Jul 20, 2010

Development in half measures

As Zambians we have fully embraced the mantra that economic development will be achieved by lowering trade barriers, encouraging foreign direct investment (FDI), removing protectionist practices, etc. This is all well and good, but is there anyone looking at things strategically and not just going out guns blazing with no clear plan?

Mining activities have been ramping up in the last few years with estimated $3 billion annual copper sales. Now, how much of that will be captured as tax revenue and allocated for infrastructure development in the areas that have seen the increased economic activity?

The people are crying out for improvements in the basic necessities – water and sanitation, fully staffed and well equipped health facilities, adequate school facilities for their children, paved roads with drainage that works. The mining companies won’t provide these goods and services nor should they be expected to; they are in the business of mineral extraction. It’s up to us, as a people, to demand that the government lives up to its responsibilities to the citizenry. In the same vein, the mining companies will not voluntarily clean up waste, and minimise the environmental impacts if they can get away with it. Let’s get real! We can only make them accountable by having strong oversight and enforcement that makes it non-negotiable to be good stewards of our natural resources.

However, with the government’s inability to wake up and plan well, people are now asking questions of the investors. If they are making money from mineral extraction why can’t they build or improve roads given the fact their heavy usage or even provide housing for the workers who have migrated in search of work in the mines given the pittance they pay in taxes? These are not unreasonable questions nor can we fault people for asking them. Just what are we going to do? Or will the pleas continue to fall on deaf ears? 

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