Sunday 30 September 2018

Is the re-introduction of a sales tax a good idea?

[This post has greatly benefitted from conversations with Mwansa Mushinge on the practical aspects of the VAT]

This past Friday, the Minister of Finance, Margaret Mwanakatwe, presented her maiden budget address to the National Assembly of Zambia. One of the biggest announcements of her address was the proposed re-introduction of the Sales Tax to replace the Value Added Tax (VAT). The VAT was introduced in 1994 to replace the then Sales Tax (so we are about to go full circle). Given that the VAT finances about 17% of the national budget, it is important to think through the implications, if at all any, of what appears to be a fundamental shift in tax policy.

A VAT and a sales tax are all consumption taxes and are paid by the final consumer of goods. In theory, it doesn't matter whether a country levies a VAT or a sales tax because they raise equivalent amounts of revenue if levied at the same rate. Their only theoretical difference has to do with the way they are collected.

With a sales tax, the tax is only collected at the final stage of the production process (at the retail stage). The VAT, on the other hand, is collected at every stage of the production process but is only paid by the final consumer of the good.

An example to illustrate: suppose Zambia levies a sales tax of 10% on bread. And suppose, for the sake of argument, that the final retailer of bread wants a sales revenue of K20 from every loaf of bread. Given a sales tax of 10%, a loaf of bread will retail for K22 (K20 + 10% of K20). The retailer will keep their K20 and remit the K2 sales tax to the Zambia Revenue Authority (ZRA).

Given that the sales tax is only supposed to be paid by the final consumer, businesses that buy goods that are inputs into their production processes need to obtain exemption certificates that exempt them from paying the tax. So in our bread example, the bakery where the bread is baked and the retail shop where the bread is finally sold will need to obtain such exemption certificates.

Now suppose that the country does away with the sales tax and introduces a VAT of 10% on bread. To see how the VAT is collected, we will have to break up the production of bread into different stages.

At each stage, "value is added" and the VAT is then levied on the value added. Suppose at the first stage, the baker buys flour from a miller for K5.50. The miller returns K5 as sales revenue and remits K0.50 (10% of K5) to ZRA as VAT. The baker uses the flour to bake bread which he/she sells to the retailer for a VAT inclusive price of K11 (K10 sales revenue and K1 VAT). The baker, however, doesn't remit the full K1 to ZRA but nets-off (recovers) the K0.50 that he/she paid as VAT to the miller. So the baker ends up remitting K0.50 to ZRA as VAT. The baker is allowed to net-off precisely because the VAT, being a consumption tax, should only be paid by a final consumer. The retailer then retails the bread for K22 (K20 sales revenue and K2 VAT). The retailer, given that he/she is also not the final consumer, does not remit the full K2 but nets-off (recovers) the K1 that he/she paid to the baker as VAT. So the retailer remits K1 to ZRA.

In this VAT example, the total money paid to ZRA is K0.50 from the miller + K0.50 from the baker + K1 from the retailer = K2. So the same amount of money is raised with the VAT as with the sales tax! Notice, however, that the only person who doesn't net-off is the final consumer. Therefore, just like in the sales tax scenario, the final consumer is the only one who pays the tax [1].

So if the VAT and the sales tax raise the same revenue why do so many countries prefer a VAT over a sales tax? For example, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) counted about 165 countries as operating a VAT in 2016.

The reason for the popularity of the VAT over the sales tax has mainly got to do with the fact that tax payers are more likely to comply with a VAT than with a sales tax. Tax compliance rates with a VAT tend to be higher than those with a sales tax precisely because of the netting-off process described above. For example, in netting-off K0.50 from the K1, the baker is saying to ZRA that they paid K0.50 to the miller as VAT which they are claiming back. Knowing that the baker will likely claim from ZRA forces the miller to remit the K0.50 to ZRA instead of holding on to it. Similarly, the retailer has an incentive to claim the K1 that was paid to the baker as VAT. Knowing that the retailer will likely claim forces the baker to comply by correctly remitting their portion to ZRA. With a VAT, ZRA can easily uncover tax evaders because the system self-enforces. A netting-off not backed by an earlier remitting of funds sets off red flags.

