By Elias C. Chipimo
It has to be said: if for some reason the world’s most incompetent thinkers came together to develop policies that made absolutely no sense, they would be hard pressed to match some of the outcomes of the recent cabinet meeting in Zambia.
It is tempting to describe the goings on in our country as a circus. However, that would be giving the circus a bad name.
A circus is, after all, well-intentioned, properly planned, carefully coordinated and can generally pay its own way. Some circus acts are indeed clumsy but they only act that way to entertain the audience.
The cabinet circus that is unfolding before our very eyes, is not, unfortunately act. Clumsy decisions (like the “WhatsApp tax”) are probably a product of unconscious incompetence as is the decision to create a completely new cyber-crime agency at a time when we should be reducing our public expenditure footprint in order to meet our colossal debt obligations.
Cyber-crime is indeed an issue but this can be dealt with in a much more cost-effective manner.
So why do these recent Cabinet decisions make no sense? First of all, since when was it government’s responsibility to tax citizens on behalf of an industry (telecoms) that is perfectly capable of raising its own revenue to build infrastructure and employ citizens?
Secondly, accessing WhatsApp calls requires one to pay for data anyway, so the telecoms companies are not losing out at all. In fact, the more internet calls people make, the richer the mobile operators whose data is being used.
Thirdly, as a revenue generator for mobile network operators, data has increased tremendously since the uptake of free services like WhatsApp. The technology used to offer calls over the internet is even used by the very call centres that the Zambian Cabinet seems overly eager to protect.
Finally, how exactly will WhatsApp calls be monitored? This requires very sophisticated equipment coupled with the legal authority to tap phones. Was this perhaps why the “WhatsApp tax” was announced hand in hand with the planned measures to tackle cyber-crime?
Zambia has to get its act together. We are not going to do it by taxing our citizens to death and ignoring the real enemy of development: complacency. We are complacent when it comes to corruption, theft, immorality, laziness, drunkenness and incompetence.
As a result, these have become the attributes by which one can advance rapidly in public life if you grovel before the right people. We have a Cabinet that is more worried about taxing its citizens to death than addressing the serious crimes highlighted in official reports by organisation like the Financial Intelligence Centre.
Surely the words of Scripture ring true in this instance: “You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.” (Matthew 23:24 NIV).