Regrettably, the occasion was to be a ‘thank you’ more than a final press session touching on policy matters. Nevertheless, Kundhavi indulged questions that touched on her work and her answers in some cases are a candid insight of the tightrope diplomats walk as they balance the reality of the situation they face and the tacticians they must be, to move the process forward to deliver innovative country programs that show sustainable results in poverty reduction.
An Indian national, Kundhavi, came to Zambia in June 2011, at a time when the country was engulfed in total election mode. Patriotic Front (PF) was in the opposition and the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) was ruling.
One can only imagine what she made of the ‘donchi kubeba’ ‘don’t tell them’ rhetoric being spewed by the opposition whose message was that Zambians were being excluded from the economic success the country was experiencing with the cost of living for the average majority Zambian beyond their means.
The incumbent MMD government was telling Zambians that all was well and experimenting with a new government would not be worth their while. Given the election results its obvious the PF message resonated more with the people.
A review of Zambia fortune from June 2011 to June 2015
Indeed the Central Statistical Office (CSO)’s ‘The Monthly’ publication shows that the annual rate of inflation, as measured by the all items Consumer Price Index (CPI) in June 2011 was 9.0 percent.
In comparison to the current CSO report for the month of June 2015 the annual rate of inflation recorded is 7.1 percent. Therefore, despite fluctuations in the rate of inflation over the long term going by the current comparison inflation overall has decreased by 1.9 over time since PF assumed power. CSO states that the current increase of the inflation rate is mainly attributed to increases in non-food items particularly liquid fuels (diesel, kerosene and petrol) and house rentals.
But when we look at the total 7.1 percent annual inflation rate recorded, food and non-alcoholic beverage products accounted for 3.7 percentage points, while non-food products accounted for 3.4 percentage points. And looking at the June 2011 figures of the total 9.0 percent annual inflation, food products accounted for 2.5 percentage points, while non-food products accounted for a total of 6.5 percentage points. Given this analysis we can deduce that food is more expense now than in 2011 despite decrease in total inflation figures.
A comparison of retail prices from June 2011 to June 2015 substantiates this assertion as the figures show that the national average price of a 25 kg bag of white breakfast mealie meal was K48.52 and is now K69.18, while roller mealie meal was K34.05 to K51.78, the average price of 1kg of dried kapenta (Mpulungu) was K55.18 to K64.12, while 1kg of tomatoes was K4.27 to K5.82, 1kg, onions was K7.00 to K9.72 and the average price of 750mls of imported cooking oil was K11.30 to K11.91, while local cooking oil is now selling at K36.92.
Further, a 20 litre tin of maize grain was K16.68 and now costs K28.27. Unfortunately the prices comparisons for fuel were not referenced in the reports of both the CSO or JCTR in 2011. However, back in 2011 the cost fuel was hovering between K5 and 6, while the 2015 average price of 1 litre of diesel currently has increased by 15.1 percent from K6.62 in May to K7.62 in June, while the average price of 1 litre of petrol increased by 14.8 percent from K7.63 in May to K8.76 in June according to the CSO report.
On the international trade front Zambia recorded a trade surplus valued at K527.3 billion recorded in June 2011. This is in contrast to its currently standing showing a trade deficit valued at K1,193.3 million in May 2015 from a trade deficit of K717.7 million recorded in April 2015 (June figure were not available yet by print time). This means that the country imported more in May 2015 than it exported in nominal terms.
Zambia’s major export products from June 2011 to June 2015 has been from the intermediate goods category (mainly comprising copper cathodes and sections of refined copper) accounting for 83.5 and 84.1 percent respectively.
Fast forward to 2015 Kundhavi says Zambia is an interesting and fascinating place to engage, both on the political and development arena. Hearing her speak you get the impression that Zambia would do well to be more consistent on policy and be more result oriented.
‘You might have great ideas, good technical solutions but if you don’t understand the country environment, its history and the complexities around which the social political aspects are impacting on economic policy making and implementation then you might be a good technocrat producing a lot of reports and making all these recommendations which may not be easily acceptable and implementable.’
It’s true that the geopolitical environment is ‘interesting’ to say the least. If anyone had told Kundhavi that she would serve under 4 ‘presidents’ during her 4 year term in Zambia she and everyone else would have laughed the thought off as improbable.
But truth be told upon her arrival to in Zambia – she saw off president Rupiah Banda two months following president Michael Sata’s triumph in the September 2011 elections. Last year Sata passed on and Guy Scott became the acting president managing the affairs of the nation for just under 90 days until the election of Edgar Chagwa Lungu January 20, 2015.
With time Kundhavi has come to understand Zambia and like many visitors she sees its vast ‘potential’ and sadly its ‘inability’ to turn that potential into tangible results especially in regards to poverty reduction.