This is not entirely the case with a sales tax. The only time taxes are collected with a sales tax is at the final stage with the consumer. And the consumer, being the last person in the chain, cannot net-off from someone else. Therefore, the retailer faces a huge incentive to not remit the sales tax collected from the final consumer. The retailer also faces an incentive to not charge the final consumer a sales tax because doing so makes his/her products cheaper.

So if compliance rates are higher with a VAT than a sales tax, why is the Zambian government re-introducing a sales tax? The Minister of Finance in her address did not give the reasons for the re-introduction of the sales tax. However, in reading between the lines, it appears that the system of "VAT refunds" has not only been a headache for ZRA to administer but has also added unpredictability to the country's revenues.

The question is how do VAT refunds arise in the first place? In the scenario presented above, refunds do not arise because every producer nets-off what they pay along the value chain. However, instances do arise where what a producer pays in VAT is greater than what they collect in VAT when their product is sold to the next person in the chain. In such a scenario, netting-off will not be sufficient to fully recover what was paid in VAT.

The mines particularly suffer from this. Often the mines might buy lots of expensive capital equipment on which they pay VAT but for one reason or the other the copper exported may not result in VAT to the same extent. In this case, the difference will have to be refunded from ZRA. The same is also true for entities that sell products that are zero-rated or exempted from VAT. These entities might buy inputs that attract VAT but their products are not allowed to attract VAT. So netting-off will not lead to a full recovery hence the need for refunds from ZRA.

In theory, processing refunds shouldn't be a headache -- the mines paid VAT on some equipment. This VAT was remitted to ZRA by the mines' equipment supplier. All the mines are asking for is for this VAT, which they paid, be refunded. In practise it tends to be a headache. Audits have to be performed to track whether VAT was actually paid or not. Second, this situation creates instabilities in the country's tax revenues. ZRA receives VAT from equipment purchased by the mines hoping that the mines will recover this money on their own in the value-chain. ZRA then sends this money to Central Government and Central Government spends it. The mines later come back asking for this money given that they are unable to recover it in the value chain. Government is now out-of-pocket and has to find this money somehow.

The Zambia Chamber of Mines estimates that the mining industry is owed some US$300mn in VAT refunds. And it is possible that the country has already spent this money!     

So the need to do away with refunds seems to be what has motivated the Minister's proposal to re-introduce the sales tax. But one hopes that the Minister and her team have properly weighed the headaches involved with the VAT refunds against the real risk that tax compliance will be lower with a sales tax, possibly resulting in lower tax revenue.


[1] As a technical point, note that that at each stage, the VAT is levied on the value-added, hence the term "Value Added Tax". The miller added K5 of value to wheat to make flour. Therefore the VAT at this stage is 10% of the value-added = K0.50. The baker obtains a sales revenue of K10 from the bread implying he/she added value of K5 -- this once again attracts a VAT of K0.50. The retailer then obtains a sales revenue of K20 implying a value addition of K10 and consequently a Value-Added Tax of K1 (10% of K10). So the total value-added in the production chain is K20 hence a VAT of K2.

Wednesday 19 September 2018

How important is foreign "assistance" to Zambia?

Yesterday Zambians woke to the news that the United Kingdom had frozen aid funding to the country. This follows allegations of corruption amounting to some $4mn in the administration of the country's Social Cash Transfer (SCT) programme. The SCT is meant to benefit the poorest of the poor in Zambia. Other donor countries (known formally as "cooperating partners") have since followed suit. Ireland, Finland and Sweden have announced the suspension of their own aid initiatives to the country. The president has since called for a speedy inquiry and in the interim dismissed the Minister responsible for overseeing the SCT. 

