Saturday, 18 May 2013 08:00 Published in Commentary
LUSAKA, Zambia — A decision by Zambia’s president to slash a key food subsidy threatens to hit the poor, stoke inflation and spark a popular revolt against his government.
Earlier this week Michael Sata tore up his own populist political playbook, stamped on it and set it on fire by announcing weighty maize subsidies will be scrapped.
Reversing a policy he introduced on coming to power in 2011, Sata said stopping government subsidies for the staple food would lead to “real economic and well distributed growth.”
It would also save the government much-needed cash.
But in reaching for fiscal probity, Sata has effectively grabbed the third rail of developing world politics with both hands.
Famously, a 1977 decision to scaleback bread subsidies in Egypt prompted riots that killed nearly 80 people. The army was deployed to restore order and the policy was quickly rolled back.
Zambia itself saw serious food riots in 1990, which helped push the government from power.
The backlash this time round has been prompt, but, for the moment, nonviolent.
Thirty-four-year-old Mooya Chilala, an unemployed father of two, said there is only one response to the move: Zambians must vote Sata out of power.
“I have many dependents and with this increase all I can ask my fellow Zambians is to remove this government from power,” said Chilala.
In Lusaka supermarkets a bag of mealie meal — a coarse cornflour that is a local stapple — currently costs around 50 US cents (40 euro cents) a kilo.
In a country with high unemployment, 60 percent of people living in poverty and the average income at $3.45 a day, any significant increase will cause economic and social shocks.
Sata’s political opponents have been quick to seize on public anger.
A coalition of civil society groups on Thursday demanded the government reverse its decision.
“We are giving the government seven days,” said coalition spokesman Guess Nyirenda vowing mass protests.
Njekwa Anamela, vice president of the opposition United National Independence Party (UNIP) said the situation was a “tragedy.”
“The government is failing to respond to the needs of its people,” he told AFP.
“Food is made unaffordable and inaccessible to its citizens,” he said. “What kind of socialists are these who have left the poor to suffer,” he added.
The UNIP has good reason to press the point.
The 1990 riots ultimately forced the then UNIP government to adopt democratic reforms, which led to its ouster at elections a year later.
Economists are concerned that the move will stoke inflation which is already running at 6.5 percent, and is on path to breech a seven percent upper target.
“With the increase in fuel prices, everything else will go up and there is no way we shall meet the set targets,” said Maambo Hamaundu, an independent economist, referring to the recent removal of fuel subsidies as well.
In the “2013 budget, there was no indication of such a move, we are wondering why the rush to remove the subsidies. Where is the pressure coming from?” Hamaundu added.
But price rises may not be inevitable, thanks to the fact that the government subsidies went directly to millers.
According to a 2012 study by the Indaba Agricultural Policy Research Institute, millers were not passing on their savings of around $340 per tonne from the subsidies to customers but instead pocketing additional profits.
Sata’s spokesman George Chella on Wednesday said the maize subsidies “only benefit the already well to do middlemen and not the targeted vulnerable groups of our society.”
He vowed the government would instead channel resources “to the very poor,” and called on “all well-meaning Zambians need to look at days beyond today and tomorrow.”
The government has not detailed how it plans to target support to the needy, however.
SAN ANTONIO LEADS, 3-2
SAN ANTONIO — Tim Duncan had 14 points and 11 rebounds and Tony Parker carried the load in a dominant second half as San Antonio beat Golden State 109-91 in game five of their National Basketball Association playoff series.
France’s Parker scored 16 of his 25 points in second half and had 10 assists for the Spurs who seized a 3-2 series lead in the best-of-seven second round series.
“This was a big win for us,” Parker said. “We played better defensively.
“We played a lot harder and got the 50/50 balls. We need to do the same next game in Golden State.
San Antonio can advance to the NBA semi-finals for the eighth time in 15 years with a win Thursday night in Oakland.
Parker shot nine-of-16 from the field. The Spurs outscored Golden State 55-40 in the second half when 11 Golden State turnovers led to 18 San Antonio points.
Kawhi Leonard finished with 17 points and seven rebounds and Danny Green scored 16 points in the win.
Golden State’s star combination of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson combined for just 13 points on six-of-22 shooting from the field. Harrison Barnes finished with 25 points and seven rebounds in the loss.
“This is a heavyweight fight,” said Golden State coach Mark Jackson. “They won the ballgame and we got out of character on both sides of the ball.”
The Spurs suffered shooting woes in a game four loss on the road but they remedied that on Tuesday night in front of a crowd of 18,581 at AT&T Center arena.
San Antonio have been dominant at home this year where they finished 35-6 during the regular season.
The Warriors insist they will rebound from this loss. They snapped a 30-game losing streak in San Antonio — dating back to Valentine’s Day, 1997 — with a win in game two.
“My guys will bounce back,” Jackson said. “We will be fine. We’re excited for game six. This is where it gets fun.”
INDIANAPOLIS, Indiana — The Indiana Pacers are on the brink of advancing to the NBA semi-finals after beating New York 93-82 Tuesday, behind 26 points from George Hill and a dominant team rebounding performance.
Paul George finished with 18 points and 14 rebounds for the Pacers who seized a 3-1 stranglehold lead and can now wrap up the second-round series with a win Thursday at Madison Square Garden.
“We are making it tough for them,” Hill said. “We wanted to play with physicality and don’t give them any easy baskets.”
Indiana displayed why they are the league’s top rebounding team as they have outrebounded New York 188-142 in the series and 54-36 on Tuesday night.
David West finished with 10 points and 10 rebounds, Roy Hibbert grabbed 11 rebounds while Lance Stephenson chipped in with 13 points for Indiana, who are a perfect 5-0 at home in the postseason.
Hibbert also guarded the paint effectively by making three blocked shots.
“Everybody’s all tied together on this team,” George said.
The Memphis Grizzlies are the only other team not lose on their home floor during these playoffs.
Carmelo Anthony continued his disappearing act Tuesday as the Knicks star failed to score a single point in the fourth quarter of game four and fouled out with two minutes left in regulation.
Anthony, who didn’t make a field goal in the final quarter of game three, finished with 24 points on nine-of-23 shooting.
J.R. Smith is also struggling offensively as he missed eight of his first nine shots and finished just seven-of-22 from the floor for 19 points.
New York shot 28 percent (8-of-28) from three-point range after leading the league with an average of almost 11 per game from beyond the arc during the regular season.
Hill said the Pacers have to prepare themselves physically and mentally for Thursday’s Game Five.
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