President Albert Zafy's priorities
Security, economic recovery and good management
The Courier met the President of Madagascar, Albert Zafy, at a
difficult time in the country's history. Only a week before, the Rova (Queen's
Palace) and the entire royal estate had gone up in flames. Not on/y was
negligence on the part of the administration implied, but the fire -
subsequently confirmed as arson - initially looked as if it might provoke ethnic
conflict. Moreover, the government (formed with great difficulty only two weeks
earlier, after the appointment of the Prime Minister) had seen the immediate
resignation of three.ministers. These problems took the shine off the
President's success in the constitutional referendum on 17 September, which gave
him the power to choose the Prime Minister. The country's situation is still
deteriorating, and this is perhaps the most worrying aspect for the head of
state. This was the subject he tackled first offered us his diagnosis of the
main problems facing his country.
- The Malagasy Republic has all the resources it needs to emerge
from its destitute state. An example I would give is our mineral resources, such
as gold, which we have in abundance in the north of the country. The mines have
been worked for a long time and have generated income. But since independence
the workings have been in complete disarray, as have been the sales of this
product. The same applies to sapphires and other precious stones. There is no
production and no worthwhile sales; only illegal trading. The fishing industry
is in a similar position. We are one of the richest countries in terms of this
resource and it saddens me to see such a large proportion of our income being
lost to illegal trading. Even people with proper licences sometimes resort to
crime, and we have to prosecute them. In the case of produce such as coffee,
vanilla, cloves and other commodities, we are not yet in a position to get
things under control, particularly on the marketing side.
We also lack certain means, not so much in the area of human
resources, but in capital goods and plant. This is exacerbated by the country's
current inflationary climate, as is the case in all developing countries. Some
15 or 20 years ago, we had about 100 tractors in the Diego region. People were
content and production was soaring. Nowadays, if you can count 20 or 30
tractors, that's a large number. People are no longer used to using tractors and
they have abandoned their ploughs. Now they find that they must take them up
A third element which adds to our difficulties is the security
situation and the crime rate. I am thinking here in particular of the Dahalo
bandits who operate in the countryside. They have been killing people and have
provoked a rural exodus from those areas that are most productive from the
agricultural point of view. This phenomenon has grown in the last 15 or 16
years, to the extent that five Malagasy provinces are now affected, with only
the province of Diego escaping.
· The way you describe
the situation saggests, above all, a certain degree of political weakness. Do
you think that the state is too weak? Also, the country has just had a
referendum which has apparently strengthened your power. Does this mean that you
have moved from the Third to the Fourth Republic in all but name?
- It's too early to speak of a Fourth Republic. We are still
operating under the Third Republic, but I should say that things have not turned
out entirely as I might have wished. Before the referendum, it was the National
Assembly that appointed the Prime Minister and the President had no authority
over domestic policies. It is true that as a result of the vote, this power was
given to the people and I believe, God willing, that I am now in a position to
guide the government. But as you so rightly say, there has been a degree of
political weakness in that certain courageous political actions that should have
been taken in a number fields, have not been taken.
Let me just mention a couple of examples which everyone knows
about, and which have drawn criticism from the IMF and the World Bank. They have
said that one of the reasons for the state deficit is the problem of corruption
within government. They have also pointed to the weakness of successive
governments in failing to take the necessary measures to recover the losses or
punish offenders. It is a bad Malagasy habit to appeal to tradition in saying
'These are our friends and relations'. Another factor is the mentality of those
in positions of authority. Even if a law exists, it is not always applied.
· You have accused senior
people of corruption, going so far as to mention the former Prime Minister by
name. Is the state going to prosecute him?
- I don't think we have reached that point yet. Investigations
are currently proceeding but, in such cases, one has to be circumspect in the
language we use and the things we say. However, we will certainly be taking
measures against anyone committing serious crimes of this nature. They are
partly responsible for the state of poverty in which our country now finds
· You could have taken
advantage of the aftermath of this national tragedy to reunite your country. But
people are talking about a UNDD government, formed by your party.