The diversion of money meant for the poor is definitely something to be upset about. And I, like many other Zambians, are angry that something like this happened. My intention, however, with this post is not to defend the despicable acts of those who were involved in the spiriting away of SCT money. Rather, my intention is to take the opportunity presented by this week's happenings, as ghastly and as indefensible as they are, to engage a long-running narrative on the importance of foreign assistance to Zambia.

Discussions about "cooperating partners" in Zambia often take place under the presumption that foreign aid is gravely important in funding our day-to-day operations as a country. For example, the huge sense of public panic seen this week following withdrawals and threatened withdrawals of donor funding betrays a presumption of such importance. Some are arguing that the president's uncharacteristically swift reaction to the SCT scandal is itself illustrative of the degree of the financial importance of our cooperating partners.

But how important are donor funds for our finances? To get a sense of the orders of magnitude, I have looked at each and every budget address since 2007 (2007 being the earliest date for when budget addresses are available on the National Assembly's Website).

In presenting the national budget to parliament, the Minister of Finance, among other things, presents estimates of expenditure for the year ahead in addition to estimates of revenue that will support such expenditures. Revenue sources are split into two major parts: (1) Total Domestic Revenues and Domestic Financing and (2) Total Foreign Grants and Financing. It's the latter segment that is of importance to this post.

Below I construct several series showing percentage shares of different segments of donor assistance in the total budget. [Ideally I should construct these series using realized quantities as opposed to forward looking estimates (2018 appears in the below series because it's an estimate made in 2017). Sadly, the budget speech rarely contains information detailing expenditures and revenues for the previous year. Information on realized quantities is supposed to be contained in the Annual Financial Reports prepared by the Ministry of Finance. Sadly only 4 of these are available on the Ministry's website. In any case, looking at the 4 available financial reports, one gets the sense that any differences between estimates and realized quantities are small].

Figure 1 below shows the percentage of the total national budget that is due to the donors. The figure shows that in total, donors supported about 30% of the budget in 2007 and this has come down somewhat to settle at around 20% -- which is the average over the 11 year period. Stated differently, the information in Figure 1 shows that the people of Zambia, on average, funded 80% of their country's operations over the period 2007 to 2018.

Figure 1: Total Foreign Assistance as a percentage of the total budget
Source: National Budget Speeches, 2007 to 2018

The information in Figure 1 is a little misleading. Total foreign assistance is made up of two parts -- a part that is given as a grant to government (given "free of charge") and another part that involves loans that are to be paid back. So we shouldn't really think of the loans as "assistance" because we are borrowing that money ourselves and are going to pay it back in the future -- and it's presumably a win-win because the donors stand to earn a return on the transaction. (You wouldn't say your bank was "assisting" you in granting you a mortgage to buy a house).

Figure 2 disaggregates total assistance into a grant component and a loan component. As before, the blue line is total assistance. The orange line shows the pure grant component (given "free of charge") that one can think of as pure assistance. The gray line shows the loan component that I argue is quid pro quo and is not to be thought of in the same way as one would think of a grant.

Figure 2: Different components of total assistance as a % of the total budget
Source: National Budget Speeches, 2007 to 2018

Figure 2 shows that the grant component of aid in the total budget has declined from about 20% in 2007 to 3% in 2018. Subsequently, the component due to donors loaning us money that we will eventually pay back has increased from about 10% in 2007 to somewhere between 15% and 20% in 2017/18. Figure 2 shows that increasingly we are largely effectively self-financing our budget  -- the grant component in the national budget has come down to very low single digits. And it's also quite likely that we could do away with the entire grant component if we set our spending priorities right as a country.

Figure 3 below is a different representation of the information in Figure 2. It shows the percentage split between grants and loans in the total donor "portfolio". Figure 3 shows that the loan component has become increasingly important for donors in their dealings with the country. They've reduced the share of grants in their "assistance" programmes and ramped-up the loan component -- a component that we as a country will eventually pay back. This can hardly be thought of as assistance or aid in the everyday usage of these terms. 

