Zambia: Lamentations and Political Views of a Bystander

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Floods in Munali constituency

Zambia is currently experiencing serious socioeconomic problems. A critical shortage of decent public housing, for example, has compelled so many of our fellow citizens to live in shanty townships nationwide; so many of our fellow citizens have no access to electricity and clean water; the educational system barely meets the basic needs of the citizenry; and the healthcare system cannot meet the basic needs of the majority of citizens mainly due to inadequate medicines, healthcare facilities and healthcare personnel.

Moreover, education and training are not adequately catered for; public infrastructure and services are still deficient; civil servants are still not adequately compensated for their services, and a lot of civil service retirees cannot get their hard-earned benefits on time; crime and unemployment are still widespread; and, among many other socioeconomic ills, taxes and interest rates are still very high.

One of the densely populated markets in Lusaka

These problems affect us all, either directly or indirectly, in spite of the different political parties we belong to, the different politicians we support within or outside our political parties, the 73 different tribes to which we belong, or the different languages we speak. Besides, we have similar needs, dreams and aspirations as members of the Zambian family.

And, apparently, we all wish for a more effective and efficient national government, adequate merit-based scholarships for vocational training and university education, low-interest educational loans, an effective and efficient healthcare system, greater access to education and training, greater and sustained food security, lower taxes and interest rates, greater employment opportunities, safer local communities, improved public infrastructure, improvements in garbage collection and disposal, and improved socioeconomic conditions in rural areas.

Moreover, we wish for lower water charges and electricity tariffs, greater participation by women in national affairs, greater care for children and the handicapped, sustained protection of the fragile natural environment, preservation of our cultural values and traditions, a genuine effort to address the scourge of corruption, consolidation of our oneness and common future as members of the Zambian family, and a system of justice that is free and impartial in both word and deed.

Political Views:

[1]

A radical and fundamental reduction in the size of our national government is among the viable ways by which our beloved country can gradually pay off a good portion of the national debt, as well as reduce taxes and interest rates to stimulate the economy and job creation. And it is one of the ways by which the national government can provide adequately for the basic needs of education, public health, civil servants, and civil service retirees, among a host of other worthwhile national projects and programs.

Civil servants who would be affected by the streamlining exercise should be encouraged to seek early retirement with full benefits. Professional and skilled civil servants should be re-deployed in the handful of new government ministries, and/or in executive agencies.

[2]

It would be unrealistic for us to expect our country to attain meaningful socioeconomic development in an economic setting where the labor force is largely composed of sickly, illiterate and starving citizens.

[3]

The youth constitute our beloved country’s future; as such, they do not belong on the streets – they need to be in educational and training institutions, where their minds can be stimulated and enriched.

[4]

The national government’s relevance in matters of commerce and industry lies in its ability to nurture the creation of new, innovative businesses, and to create socioeconomic conditions that are conducive to the long-term success and survival of such businesses. In this regard, there is a need for a government that is destined to act as a potent “catalyst” and “challenger” in providing adequately for various kinds of business inducements, guarantees and essential services and facilities, such as the following:

(a) A well-developed transportation infrastructure and adequate transportation services to industrial, commercial, and residential areas to ease or facilitate the distribution of production inputs and finished products;

(b) Adequate public services (including police protection, fire protection, public utilities, and decent housing), as well as telecommunications, educational, vocational, health, and recreational facilities;

(c ) Equitable sales, corporate, and other taxes, as well as tax concessions and inducements that are more attractive than those in alternative countries or regions which investors are likely to consider for investment;

(d) Political and civic leaders who are fair and honest in their dealings with private business institutions, and stable economic policies (including a formal assurance against nationalization and/or expropriation of privately owned business undertakings by the national government);

(e) Political and civic leaders who are genuine and resolute in their fight against the scourge of corruption in governmental and non-governmental settings;

(f) Less bureaucratic licensing, import, export, and other procedures, and adequate information about investment and marketing problems and opportunities in the various sectors of a country’s economy and in cross-border markets;

(g) A system of justice that is fair, impartial and independent in both word and deed; and

(h) A social safety net designed to adequately cater to the needs of economically disadvantaged members of society that is not subject to political meddling or manipulation.

