Zambia to shut out DRC refugees
Under international law, refugees who leave for their respective countries voluntarily before formal repatriation is sanctioned by the concerned parties cannot be admitted back as refugees. Zambia Permanent Secretary of Home Ministry Peter Mumba was quoted as saying if some refugees from the DRC have made official requests to be permitted to register as voters in their country, they would be given the permission on condition that they will not return with the same status of refugee. He said that any refugee who seeks permission to go back to their country of origin ceases to be a refugee. Spokesperson of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Kelvin Shimo told journalists that refugees who give valid reasons for wanting to return to their countries of origin are released unconditionally but will not be readmitted by the host country as refugees. The DRC will hold its first general election in 40 years in June this year. Mumba said at the end of this month, Zambia, the DRC and UNHCR would sign a tripartite agreement on repatriating DRC refugees. He said the three parties had been hesitant to start the repatriation because of reported rampant skirmishes in the DRC. Zambia is hosting over 60 000 refugees from the DRC. In another development, African countries have described as inadequate the Group of Eight (G8) leading industrial nations’ debt cancellation for the world’s poorest nations. African civil society representatives said in a statement after their meeting in Zambia that the cancellation was not enough to help those who are to benefit from the initiative. The meeting brought together representatives of highly-indebted poor African countries within the Commonwealth group of nations, Western donors and multilateral financing institutions, who gathered to map out strategies for implementing and managing the G8 debt relief initiative. The civil society organisations present included the African Forum and Network on Debt and Development (Afrodad) as well as various local civic bodies from Ghana, Kenya, Uganda, Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. Civil society leaders faulted the G8-driven Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative for being conditional and not covering all the countries in need. The G8 initiative only eliminated foreign debt owed to the multilateral lending institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), African Development Bank, and World Bank, they pointed out. “It brings no new resources because relief under the G8 initiative reduces the aid available from other sources,” a civil society spokesperson said. They also noted that conditions for accessing aid to poor countries needed to be relaxed, with social indicators as well as economic performance being included as prerequisites for debt relief. Under the initiative, 19 of the world’s poorest nations are in line to receive a 100 percent write-off of foreign debt from the G8 through the IMF, the World Bank and the Africa Development Bank. Of these 19, 13 are in Africa while a further 10 countries on IMF and World Bank supported poverty reduction and structural reform programmes in sub-Saharan Africa could also qualify for debt relief. Meanwhile, the Zambian government has been urged to promote small and medium enterprises (SMEs) so as to broaden the tax band of the country. Zambia Chamber of Small and Medium Business Enterprises (ZCSMBA) executive director Max Sichula was quoted as saying in Lusaka that the tax band would only be broadened once the small and medium enterprises were helped to graduate into businesses capable of contributing to the national treasury. He said the only way to ease tension on the tax band was to help SMEs graduate from informal to the formal sector. There are thousands of SMEs in the country but only 370 of them have registered with Small Enterprises Development Board in the last three years, he said. “These SMEs, if registered, could contribute to the national economy through paying tax, but they are not doing so because they are still in the informal sector. The challenge is how to graduate them from the informal to the formal sector,” he said. Current statistics on SMEs indicate that 48 percent are engaged in trading, 18 percent in manufacturing, 11 percent in tourism, four percent in food processing, while one percent in the construction industry. “It is not good for a growing economy to have 48 percent SMEs in the trading sector, trading will not take us anywhere. We must ensure additional value to our goods by venturing into manufacturing,” he observed. Sichula said SMEs, which need financial support to be able to expand their businesses, face hurdles which make it almost impossible for them to access funds. He said with the government help ZCSMBA will attempt to get SMEs organised through policy review. Sichula also said apart from the difficulties to access financing, SMEs also lacked management and technical skills.