By Elarm Chalusa
‘More Money in Our Pocket’s was once a famous slogan in our political stratosphere. It was and still proves to be an eye catching, self-assuring and very appealing slogan. A little conjecture would hold that it served its purpose effectively.
With the increasing cost of living exacerbated by the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, there is no better time to be wishful of the slogan translating into reality albeit difficult due to the prevailing global economic slowdown. Nonetheless, all hope is not lost as we could still put a spin on the course of our lives and fill our pockets with the surplus. How so?
Let us bring in some unpopular commodity price guidelines out of urgency. It’s not meant to kill the businesses, but to make them ‘price’ commodities in such a way that while they break even with some nominal mark-up to remain in businesses profitably and without stifling growth prospects, they do not do so at the peril of the very people they seek to serve – the consumers.
Is this realistic? Yes it is. Though it is easier said than done. We have had mealie meal prices hit the skies only to come down. This is a matter which should not require the intervention of the Head of State. But should there be no alternative, that’s the way to go because the Head of State is the custodian of all – the producer/supplier on one hand and the consumer on the other.
We should not live it up to the millers or farmers union only to determine the prices of commodities like maize meal. These are bound to put their interests first – understandably so. There should be another body to regulate essential commodity prices – this is unpleasant isn’t it? But the rate at which we are going; we need it, peradventure on a permanent basis.
Look, how can locally produced goods like our staple food cost so much? Is it really justifiable? I have interviewed colleagues who are involved in the growing and selling of maize, they boast of profits of up to 100% once they sell their produce. Inputs notwithstanding, zea-maize prices in this country should fall. We should also work on reducing the cost of the said inputs which are used as justification for the exorbitant maize meal prices.
What price is fair for mealie-meal? Fair would be K25 or even less for a 25kg bag of mealie-meal. If we are to empower our people and bring about remarkable changes in their lives, we should be bold enough to deal with difficult situations like the pricing of essential commodities or the affordability thereof by the masses. Unpopular though this would prove to the producers and suppliers, not so to the consumers. Reversing the trend may not be achieved over night, but a phased approach is plausible in the medium to long term. Let’s go for it.
Look at fish, much of which is caught from our rivers – growing and multiplying naturally without any form of inputs for the most part except – for a little which is being kept in some fish ponds. The stuff is so expensive like an import from afar – trying to recoup import duty and freight costs. No, my fellow citizens. Let’s turn the tide. Even if we reduced the cost price of dry fish or fresh fish by 50%, there will still be profit. This is true of most essential commodities.
The proposed effort should target the main food stuff such as sugar, kapenta, beans, tomatoes, onions, groundnuts, cooking oil, finkubala (caterpillars), sweet and Irish potatoes, meat (beef, chicken, goat, pork), etc. This is what this author is advocating for. Its not full proof in an economic sense, but it is necessary in the social sense. Let the experts debate this matter objectively and help the nation come up with an affordable and acceptable price regime of all the above and related essentials. One envisions some form of enforceable price guidelines which could be revised from time to time.
We are aiming for middle income economy status and yet our poverty levels remain sky high. The reductions proposed in this article are ambitious and have the potential to substantially elevate disposable income levels of many households – thereby affording them modest life styles.
One would understand escalating prices of imports like petroleum products in the meantime, but not what we can and do produce locally even with little inputs which are used as justification especially on zea – maize. Besides the staple food, what about the cost of one of the most widely used energy sources, charcoal. One wonders how the pricing of charcoal is justified. Clearly no input at all. Just production from our shared natural resource – the trees, whose depletion has unpleasant environmental ramifications for all of us.
Further, its worthwhile to consider reducing the following gradually in spite of obvious degrees of difficulty:
- Utility prices – electricity, water, airtime etc
- Pay As You Earn (PAYE) – yes even if it bites the treasury a little. That’s why we need to create more tax-paying jobs to broaden our tax base. (By the way, do the car dealers around town and country pay tax on their sales? Would it be fair to tax religious organisations based on their recorded income collections? They are non-profit making – but surely, this aspect needs some consideration. The sheer extravagance of some the leaders of these organisations should raise as much eye brows as do public leaders who amass too much wealth suddenly. To what extent are we collecting tax on land sales, house rentals and house sales? What about the lucrative taxi and commuter service businesses? Are we, not missing out because we lack a mechanism for capturing their returns? Should we move on to mention the little coming from saloons, barber shops, restaurants, gyms, car washes, motor vehicle garages, tuition centres etc?
- Costs of school uniforms,school shoes. School books, pens, pencils, sharpeners etc.
- Import and export duties.
- Transport fares in tandem with commodity price fluctuations on the international market. That is, when Brent and Crude oil go up, we increase. When they reduce, we follow suit.
- Costs of cement, blocks and other building materials.
- House rentals, house selling prices and plots both residential and commercial. Is this possible? Yes it is. This requires a paradigm shift.
I know these are unpopular suggestions, but they are among the ways worthy considering if we are to put more money in our pockets.
With more money in our pockets, everyone will emerge a winner. Government will take credit for empowering the citizenry. This will be among the most significant milestones under their watch.
Businesses will have more unit sells per day – more turnover as there will be more buyers.
Citizens will afford the basic commodities including healthy diet, education and accommodation among others. Employers would not worry about pay rise. This could be inflationary but this kind of inflation would be quite good for business. Its not the kind that spirals out of control.
Change in and of itself is usually hard to embrace especially if it seems to threaten our status quo – worse so if it means losing in any way such as monetary value. Because of this, few businesses and their respective bodies would willingly support these proposals. However, in order to mitigate the imminent impact of these downward adjustments on the businesses, a more gradual or phased approach is proposed.
And finally, we need an institution that is adequately empowered to regulate, monitor and implement these life changing and lifesaving imperatives that will put more money in our pockets for a long time to come.
The writer is an Educationist based in Lusaka.