These inducements, services, facilities, and guarantees, among a host of other things, can enable economic units, for example, to operate more efficiently and eventually deliver economic and social outputs to society at reasonable costs and prices.

[5]

We should all be suspicious of any political party’s Manifesto that provides only an open-ended wish list of projects, programs and policies without giving any time-frames when voters should expect to see tangible results relating to the party’s plans. Besides, there is a need for citizens to support political parties which have designed a pro-poor, a pro-labor, a pro-business, and a practical development agenda – an agenda that is expected to redeem our country from its current bondage to socioeconomic decay and backwardness.

[6]

I believe public officials need to develop leadership qualities that all national leaders need to have in their arsenal of aptitudes, including emotional stability, humility, patriotism, selflessness, impartiality, patience, compassion, tolerance, respect for the rule of law, ability to think of leadership as a temporary mandate to serve the people, ability to conceive of oneself as just another mortal with limited knowledge and aptitudes, and the ability to make compromises with people who have dissenting views.

[7]

I believe that an elected Republican president is given the mandate by the people to form government with the expectation that he or she has to serve all citizens irrespective of their political views, political affiliations, ethnic extraction, and/or religious convictions; therefore, he or she needs to function as the glue that binds members of our beloved country’s 73 tribes together into one Zambian family – which can ultimately contribute to the mitigation of politically motivated violence that has apparently become a major feature in both inter-party and intra-party politics.

[8]

I am aware that sustained peace, stability and national unity are essential in our country’s quest for heightened socioeconomic development, and understand the need for each and every Zambian citizen to actively participate in the creation of a society in which cultural, tribal, racial, and religious diversities are appreciated, tolerated, and celebrated. After all, we are one people – we are members of the Zambian family!

Ultimately, we are Zambians first, and all the other considerations are, therefore, secondary and certainly less important. The real enemies of our beloved country today are, therefore, not any given individuals, political parties, non-governmental organizations, or foreign countries. Rather, they are poverty, hunger, ignorance, illiteracy, disease, widespread unemployment, crime, corruption, and moral decay.

[9]

We should not expect our country to attain meaningful socioeconomic development in the absence of a viable and genuine democratic system of government, the creation of which hinges on meeting several prerequisites, some of which are paraphrased from the conclusions of a study conducted by the Global Coalition on Africa (GCA) on the political transformation of a selected number of African countries. These prerequisites, which the government in power needs to strive to institutionalize, are as follows:

(a) Serious consideration of ethnic and other special interests in the distribution of power, educational facilities, health services, and so forth;

(b) Acceptance and tolerance of independent news media and other local interest groups as important constituents of a functioning pluralistic society;

(c) Maintaining a viable parliament and having regard for it both as a body of people’s elected representatives and as the supreme legislative organ of Government;

(d) Creation of a truly free and just legal system, and impartial, professional and localized civil police units;

(e) Respect for, and protection of, the civic rights and freedoms of all citizens enshrined in the Republican constitution and the rights and freedoms of individuals stipulated in the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations (UN);

(f) Existence of political parties which have a sound and long-term national agenda, rather than parties that exist primarily to pursue partisan interests and/or the political survival of their incumbent leaders;

(g) Recognition, by political leaders, of the populace as their ultimate masters and stakeholders;

(h) A military establishment graced with, and run by, a cadre of men and women who are adjudged to be patriotic, apolitical, well-disciplined, and professional in character; and

(i) Citizens who have a profound understanding of the crucial role they can individually and collectively play in the process of creating a more affluent, more peaceful and more democratic Zambian society – such as by putting personal, ethnic, and partisan interests aside during local and/or national elections, and by reflecting more seriously on the goals and policies political parties and contestants pledge to pursue.

There is also a need to put into practice all the elements of good governance, which include the following:

(a) Accountability, that is, availability of a mechanism for ensuring that public officials are directly and fully liable for the outcomes of their decisions and actions, and the appropriation of resources assigned to them;

(b) Transparency, that is, public access to information about the state, its decision-making mechanisms, and its current and contemplated projects and programs – except for state secrets and matters relating to public officials’ right to privacy;

(c) Rule of law, that is, the existence of non-discriminatory laws and law enforcement organs of the government that are efficient, impartial, independent, and legitimate; and

(d) Citizen participation, that is, availability of channels and mechanisms through which the citizenry and non-governmental institutions can have an influence on governmental decision-making processes and the behavior and actions of public officials either directly or through their representatives.

