HOME Affairs minister Kennedy Sakeni’s directive for the Immigration Department to take stock of all foreign nationals working in Zambia is not only timely but also a courageous act of affirmative action. It should be commended and fully embraced by all well-meaning citizens as well as employers in the country.
Mr Sakeni in a press statement earlier this week said the Immigration Department needed to conduct a head count of all foreign employees engaged by either local or foreign companies.
The minister also appealed to all employers and members of the public to desist from offering expatriate workers jobs which could be sufficiently and efficiently handled by Zambians.
We support his position absolutely, and agree with him in entirety. Time has come for Zambians to stand up and be counted. Only jobs that our people can genuinely not handle should be justifiably offered to foreign nationals – whether in local or international companies.
At a time when the new Government is in a hurry to snatch two-thirds of our 13 million people out of the clutches of abject poverty, we cannot afford to open up everything to everyone. We need to introduce special quotas for jobs which could be undertaken by foreign nationals.
There is no justification in having foreigners working as cleaners, plumbers, brick-layers and shopkeepers in Zambia when thousands of our well-qualified citizens in those fields are roaming the streets in search of anything they can do to earn a decent living.
If such jobs, for which there is no shortage of skills on the local market, can be swallowed up by foreign nationals, then when are our people ever going to be empowered?
There are just slightly above 500,000 formal jobs existing in Zambia for the over four million employable citizens. So, if even the few available jobs could be ‘out-sourced’, then how will our people ever work their way out of poverty?
We are not being xenophobic. Far from it; we are just stating the facts as they are everywhere else in the world, except in Zambia.
The UK and USA governments, for example, have introduced strict measures to ensure it is not just any, and every, foreigner who can get a job in their countries. Certain jobs just cannot be given to foreign nationals.
The two governments ask for strict justification from companies for ‘out-sourcing’ skills. At the moment, foreign professionals in both the UK and USA are only handed jobs requiring specialist skills (such as technical or language skills) and those in designated ‘shortage occupations’ such as for nurses and specialist medical doctors.
Even in South Africa, barely two hours from Lusaka, the government has introduced an ambitious ‘black empowerment’ programme with one of its pillars to ensure priority is given to the African natives in both education and employment.
But back home, our successive governments have failed to put their foot down. The trend over the years has been one of worshipping the foreigners at the expense of our own citizens.
Sadly, while huge amounts of money are paid to expatriates holding jobs that our people are well- and in most cases better-qualified to handle, usually it is the lowly-paid Zambians who end up doing all the ‘donkey’ work.
Mr Sakeni’s directive should in fact, not just be restricted to foreign nationals. The government should, rightfully and as a matter of urgency, consider conducting a serious forensic audit of all foreign nationals resident in Zambia in order to establish what exactly they are engaged in.