Figure 3: Components of the portfolio of donor "assistance"
Source: National Budget Speeches, 2007 to 2018

To conclude, donor assistance, in as far as funding our national budget is concerned, is not as significant as implied by every day conversations around this topic. The part of such assistance that can be thought of in purely altruistic terms (the grant component) has declined from a double digit budget share in 2007 to a very low single digit share in 2018. It's very likely that we can do away with this component if we got our spending priorities right as a country. 

I also acknowledge that donor assistance, in as much as it may not be important for the overall budget, is important for certain sectors. Anecdotal evidence suggests that a non-trivial portion of public expenditure on education and health is funded by the donors (difficult to pin down exact magnitudes given the aggregated nature in which this information is presented in the budget). Second, donors are also important in funding civil society organisations that play a vital role in safeguarding democratic tenets in the country.

Sunday 27 May 2018

In praise of Denny Kalyalya

On September 28, 2015, the Kwacha slipped 20% against the US dollar. It had started the day trading at K10 to the dollar and closed at K12. At some point during the day, some bureaux de change were quoting rates as high as K15 -- a reflection of that day's panic, confusion and speculative buying (my sister, who cares little for finance, called in the afternoon asking if dollars were a good investment). This was the biggest single day drop in 14 years.

That day's events were a culmination of the currency's very weak performance from the beginning of the year. Between January and September of 2015, the Kwacha's value had reduced by more than half against the US dollar making it the worst performing currency in the world.

Given Zambia's heavy reliance on imports, prices of goods and services began to rise at an alarming rate not long after September. After registering single-digit inflation for much of the post-HIPC era, the annual inflation rate reached 14% in October 2015 from 7% that January and by year's end it was just above 20%. The inflation rate had tripled in a single year!

As 2016 was starting, the expectation was that the Kwacha would continue its free-fall and along with it prices of goods and services would go through the roof. After all the country was in the midst of a catastrophic fiscal crisis and potentially divisive presidential elections were slated for the second of half of the year.

Unexpectedly, the Kwacha's wild gyrations of 2015 stopped in 2016. Granted, there was a slight depreciation in January with the local currency starting the year at K11 to the dollar. But by year's end the Kwacha had actually gained closing at K9.

As for inflation, it peaked at 22% in March of 2016 and thereafter began a slow and steady decline. By October the inflation rate was back to single digits, at 8%, and has been in single digits ever since.

The turnaround of 2016 was nothing short of miraculous. Had the country carried on with the pattern of inflation seen at the end of 2015, food prices would have doubled by 2018!

But calling it a miracle would render the turnaround inexplicable and that would be the furthest thing from the truth.

Even though the originator of the crisis of 2015 was far away at the Ministry of Finance, the job of putting out the fire was placed at the foot of the Central Bank. In February of 2015, president Edgar Lungu announced the appointment of Dr. Denny Kalyalya as the new governor of the Bank of Zambia. Dr. Kalyalya would be taking over from Dr. Michael Gondwe, whose short tenure at the bank had been underwhelming.

No sooner had Dr. Kalyalya settled into his new role than the bottom fell out of the Kwacha. The local currency, whose job it was for him to defend, was now the laughing stock of many across the world.

Dr. Kalyalya and his team correctly diagnosed that the proximate cause of the Kwacha's problems was a chronic shortage of US dollars on the local market stemming from "flight-to-quality" concerns. Consequently, the Central Bank engaged in one of the most audacious interventions in the foreign exchange market in Zambia. The evidence for this is in the dramatic draw-down of the country's reserves between January and December of 2016 (see the blue line in the figure below).

Reserves went from US$2.9billion in January to US$2.3billion in December -- a decline of some US$600million in a space of 12 months! Half way into the year (about July), the Kwacha somewhat stabilized (see the orange line in the figure below) and the Central Bank slowed down the rate at which reserves were being depleted.