‘Zambia is a country with enormous growth over the last several years and the outlook remains positive. But a country with all that impressive growth that has been consistently above 6%, has so far not translated this into real poverty reduction and you see a large majority of the population in poverty.’
Kundhavi said this was an area that was her focus while in Zambia and is in synch with the World Bank’s objectives to reduce poverty.
‘I think again these things are not really easy. It’s not for the World Bank to come and wave a magic wand to make things happen but I think that the policy dialogue helps to move government’s attention and resources to more pro-poor programs… So reaching out and engaging with them and facilitating in the dialogue and debate I consider that as perhaps one of my most important area of contribution.’
However, Zambia still has a long way to go in reducing poverty and is seriously off track on meeting the Millennium Development Goal number 1 (Poverty). Zambia ranks 141 out of 187 on the 2014 Human Development Index. Further, UN figures show that around 60 percent of Zambians live in poverty with 42 percent unable to meet even basic food needs and inequality remains very high. The proportion of Zambia’s rural poor is reaching nearly 90 percent.
Yet, Zambia’s situation is not insurmountable Kundhavi said. She points out that the World Bank has assisted with a poverty mapping exercise that provides comprehensive data by showing the poorest areas of the country, such as districts, constituencies and wards to support the government’s goal of reducing poverty as it helps to better target programs and resources to the neediest households.
‘The two words that are overused in this country is diversification and potential. This is a very rich country, in natural resources, water, climate and the people… You might have everything around you but it’s a combination of making it happen’
To remedy the situation Kundhavi advises Zambians to be ‘focused and clear on what they want done and then hold their political leaders accountable.’
‘If there is a program that is not delivering ask the right questions. Find out why the program is not working. It’s these resources that need to be translated into real results. The people alone cannot make it if they let a just few people do what they want … the larger community should keep the pressure and demand results or find different ways to make things happen.’
Kundhavi said Zambia has many good governance institutions from the Anti-Corruption Commission to the Auditor General’s offices, but she questioned their ability to work independently.
‘I think that is an area where Zambia can do more because more often we see the resources that are being invested do not give value for money. If a road that needs to be built is costing three or four times more, it means resources are being mishandled… In that sense Zambia has a huge governance challenge and your institutions should really work for you.’
Kundhavi emphasized that Zambia can ill afford to lose resource in this way especially that it has limited funds. She urged the media not to relent in pursing these and other stories that will help build the nation.
Warning against complacency a condition she sees as detrimental, Kundhavi gave herself as an example saying she refuses to remain in a comfort zone and is always up for the new adventure and challenge, and despite being with the World Bank since 1993, she has taken advantage of the opportunities within it to shift between regions, administration and operations to optimize her skills and talents.
Kundhavi holds a Ph.D. in Economics from Madurai Kamaraj University, a master of Business Administration in International Business from George Washington University, and a master of Arts in Economics from Fatima College.
Among the programs she has assisted in setting up in Zambia is the ‘Girls’ Education and Women’s Empowerment and Livelihoods Project’, which is designed to support the Government of Zambia increase access to livelihood support for women and access to secondary education for disadvantaged adolescent girls.
Through a US$65 million loan, about 75,000 working women aged between 19 to 64 years old, and about 14,000 adolescent girls aged between 14 to 18 years old living in extremely poor households in rural areas will be assisted to engage in economically productive activities and complete their secondary school education respectively.
Further, Kundhavi is especially happy with the cooperation between the World Bank and both the governments of Zambia and Zimbabwe, and other partners in collaborating the rehabilitating and mobilization of resources for the ‘Kariba Dam Rehabilitation Project’, which is the largest man-made reservoir in the world, at a total cost of works estimated at US$294 million. The World Bank loan to the project is US$75 million.
The program is to be implemented over the next ten years but needs the dam to continue operating safely with minimal interruptions to power generation.
Constructed across the Zambezi River between 1956 and 1959 and commissioned in 1960, the Kariba Dam supplies water to two underground hydropower stations in Zambia and Zimbabwe with a total capacity of 1830MW generating more than 10,035 GWh of electricity annually. The projects will increase power generation by an additional 1,050 MW.
Asked to comment on the political tension in the country Kundhavi said all thriving democracies have their power plays however, political violence was unacceptable.
‘Political bicker is not only for Zambia it happens in all thriving democracies. So in that sense if Zambia is going through that it’s part of the political revolution of this country. But when it leads to violence that’s a different thing. And Zambia has prided itself in being a peaceful nation and that’s one area it cannot cross the line because you are a model for the rest of sub-Saharan Africa. You have had peaceful transitions and have done it in a manner that other countries can learn from you.’