[10]

I believe that criticism and dissent are necessary evils and an intrinsic nuisance in politics and public life that cannot be wished away, and that confrontation against one’s political opponents is counterproductive; only genuine dialogue and consensus can lead to generally acceptable outcomes.

[11]

Corruption, I believe, is a universal problem, and it is a scourge that has tended to permeate countries worldwide throughout human history, irrespective of their levels of development, the nature of their socioeconomic systems, the kinds of their systems of belief, or the make-up of local ethnic groupings.

But be that as it may, the adverse effects of the scourge on fragile economies are perhaps more profound, particularly due to the fact that it has actually compounded the problems of economically beleaguered countries – countries that are overwhelmed by a catalogue of other bottlenecks to sustainable socioeconomic development, including poor leadership, economic mismanagement, bloated national governments, and the debt burden.

These bottlenecks – together with corruption – have diminished our beloved country’s ability to harness its abundant natural and human resources to meet the basic needs, expectations and aspirations of the common people. The abuse of public office for private gain is fostered by a diversity of factors, including the following causes:

(a) An unstable political setting, which can create an atmosphere of job insecurity, uncertainty and anarchy in government institutions – situations which can tempt government leaders and civil servants to engage in unscrupulous schemes in order to amass wealth quickly in anticipation of a sudden change in their employment status.

(b) Regular reshuffles of political appointees, which can make the appointees to feel insecure in their jobs and, like political instability, lead to unscrupulous schemes designed to amass wealth swiftly in anticipation of a possible loss of employment.

(c) A weak legislative system (including parliament and any other law-making organs of a country’s government), which can foster corruption by not being able to enact stringent anti-corruption laws, and/or by being participants in unscrupulous schemes.

(d) A weak judicial system, which can foster corruption by not being able to adjudicate fairly, impartially and professionally in matters relating to corrupt practices by government leaders and civil servants due to inadequate financial resources and/or lack of independence of the judiciary from the executive branch of a country’s government.

(e) Excessive, cumbersome and/or rigid administrative routines and procedures, which are likely to cause delays and inaction in the dispensation of public services and, thereby, create opportunities for public officials and civil servants to seek or accept bribes from impatient and/or frustrated clients.

(f) Inadequate wages, salaries and fringe benefits, which can prompt morally deficient public officials and civil servants to engage in self-remunerating activities in the workplace in order to meet their families’ subsistence. Delayed payment of wages and salaries by a government can inevitably exacerbate the problem.

(g) The desire to fulfill one’s selfish motives and lack of professional integrity can dispose a public official or civil servant to potential abuse of public office for private gain. An inability to live within one’s regular earnings can also compel an individual to seek irregular ways of meeting the demands of his or her lifestyle. And

(h) The general lack of professional integrity partly resulting from inadequate professional bodies and associations to instill professionalism and ethical behavior of members, monitor the conduct of members, and impose sanctions on unprofessional and unethical behavior has deprived civil servants and public officials of professional direction and basic ethical guidelines.

Corruption can have grave effects on a country; it can, for example, subvert political processes, thwart economic growth and stability, undermine honest enterprise, discourage foreign direct investment, tarnish the country’s image, and erode its moral fiber.

The scourge is, of course, not an insurmountable phenomenon; it can actually be brought under control through governmental and private initiatives as follows:

(a) At the national level, corruption can be contained through sustained political will, zero tolerance, streamlining of cumbersome bureaucratic procedures, provision of adequate remuneration to civil servants and public officials, compulsory ethics education, and, among other measures, provision for an anti-graft hotline.

Other remedial measures which can be taken to stem corrupt practices by business executives, public officials and civil servants include the following: (i) passage of strict pieces of legislation designed to prevent conflicts of interest in institutional settings; (ii) limitation of recourse to immunity by public officials and business leaders and their organizations; and (iii) fostering the development of a free press to facilitate the exposure of unscrupulous activities in institutional settings.

