance minister Ng'andu Magande, who leads a new peripheral opposition party, accused Banda of being a "careless borrower" who would lead Zambia into a new debt crisis.

Earlier, former defence minister George Mpombo, whose trial for theft of public funds has now started, berated the MMD for paying allowances from government coffers to ministers and deputy ministers who he said were touring the country on party business.

He described this as "daylight robbery".

Panji Kaunda, the chairperson of the Peoples Pact Forum (PPF), said "the sudden developmental projects" launched by the president and the MMD were a sign that they would lose the election.

"They know that they are losing and that is why Banda is embarking on all these projects. He is trying to entice people to vote for him.

"I think Banda should be very sincere, if these projects were genuine, they should have been included in the budget. It's very unfortunate that he is trying to blind the people of Zambia with these projects," he said.

Former president of the oncepowerful Zambia Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), Fackson Shamenda, called on Zambians to defend parastatal institutions from being abused by the MMD government.

"This is very unfortunate; that is why institutions like the IMF and the World Bank have been calling for the privatisation of parastatal institutions because they are scared of this same type of abuse through political interference. That is why these days, there is no sense of ownership by the public of these parastatal institutions because they have been turned into MMD institutions," he said.

In a radio talk show, he said Banda's development projects were "blackmail aimed at swaying votes" ahead of the 2011 presidential and general elections.

Transparency International Zambia (TIZ) said it was appalled that the MMD was putting up unprecedented developments just before elections after 20 years in power.

But that was by no means the universal view.

President of the Federation Free Trade Unions of Zambia (FFTUZ) Joyce Nonde Simukoko said Shamenda's sentiments were "totally misleading" because it wasn't illegal to embark on development projects at this time.

She said Shamenda and the opposition parties needed to evaluate the performance of the MMD government and not criticise development which was being "celebrated by other citizens".

Finance Minister Situmbeko Musokotwane was swift to reject the opposition view of things.

He said the reading of the economy by Magande, his predecessor, was outdated, because economic growth had accelerated since his departure from the finance ministry in 2008.

The economy was doing well, receipts from mining taxes had increased and government was able to borrow and the debt was within sustainable limits.

These exchanges around the developmental projects and the concerns of the opposition tend to highlight the plight of the opposition going into this election.

The economic turnaround after 1991 is beginning to bear fruit and this has left the opposition platform in disarray.

Most of the politically "exploitable" projects government has either done or is rolling out.

The only issue on which to squeeze the ruling party would be unemployment, which remains high and perhaps that, after 20 years of the MMD, it is time for change.

Even then there is still no coherent answer to the question why there should be change when government is on top of things.

But government was still stung by this criticism because of the sensitivity of some of the issues raised.

The national debt issue for instance is a serious matter.

Up to 2005, Zambia had whopping external debt of $7-billion, and repayment became debilitating.

At one time it was estimated that debt repayments exceeded the amount Zambia received as development aid from Western governments and the 1990s Zambia's budget was largely financed by grants from Western governments.

The fear is of a relapse due to the new loans.

Most of those who have analysed Zambia's past debt have concluded that most of the loans were not always beneficial to the country.

Source - timeslive