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By Eng Geoffrey Chishimba Chiyumbe
Negligence is simply defined as “failure to take proper care and as a result, that failure causes injury or damage to someone.”
The best way to explain negligence is with this example: If you fail to fix the roof in your office and a client comes into the office and the roof fails on her, causing injury, that’s negligence and it’s on you, the business owner.
Negligence is not doing something that a reasonable person would say should have been done, with the result that harm is done to someone else.
Whether negligence exists is decided in a courtroom, through either a civil or criminal lawsuit.
In the legal sense, negligence is a common law concept that involves the failure of a duty to exercise reasonable care or to act in a manner consistent with how other reasonable people should act.
Black’s Law Dictionary says that negligence is “the failure to exercise the standard of care that a reasonably prudent person would have exercised in a similar situation.”
“A wise man finds a smart man and learns from him how to avoid the mistake”.
I have been following the developments in South Africa pertaining specifically to the state owned power utility Eskom, which is financially insolvent and has been running on government bail outs which, unquestionably, are depleting the national resources.
Reports indicate that there is increased frustration, exasperation and disappointment in the circles around President Cyril Ramaphosa.
Nine years of scandal-tainted rule under former President Jacob Zuma left South Africa with little economic growth, dysfunctional state companies, escalating debt and an investor-confidence crisis.
Among some who have staked their careers and political reputations on his victory, premised on repairing the destruction of the Zuma years and on a return to ANC values of non-racialism and a higher calling, many have started giving up on Ramaphosa taking bold decisions.
There is a desperation to force the president to start making those politically unpopular decisions which are in the interest of all South Africans.
For them, Ramaphosa has now become the problem. Treasury, as it has done without fail during the gluttonous years of the Zuma government, was searingly honest about the country’s fiscal position, why it is where it is today and what needs to be done to get the country out of the hole.
Both Treasury and Tito Mboweni, the Finance Minister, acknowledged that things are now “significantly” worse than in February, when he tabled his first budget. He said the current position has become worse because government has failed to act on the warning about Eskom and the unsustainable public sector wage bill.
Those warnings, starkly emphasized in February, were also issued in October last year, and in February, and the budget cycle before that.
But every time Treasury warned government that it’s spending patterns are incongruent with its revenue streams, politics intervened.
The governing party pausing everything so that it could campaign for an election. And when Ramaphosa managed to elbow former president Jacob Zuma out of the corrupted office of the Presidency, his advisers said he will use the year ahead of the election to stabilize the political environment – and then he will start to implement change.
With some minor exceptions, there have been no far-reaching or radical interventions, including and especially with the two biggest threats to fiscal stability and sovereignty, namely, Eskom and the public sector.
President Ramaphosa, as those who know him well attest to, believes in consensus and incrementalism. He is a negotiator who wants everyone to leave the table feeling that they’ve won something.
But the grim reality of where the country is currently means that strong, decisive and determined political leadership is not only necessary but non-negotiable.
South Africa will not emerge from the low-growth, high unemployment and inefficient economy without the government, and Ramaphosa, making politically unpopular decisions.
Already Mboweni’s efforts since he was appointed last year – talking about the need for government reforms, privatization and liberalization – have been stifled and almost muzzled.
Ramaphosa has no choice but to enable and protect his two key lieutenants, Mboweni and Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan, so that they can get on with the job and do what needs to be done.
He must call his party to order, stare down the unions and urgently enact reforms and measures to reduce debt, ensure growth and create employment. Sweet-talking Ramaphosa can’t escape blame for the battling economy and low growth, as experts warn him to take concrete action.
The business of endless bailouts to badly run SOEs has to stop. Ramaphosa knows what needs to be done. Will he do it? “He hasn’t shown decisive, determined and visible leadership yet.
Maybe this will jolt him into action. But maybe not” analysts report. So the concern is that Ramaphosa’s indecision is hampering the chance of recovery for both a Eskom and the economy in general.
My mind wonders and takes me to the parable Jesus made in Matthew 21:28-32 called the Parable of the Two Sons.
“What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’ “‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.
“Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go. “Which of the two did what his father wanted?” “The first,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you.
For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.
We see and hear what is happening in other countries where the modern trend of leadership is indecision, where nothing is happening; the government of the country is not functioning; things can’t be done for the people, but is shrouded in conflict for power, lack of compassion for the people, greed, selfishness, rampant abuse of office, corruption, state capture, maladministration and no concern but a burden for the people.
This is a global crises causing global financial and economic unrest. The turbulence seen all over the world stems from corrupt management of financial resources of the people by their leaders, thereby creating a global unrest.
For us here in Zambia though, on the contrary, we applaud the current PF administration under Edgar Lungu because they have risen to the challenge and have made a decision to act by tackling the current challenges head on.
They are showing visible leadership by initiating the implementation of electricity sector reforms.
President Lungu’s lieutenants for finance and energy, key portfolios in the energy sector and drivers for successful sector reforms implementation, went to Mamba Collieries Limited plant and promised to settle the debt Zesco owes it to ease the financial burden on its operations.
We must always take care of our own by ensuring that we are not negligent, but decisive. And so we are confident that this working government will equally take action now to promptly settle outstanding debt if any, with other IPP’s such as Lunsemfwa Hydropower Company Limited and Ndola Energy just as it has done with Mamba Collieries Limited, to ease their operational challenges as well.
As a people, we have also responded and decided to work with the government to meander through the turbulence waters. Our sleeves are rolled, prepared to get on the deck and ready for action.
Zambian technocrats are always blamed by the opposition politicians for not speaking out against the failures of the party in government. To the contrary, as energy experts in the private sector and patriotic Zambians we have unselfishly shared with our working government, and continue to do so for the betterment of mother Zambia.
Individually and through various bodies we have presented recommendations and implementation roadmap for energy sector reforms based on our vast practical years of technical and managerial experience and know-how we have amassed from our exposure in this country, the sub Saharan region and beyond.
We have consistently provided direction to the finest detail so that the implementation phase is conducted in a systematic, professionally sequenced and well-structured manner and not haphazardly, firefighting way, for sustainable outcomes or results. The approach is systematic because the implementation tasks and activities proposed have dependencies and relationships, as we call them in project management.
To illustrate, given the task to store water in a container for future use. But it is a leaking container provided or available, full of holes on its base. Sanity and common sense dictates that the first activity is to seal the leaking container – close the holes or better still replace it completely as a first activity.
Then only when that first activity is done or finished can one proceed or start or commence with the second activity, which is the pouring of water into the storage container.
This sounds like a parable but I hope those with ears have heard. Once executed, these reforms will ultimately enhance business confidence and private sector investment prospects in mother Zambia. The proposed and recommended energy sector reforms are a magnet for the much needed Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in Zambia.
We therefore appeal to our political leadership to continue on this trajectory of decision making and action.
As patriotic technocrats we have shared almost everything and in detail with the government what needs to be done now to restore sanity in the energy sector in the midst of electricity crisis.
Zambia now more than ever needs strong, decisive and determined political leadership and this, is non-negotiable.
The leadership knows the right thing to do. Failure to act now will make citizens become exasperated. The results of a frustrated people are well known.
We do not want to reach a point where we begin to look at the political leadership as a problem and a hindrance to restoring sanity in the energy sector because of their failure to act timeously. Desperate times call for desperate measures.
In Bemba we say “shimuchita panono apokele njikalafye umukashi”. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. This is a call to action. This country is ours and it is only us who can turn it around.