(b) At the international level, a country would do well to participate actively in bilateral and multilateral conventions, protocols and declarations designed to contain the scourge, particularly in the areas of prevention, prosecution, asset recovery, and international cooperation in generating rules for extraditing alleged fugitive perpetrators of corrupt practices.

(c) At the individual level, a high sense of morals and self-respect can enable a civil servant or public official, for example, to overcome the temptation of engaging in corrupt practices.

To elicit ethical behavior and professionalism among government leaders, the Agenda for Change will strictly enforce the code of conduct established by the Parliamentary and Ministerial Code of Conduct Act (1994) for deputy ministers, Cabinet ministers and members of the National Assembly.

The Act prohibits any of the foregoing from acquiring dishonestly or improperly any pecuniary advantage or assisting in the acquisition of pecuniary advantage by another person by:

(a) Improperly using or benefiting from information which is obtained in the course of their official duties and which is not generally available to the public;

(b) Disclosing any official information to unauthorized persons;

(c) Exerting any improper influence in the appointment, promotion, discipline or removal of a public officer;

(d) Directly or indirectly converting government property for personal or any other use; and

(e) Soliciting or accepting transfers of economic benefit other than: benefits of nominal value including customary hospitality and token gifts; gifts from close family members; or transfers pursuant to an enforceable property right of the member or pursuant to a contract for which full value is given.

The Act also provides for any member of the general public to file a complaint with the Chief Justice concerning any Cabinet Minister, Deputy Minister or Member of the National Assembly suspected of contravening the Act; a tribunal is then appointed by the Chief Justice, consisting of members who have held high judicial office.

The tribunal so constituted has to conduct its inquiry in public, which augurs well for transparency. The tribunal may, after due inquiry, make such recommendations as to administrative actions, criminal prosecutions or other further actions to be taken as it determines fit.

In addition to the enforcement of the code of conduct, there is a need to require all educational and training institutions in the country to provide basic “ethics education” by incorporating a topic on ethical and professional conduct in selected core subjects or courses.

Such a measure is certainly in the public interest because “to educate a [person] … in mind and not in morals,” as the late Theodore Roosevelt of the United States once warned, “is to educate a menace to society.”

In all, corruption, as The Post newspaper has advised African legislators in an article entitled “African Leaders and the Fight against Corruption” of August 11, 2005, “can only be fought resolutely and relentlessly by people who are free from it.”

[12]

I believe that Zambia’s defence and security organs of the government – including the Zambia Prison Service, the Zambia Police Service, the Zambia Security Intelligence Services, and the Zambia Defence Force – should entirely be non-political institutions designed to serve our beloved country and all its people; they must, therefore, never be used by the Republican president, or any other public official as a matter of fact, to silence or subjugate the people or one’s political opponents.

[13]

There is a need to generate a foreign policy that is designed to place a great deal of emphasis on continually working hand in hand with other peace-loving nations worldwide in creating a more democratic, more peaceful, and more affluent global community; and a foreign policy that is designed to continue to maintain amicable relations with all the countries which have already proved to be our reliable and passionate friends.

Besides, there is a need for a foreign policy that is designed to grant special and rare privileges to foreign nationals who would be adjudged to have made exemplary contributions to the promotion – in their own countries and/or beyond – of peace, freedom, justice, democracy, prosperity, philanthropy / altruism, poverty reduction, and other noble causes and endeavors.

In this regard, we should expect the recipients and/or families of the special Zambian residency to visit Zambia whenever they feel like and enjoy the beauty, warmth, friendliness, and rich cultures and traditions of our beloved country and its people. Such privileges should also be posthumously extended to the families of such foreign nationals.

[14]

Our beloved country has the potential to meet the basic needs and expectations of its people, and to become one of Africa’s most successful countries. I believe so mainly because it is blessed with abundant natural endowments, including fertile soil, ideal weather conditions, an ideal system of perennial rivers, a wide range of wildlife, wide stretches of natural forests and grasslands, a wide assortment of mineral resources and a sizeable population of peaceful and hard-working citizens. – May 15, 2018.

Henry Kyambalesa

Denver, Colorado, USA

kyambalesa@gmail.com

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