Note: Forex Reserves (blue line) and Exchange Rate (orange line), 2016
                             Source: Bank of Zambia

What about inflation? Given Zambia's reliance on imports, inflation was always going to be tamed once stability in the foreign exchange market had been re-established, something that Kalyalya and team succeeded in doing in the latter part of 2016. But it must have occurred to the Central Bank that upward pressures on inflation were also the result of excess Kwacha liquidity in the domestic money market. That is, some upward pressure on prices was due to excess demand in the economy.

Consequently, the Central Bank in November of 2015 hiked the Bank of Zambia Policy Rate, the rate that influences access to credit in the wider economy, from 12.5% to a record high of 15.5% and kept it at that level throughout 2016. The rate hike immediately followed the emergence of double digit inflation in October of 2015.

By October of the following year, the Central Bank's interventions had borne fruit and the inflation rate slowed down to a much more respectable 8%. In February of 2017, after being comforted that inflation had been tamed, the Central Bank began a process of reversing their "tight money" policy and reduced the Policy Rate to 14% and subsequently to 12.5% in May.

In addition to the interventions outlined above, Dr. Kalyalya has successfully used "softer" measures such as holding regular and transparent press briefings to communicate the bank's future course of action  (technically known as providing "forward guidance"). This is in a bid to reduce policy uncertainty.

The interventions outlined above were certainly not without their costs. Foreign exchange reserves are not free and the hikes in the Policy Rate must have drastically affected the ability of businesses, particularly SMEs, to obtain credit. But there was a general sense of armageddon in the dark days of late 2015 and early 2016 and the heroic efforts by Dr. Kalyalya and his team brought the country back from the brink.

Knowing that the origination of the crisis was in the Ministry of Finance, Dr. Kalyalya has openly castigated government on their reckless and uncoordinated borrowing and spending policies, showing unusual independence of thought by a public servant in Zambia.

In a country where there is currently wide-scale erosion of public institutions, it is a wonderful thing to see that there are still a few good men and women who are doing the job that the people of Zambia pay them to do.

Dr Denny Kalyalya (Center) in a jovial mood after a meeting at State House

Sunday 1 April 2018

The ZRA-First Quantum Tax Story

About two weeks ago, the Zambia Revenue Authority (ZRA) announced that a preliminary assessment had uncovered tax irregularities involving a prominent copper mining company in the country. In an interview with News Diggers, ZRA communications manager Topsy Sikalinda gave the following additional information:

we [ZRA] are announcing the preliminary assessment of K76.5 billion (U$7.5 billion) issued to a prominent mining company for misclassifying consumables and spare parts at importation for the last five years. The said items were declared as mining machinery -- which attract customs duty at zero percent -- when in fact not. The applicable duty rate for the items ranges from 15 to 25 percent.

ZRA did not reveal the name of the company in question. However, an inside source from within the company itself told News Diggers that Kalumbila Mine was the company in question. Kalumbila is owned by Canadian company First Quantum Minerals Limited (FQM) -- its Canadian owners like to refer to it as Sentinel Mine.

Following ZRA's statement and news confirmation that an FQM subsidiary was at the center of a tax investigation, FQM quickly organized a conference call from Canada to give their side of story and to basically refute ZRA's assessment. In the call, FQM acknowledged receiving a letter from ZRA itemising moneys owed as follows:

                1. US$150 million as ZRA's assessed taxes due
                2. US$2.1 billion as penalties
                3. US$5.7 billion as interest on possibly the penalties and taxes due.

All this seems to be traced to some US$540 million worth of imports by Kalumbila that were declared as capital equipment or raw materials or intermediate goods instead of finished goods. According to ZRA's Schedule of Customs Taxes, capital equipment, raw materials and intermediate goods attract lower customs duties of between 0% and 15%. Finished goods attract a duty of 25%. The rationale for such tax differentials is to encourage the importation of productive goods (capital equipment, raw materials, etc...) and to disincentivize the importation of finished goods.

