Economics Association of Zambia president Dr Lubinda Haabazoka says President Edgar Lungu is not responsible for the high levels of unemployment in Zambia because it has been prevalent since the privatization era commenced in the early 1990s.
And Dr Haabazoka says contrary to popular belief, President Lungu holds a lot of press conferences, but in unconventional places like airports.
Speaking when he featured on a Hot FM’s Frank on Hot programme, Tuesday, Dr Haabazoka said it was not right to blame President Lungu for all the unemployment challenges in the country because he did not create them.
“Unemployment levels started increasing after privatization in the 1990s and, unfortunately, from that period, Zambia has never recovered. Jobs are being created here and there, but not faster than the people are floating into society. If we are producing, say 500,000 jobs a year, then we are even going to ask for other people from other countries to come in to help. We have about 6.5 million economically-active citizens and we only have about a million jobs. That is a time bomb, if you understand this time bomb…and I don’t want people in government to misunderstand me to say, it’s them who started this. It started after privatization, over 220 companies sold, and half of them exported outside the country and no new jobs,” Dr Haabazoka said.
“We are also seeing a change in the structure of our economy. We have seen investment from the (Far) East, such [as where] you increase production efficiency, people coming with machinery… such kind of investment, despite bringing in the country, they are not creating jobs that we wanted. Look at the mining industry, the mining industry employs at maximum 30,000 people directly, indirectly another 20,000. So, about 60,000 people maximum are employed by the mining sector.”
He insisted that privatization of the mining sector was the reason why there was too much unemployment in Zambia.
“Look at our kwacha; when the kwacha is losing value, people are turning to one person, the President. But that’s wrong; we are fighting the wrong thing! Yes, he is answerable to what is happening in the economy, but this volatility in the kwacha did not start under him, it didn’t start under Chiluba. Yes, he is in charge, but if you want to solve the problem, you should not look at him, you should go back to the mining industry; the mining industry after privatization. I am not saying we should not blame him (President Lungu) for anything [but] I am saying we should focus on the actual problem, and the problem is the mining industry,” Dr Haabazoka argued.
“Imagine, if we were marketing and selling mineral resources here within Zambia, meaning people that wanted to buy our copper, cobalt and diamonds, were going to come and buy in Chambishi, in Kitwe and wherever, and they were going to bring their forex [foreign exchange] here. Even if the mining companies were externalizing profit, our kwacha was going to be very strong, but we were going to have the guarantee because then, ZRA were going to be monitoring properly how much money is coming in.”
And Dr Haabazoka said contrary to popular belief, President Lungu held a lot of press conferences, but in unconventional places like airports.
“There is an increase in false information, but that false information is as a result of a vacuum that has been created in the economy and because at some point, people have issued conflicting statements, they would want to hear certain things, not from big brothers in the family, but from the head of that family. It’s very important for the President to hold press briefings, actually he normally holds them. But he holds them in places where you don’t expect them, [for example] at the airport, when he is unveiling something or swearing-in people. But I think, even with our interaction with investors in Zambia, they say, ‘we need to hear it from a press conference’ so that everybody starts singing the same song within government. So, as EAZ, that’s our advice. We need a press conference, but we cannot appear to force because [if we] start forcing then it will never come,” Dr Haabazoka said, who also observed that construction projects in Zambia were still expensive because the tender system was poor.
Meanwhile, Dr Haabazoka, who is also UNZA Graduate School of Business director, said those labelling him a puppet of the PF did not know him well.
“I think people who call me a puppet just knew me from 27th July, this year, when I was elected as EAZ president. CBU is also owned by the Zambian government and when HH was arrested in 2017, I wrote an article, it came out in The Mast newspaper under the tittle: ‘do not fight those who cannot fight back.’ That article was in defence of HH. Imagine, I was a manager at the Copperbelt University then and I could have been fired just by the stroke of a whip. But I spoke against that and there was no police that visited me, nobody spoke against because I was objective…people probably want EAZ to become an opposition political party, but we are a professional body and why we differ from LAZ or ZICA is that us we deal with the economy and for us we are careful because there are certain things we cannot say,” said Haabazoka.