A chaotic week in Zambia’s transition

By Arthur Simuchoba (Times Live)

The sound and fury of last month’s general election in Zambia has died down totally. But there is a new upheaval brewing – and it is real.

The process of transition is chaotic. It consists of replacing the heads of many public institutions – the criteria for which is known only to the new government, and it relegates the president to the position of chief personnel officer.

This process is now well under way and there is a great deal of uncertainty and insecurity, as there can be no telling who is in the line of fire. Many have had grief already.

It is not entirely free of vindictiveness or revenge for past wrongs, real or imagined and so creates bitterness.

The government is at a virtual standstill as President Michael Sata continues to build his new administration.

He has appointed a new inspector-general of police and also created a deputy inspector-general post and given it to a woman.

He has also said that all divisional commanders would hold the rank of commissioner of police.

Sata dissolved the entire Road Development Agency this week, on the grounds that it was giving out contracts without tender and paying for jobs with “unknown” funds.

A new managing director for the state-owned electricity monopoly has been appointed. It is in fact a re-appointment because, according to the president, he was “fraudulently” dismissed by the last administration.

Sata dismissed “with immediate effect” all 74 district commissioners, because they operated as “politicians and not civil servants”. He said he would replace them with “genuine civil servants” and ordered the commissioners to vacate government quarters immediately.

He abolished the post of secretary to the Treasury in the Finance Ministry and has “streamlined” administration in it . The ministry will now be headed by one permanent secretary and not three .

Sata has also named a new head for the anti-corruption commission.

The Justice Ministry has been ordered to amend the Pensions Act. Civil servants will now retire at the age of 65, and not 55 years.

The boards of four state-owned companies have been dissolved. Among them are the electricity monopoly, the central bank, the national pension scheme and the Zambia Revenue Authority (ZRA). Some permanent secretaries have been retired and new ones appointed. But no replacement has yet been named to the central bank.

Announcements of new appointments and dismissals at various levels came thick and fast this week . Ministries have been reconstructed and some departments are now part of new ministries or fall under different ministries.

Some of the new ministries have been cobbled together in ways that do not make sense. The big question is: Will the restructuring lead to efficiency in practice?

The new cabinet has been met with a mixed reception. Many people are not impressed with some of the new faces.

But, more seriously, neither the cabinet nor some of the other appointments are seen to be nationally representative in a country with more than 70 tribes It is an issue that has torn other African countries apart before.

But it will be a while before Zambia emerges from this “whirlwind.”

The transitional process is leading to renewed questions about the system of public service appointments.

The constitution requires the winner of the presidential election be sworn-in within 24 hours of the result being declared, to guard against a power vacuum, but it also leads to a certain level of chaos.

There seems to be a need for a more ordered and measured transition period. That will support a strong system of ratifying appointments to the public service – which is clearly required.

However, expectations in Zambia continue to be high, especially among the ordinary workers – some of whom now talk of more money in their pockets within 90 days, in line with the governing party’s campaign promises.

There has already been a rush of strikes and work stoppages for more money in the past two weeks.

Any escalation in this trend and the new government will be presented with its first real hurdle.

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