ZRA thinks all of the US$540 million imported by Kalumbila were, in actual fact, finished products. In other words, ZRA believes Kalumbila made false declarations. And false declarations, as per the Customs and Excise Act, attract hefty penalties.

Interestingly in their conference call, FQM acknowledges that a "high level analysis" by themselves following ZRA's letter had revealed some "incorrect assignments" of imports but such mis-assignments were minor. In other words, even they themselves acknowledge that false declarations might have been made even though they believe these to be minor (their choice of language is to refer to these as "incorrect assignments", i.e. innocent errors).

Now this is nothing but a plain-vanilla tax dispute involving a taxable entity and a tax authority. Kalumbila, even though it acknowledges some minor "errors", refutes the substantive aspects of ZRA's accusations. On the other hand, ZRA thinks Kalumbila has systematically been evading taxes by falsely declaring imports. Tax disputes of this nature are legion across the globe. But you would not get the sense that this was a run-of-the-mill tax dispute by reading international reactions to the story.

For example, frequent international tax commentator Maya Forstater of the Washington-based Center for Global Development in a guest post for a Zambian mining industry-aligned website rubbishes ZRA's claims. In the post, she relies heavily on FQM's version of events and succeeds in painting ZRA as an incompetent third world tax authority lacking in capacity to properly perform its functions. ZRA's incompetency is severally implied, for example when she says:

1. The disputed entries in question were previously signed-off by FQM and ZRA (FQM also, unsurprisingly, stress this point in their conference call)
2. ZRA irresponsibly placed the fact that FQM was being investigated in the "public domain"
3. ZRA has been receiving self-improvement help from the likes of the EU, World Bank and Norwegians.

As for point 1, yes ZRA agents might have previously signed-off the transactions but the duty (excuse the pun) is always on the taxable entity to make correct declarations. Nobody suggests incompetence on the part of the Internal Revenue Service in the US every time it's revealed that some hollywood actor has been evading taxes (see this long list of hollywood tax evaders). Also, are we ruling out FQM-induced corruption of agents in the field? 

As for point 2, ZRA in their press statement didn't mention Kalumbila or FQM by name. They merely informed the nation that some mining company (and there are many in Zambia) had been written a letter notifying them of a tax assessment. Someone within Kalumbila revealed that the letter in question had been addressed to Kalumbila. This is hardly an indictment of ZRA.

As for point 3, many of my very competent friends within ZRA will tell you about how such "capacity-building" jamborees are time wasters. My friends know what's to be done but often they find themselves entangled/constrained in their efforts by that age-old dalliance between foreign capital and the local elites who facilitate extraction. Many of those sponsoring capacity-building initiatives have ironically at one time or the other furthered the interests of foreign capital at the expense of the local population.

It's quite likely that ZRA has gotten this entire thing wrong. It's quite likely that ZRA has gotten a small portion of it wrong. But the important thing to note is that this is a standard tax dispute which the two sides will hopefully resolve amicably in due course. And the country will be the better for it because we will know and learn from the exact circumstances that led to this dispute. In other words, we will know the truth. But calling it a mafia style "tax shakedown" as some outsiders have is completely irresponsible.

Sunday 21 January 2018

Pay your heroes: Thoughts Inspired by Antonio Mwanza

Like many people, I was shocked yesterday to learn that Antonio Mwanza, the fiery spokesperson for the Forum for Democracy and Development (FDD), had defected to the ruling Patriotic Front. Mr. Mwanza has been, for the last couple years or so, the face and voice of the FDD -- issuing principled statements against the governance misdeeds of the ruling party. It is not an overstatement to say that the FDD's continued relevance owes much to Mr. Mwanza's lone efforts.

