On January 20th, 2015, Zambia decides. Zambians will on this day vote for a new President following the death of the incumbent President Michael Chilufya Sata on the 28th of October 2014.
I will vote on this day. The thought both excites me and scares me. It scares me because I again find myself with the huge responsibility of voting for the senior most public servant in our land – and that is exciting! It is scary because I need to be sure that I am making the right choice! It is scary because the decision I make, and the decisions that other Zambian voters make, affects all the 14 million people of Zambia!
I have therefore been thinking of who I should vote for. I have read and heard what has been said about the many candidates that are contesting the Presidential election and I still find myself thinking, who do I vote for? I have gone through the list of candidates over and over again and realised just how tough it is to choose one person over the other, but I also realised that actually, I am not just electing a person, I am electing THE President. So who do I want to be President?
To answer this question, I have tried to ask myself what many ordinary Zambians want a President to do and it dawned on me that what most Zambians want, is what I want.
We all want the same things in life – to have a better life which means food on the table, shelter, access to health, to educate our children, to be free to associate with others, to air our views and to participate in decisions that concern us.
I am therefore trying to listen to all candidates carefully to see if they are talking about these things. Our election campaigns are unfortunately, for the most part, characterised by opponents attacking each other rather than focussing on issues that affect citizens, but interestingly for this particular election, we are beginning to hear aspiring Presidential candidates talk about pertinent issues that citizens, through CSOs, the Church and other bodies have been raising.
One of the issues that has attracted the attention of the presidential candidates is that of taxation. I have found this really interesting, because I have gone back to whatever news items I could find from the 2008 election, and I have not found any reference to taxation in the campaign promises made by candidates then, apart from references to raising the threshold of employees’ income taxes.
I have had countless debates with friends and colleagues why talking about and ultimately addressing the problems of taxation is important because as we all know, tax pays for basic public services. There are those that argue that talking about taxes will chase away investors but my response has been that if we don’t get anything or get very little from these investors, is the investment really worth it? Over the next few weeks leading up to the elections, this is a debate that is going to get louder and Zambians must demand that candidates explain what they will do to ensure that Zambia gets a fair share of revenue from its resources through taxation.
Our late President, Michael Sata, always talked about putting ‘more money’ in the pockets of Zambians, and this excited many who overwhelmingly voted for him. I now laugh at the fact that we did not bother to ask him how he would do this. I recall in a meeting with President Sata, he talked about the need to get more revenue from our resources, and when I asked him why then he was not dealing with tax avoidance, his response was ‘if the investors run away, are you going to bring in more investors?’ I was disappointed at his response and I remember thinking to myself, if only we had a President who was bold enough to deal with taxation of mining companies!
I now know that what Zambia needs is a President who will be bold to decisively deal with tax avoidance by mining companies, who will resolve mining tax policy once and for all so that we can have a fair tax system that works for us as country.
Zambia needs a President who will ensure that tax revenue is progressively spent on basic social services such as health and education. Developing countries like Zambia are not able to effectively mobilise domestic revenue due to loopholes in international tax rules that make it possible for multinational companies to avoid paying their fair share of taxes and Zambia has good case studies documented on this such as the Zambia Sugar case. Zambia is therefore well positioned to lead initiatives within the region that lead to changes in international tax rules and that allow countries like Zambia to benefit from automatic exchange of information on tax matters. Zambia needs a leader that will be bold and committed to lead this initiative in the region.
This is the President I will vote for, because I know Zambia has vast resources and is able to generate tremendous revenue to send every child in this country to school, to ensure that mothers do not die during child birth due to lack of health services and that our smallholder farmers are able to produce a diverse range of food crops to feed their families and to earn an income.
So come 20th January 2015, this is the President I will be voting for!