- I don't believe that it's fair to speak simply of a UNDD
administration. There are only about six UNDD members, by which I mean actual
members or people close to the party, in the government. If you look at it in
terms of the number of newcomers holding office, the criticism is, perhaps,
valid. In my opinion, however, it isn't necessarily the newcomers who get the
job done. The Prime Minister originally intended to form his government only
after the final results were in from the territorial elections, so that he could
be more confident of the political will of the country. The idea was to leave
the members of the former government to settle matters currently in hand. But it
was risky to leave the government in the hands of our opponents for two or three
months. You spoke earlier about political weakness. Well just before the old
government resigned, some ministers leapt at the chance to empty the coffers as
much as they could, by buying furniture.
Another point is that the new Prime Minister wanted to continue
negotiations with the donors the World Bank and the IMF - without a break. I
believe that is one of the reasons why he chose people already well acquainted
with the subject and who were therefore part of the former government. From what
he has told me, I don't believe that what we have at present is the definitive
government line-up. Once agreement has been reached with the World Bank and the
IMF, the government may well be consolidated.
· As regards financial
policies, isn't there the risk that subsidies for staple commodities and other
types of intervention will obstnact agreement with the World Bank and the IMF?
It is said that some of your closest associates, such as Mr Andriamanjeto, the
President of the National Assembly, is unenthusiastic about an agreement.
- No, I don't see that as a problem. Nor do I think that the
President of the Assembly or those close to him oppose negotiations with the
Bretton Woods institutions. All he said was that the financing provided by our
traditional sponsors would be insufficient, if we wanted to relaunch our economy
fairly quickly, and that we also ought to be given the opportunity to approach
some private sources of financing, as a back-up. The opposition took advantage
of this, saying that the government favours parallel financing, which is
different from the idea he put forward and which 1, moreover, support.
In a country such as ours, liberalisation can lead to
speculation if it is not regulated by healthy competition, as is the case in the
developed countries. Private businesses which benefit from privatisation will
not necessarily take account of the impact of this in the social sphere. You can
see what a poor state the country is in, in areas like education and health.
Look at the problems of our small farmers and the condition of our abattoirs.
You know that we have lost part of our European beef quota because of, among
other things, the lack of cattle vaccination. Progress has to be made in stages
and each country needs a certain remedy, but there is no standard cure. As
regards the financial system, I have just received a short IMF report on the
interbank currency market. What they say ties in exactly with my line of
thought. They are critical of speculation and the fact that the profits from
exchange transactions do not come into the country but go outside.
· You have summarised
your guiding principles as follows: security, economic recovery and good
management What do you plan to do during your mandate to achieve your goals?
- Security is my top priority because it impedes investment,
particularly on the part of those involved in agriculture and stock-breeding. In
conjunction with regional leaders, we are going to set up systems for making the
countryside more secure, involving supplementary police units in 'red' areas. We
also plan to organise mobile detachments. These will be civilians, volunteers
for the most part, trained by the local community. They will be armed and backed
up by the forces of law and order. The people we are going to train include many
volunteers who have retired from different branches of the police force and
former soldiers who have time on their hands. Unfortunately, some of the latter
are sometimes attracted to the Dahalo groups. These mobile detachments will also
assist local communities in maintaining public infrastructures. We will use some
military equipment for certain public works and prisoners will also be
mobilised, to stop them vegetating in jail. They will also be called upon in
urban areas. It is worth remembering that they did some really useful work in
As regards economic rehabilitation, we will do no more than tie
in with the recommendations of the World Bank and the IMF in respect of tax
income and the fight against corruption. But what we say to our international
partners is this. You recommended that we should open up our economy, so we did.
You recommended VAT, so we applied it. But the results have not been what you
were expecting. I have bean told that it is up to us to apply the necessary
measures. But if you take the case of VAT, we were told that the rate should be
25%. Togo introduced a rate of 7% for staple commodities and 18% for other
produce. Why does Madagascar not have the same choice?