For many, especially young people, Mr. Mwanza had come to embody the manner and style of politics that many yearned for. He rarely, if ever, insulted his political opponents -- choosing instead to focus his attacks on substantive matters. Mr. Mwanza used his Facebook page for the public good often giving free advice to the youth on how to live fulfilling lives in spite of the daily challenges of being young in today's Zambia.

I first met Antonio in 2003 in the dimly lit library of the University of Zambia. It was a Friday evening and ordinarily I should have been out on the town relaxing. But Friday evening was a good time to catch up on the week's newspapers -- the General Reference section where newspapers were displayed was often empty on nights like this.

Antonio was wearing a trench coat and was stooped over The Post reading what looked like the opinion section of the newspaper. This was my first year of study and I had just been introduced to the writings of Karl Marx. Antonio, in his trench coat and pensively reading The Post, struck a resemblance to what I imagined Marx had looked like reading and writing in the British Museum.

I walked up to him and asked if I could look at the parts of the newspaper he'd already read. "Sure, Comrade", replied Antonio. Soon enough a lively discussion broke out between him and I focussed exclusively, as often happened during those days, on Fred M'membe's writings in the newspaper's opinion section. I was immediately struck by Antonio's commitment to the country and to the cause of social justice. His passion for the country and its people seemed to ooze out of every word he uttered that evening. I was therefore not surprised to subsequently see Antonio take up leadership positions in the student movement and later on in the political life of the country.

What happened yesterday is certainly a blow to the cause for democracy in Zambia. There have been very few Antonios in our country's young democracy and yesterday we lost yet another one. Mr. Mwanza claims he will be able to criticise from within the PF but this is highly unlikely. Our politics are sadly typified by toeing the party line.

Many have tried to make sense of why Mr. Mwanza would join a party whose principles seemed to be diametrically opposed to everything that he stood for. The one reason that pops up here and there is one of finances. Perhaps Mr. Mwanza had hit on hard times and the only way out was to join the ruling party?

It's not easy being in the opposition in a country where economic fortunes are highly dependent on one's alignment with the powers that be. Nason Msoni, himself a critic of government and veteran of the opposition, thinks Mr. Mwanza's defection has much to do with economics. In a widely debated and widely shared Facebook posting he had this to say:

Opposition politics entails a lot of personal sacrifices. Sometimes [opposition] leaders fail to take their children to good schools and sacrifice their little earnings to help fight for us.
Opposition leaders don't get paid whilst carrying out national duties. At the same time no employers are willing to employ an opposition leader to risk their investment or give them business.

Mr. Msoni's posting (and you should read the entirety of it alongside the comments on his wall) is heartbreaking. We expect so much from the likes of Antonio Mwanza but care so little about their personal circumstances.

In economics, a public good is a good where its provider doesn't capture the full benefits of providing the good. Clean air is an example of a public good. If I took it upon myself to provide clean air, the benefits would accrue to me but also to millions of Zambians. Some people would pay me for the clean air but others wouldn't. Because of this, I would under supply the required amount of clean air and in the extreme provide nothing.

Because of the peculiar nature of public goods, their supply has to be subsidised by the public treasury otherwise very little to nothing will be provided. (Additional examples of public goods are education, healthcare, defence and security, etc...).

What Mr. Mwanza was doing falls right within the realm of a public good. His criticisms and political commentary served to enrich our democratic dispensation from which all of us would benefit. But only a few (if at all any) of these benefits would accrue to Mr. Mwanza for as long as he continued to be in the opposition.

We need to find a way of paying for our heroes if we want them to continue fighting for us. This is why I support those parts of the Political Parities Bill that provide for the public funding of political parties (we can debate the specifics of how this is to happen in practise but we should, at the very least, agree on the principle). And by the way, this discussion should not just end at political parties but should extend to civil society organizations that are everyday involved in the very important but financially unrewarding fight of making Zambia a better place.

Otherwise we will keep losing the likes of Antonio.