Africa-Press – Zambia. The reported protests in neighbouring Malawi is a remainder of the world we all live in and the common challenges we face. Addressing unemployment and high cost of living bring stability to countries but governments must be given enough time to address these problems.
Police in Malawi used tear gas Friday to stop demonstrators who were protesting unemployment and the high cost of living and a group of counterdemonstrators.
In Zambia, the new Dawn Administration under President Hakainde Hichilema has taken the first necessary step on measures aimed at addressing unemployment through focusing on entrepreneurship. President Hichilema deserve my commendation for this step.
The creation of the Ministry for SMEs is such a step but the real work now rests with the Ministry itself to become proactive and contribute towards the vision inherent in the creation of such an important Ministry.
The Ministry for SMEs was not created for mere purposes of giving formal jobs to those who worked with Mr Hichilema to secure his victory in 2021. The creator of that Ministry himself understand that without focusing on entrepreneurship, the prospects of changing the lives of our people remain too remote.
Of course, there are hundreds of UPND members, sympathisers, etc waiting for President Bally to give them jobs in Government Ministries, departments, foreign service etc but there are thousands to millions of Zambians waiting for employment opportunities. The challenge the President has to address is for these millions of Zambians than the few cadres.
So far, some other actions by President showed he was prepared to put the interests of Zambians ahead of the few lining up for jobs. The second preliminary stage towards creating employment must be the change our people’s mindset towards employment. Our society needs to understand that government can only employ as many as it can afford, around a total of 300,000 to 400,000 at the most. This means the focus must be on self employment (entreprenueral) or private sector.
But to be in self employment or private sector requires an environment or policies that support these sectors to thrive. This is where the Ministry for SME must come in to play an important role on policy direction.
Giving free cash handouts to small scale businesses is not and will never be the solution. It has not worked and has proven unsustainable in the agricultural sector and also work youth empowerment funds. The Ministry for SMEs needs to begin identifying practices and bottlenecks that prevent our entrepreneurs to thrive and small businesses to thrive.
Even with the policy of 20 percent contract award to Zambians the previous regime of Former President Edgar Lungu had introduced, promoting real entrepreneurship in Zambia remains far fetched as we keep doing the same thing over and over again.
Under that 20 percent policy, political cadres who were closely connected to government officials were the ones who got the 20 percent contracts in the name of local Zambian contractors. Most of them were just local contractors in name only while others never had any capacity at all to deliver on contracts.
The real foreign owners of contracts awarded by Government used the so-called local contractors as pons to get more money from government. Foreign businessmen made these political cadres register companies, used these Zambians and their newly registered businesses as guarantors for getting government contracts.
Cadres were only happy with getting the “cool free cash” (commissions) from foreigners who were awarded government contracts. No real capacity was built for these newly Zambian owned companies to stand on their own. The so called local contractors were just a conduit for foreigners to get the contracts.
Post 12th August, 2021, the same foreign companies have a new breed of cadres to position as local contractors. The showy display of huge stacks of cash towards the August 2021, in my view, was not as a result of Government giving those youths money but the cadres who got commissions from foreign companies in the name of being local contractors bidding with foreign owned companies. Meanwhile, real entrepreneurs like Johnson Kondani had their genuine medium scale businesses struggle to survive.
My worry now is that we have seen more political party cadres appointed to position of Permanent Secretaries, in charge of Ministries and its resources. I have less problem with cadres being appointed Deputy Permanent Secretaries and District Commissioners as it has remained a fashion even under the new dawn because under an unwritten rule, appointees to these offices serve for political interests of the appointing authority. But the position of Permanent Secretary, it is always best to appoint career civil servants. Anyway, that is a story for another day.
The Ministry for SMEs has a big task in helping the President and his new dawn administration to avoid what is happening in Malawi. There is need to build a real cadre of entreprenuers who can work for their money, build their businesses. When one entrepreneur succeeds in employing 2 or 5 people, the country gets on the path to reducing unemployment. Most importantly, government must create a conductive environment for entrepreneurs to thrive.
There is not so much in the 2022 budget to promote a thriving entrepreneurial environment. The budget should have given tax breaks and other incentives to small business. This would afford our SMEs to invest money and acquire necessary capital and assets needed to grow their business. It is possible to reduce the unemployment rate in Zambia but Enterprising and entreprenuership is the way to go. Reliance on government to “give the youths” jobs won’t do.
(The author is a governance activist and working around areas of law and policy)