The third instalment in our Parallel Universe Series focuses on corruption. We remind everyone that our intention is not primarily to demonstrate that the PF have failed to live up to their campaign and governance promises but to refocus them of their obligations and responsibilities to the Zambian people in the face of severe hardships being experienced by the majority. Our mission is not to see the PF fail while in office because if they do, it is the ordinary Zambians who will suffer. Our mission is to offer alternative ideas to ineffective governance. At the end of the day, we need the current political leadership to focus more on development than politics. We want, through this series, to remind the people of Zambia that NAREP offers hope for a brighter future and that we can and must change the style of our national politics if we are to ever address the daily struggles of the Zambian people.
What is corruption and why does it need to be seriously tackled?
Corruption is a cancer on our society. Just like cancer, it starts off small and when you try and control it, it has a way of becoming aggressive and fighting back. When the body is invaded by cancer cells, the aim is to take control of the body until it is finally destroyed. But what exactly is corruption and why is it bad for Zambia? One way to explain corruption and its effect on our development is with a simple illustration. Let us say that money is allocated to the Ministry of Health to fix our badly damaged healthcare system. Let us then say that the person in charge of handling these funds diverts the money (through dubious procurement contracts) and uses it to purchase luxury goods and properties instead of buying medicines or supplying and fixing emergency medical equipment. A pregnant mother in a rural or peri-urban community arrives at the clinic and finds that the emergency equipment that could save her unborn child’s life has broken down and has never been fixed because of lack of funds. The mother loses her child and is in danger of losing her own life.
In the above example, we can see how corruption can be a killer. Funds meant for public use have been siphoned away under questionable procurements and contributed to the loss of innocent life. But that is not all. Corruption also saps away our morality. It eats into the very fabric of our declaration as a Christian nation. When, for example, a human resource officer promises a job to a vulnerable job-seekers in exchange for sexual favours, that is corruption. When a school teacher abuses his or her position to obtain money by selling examination papers, that is corruption. When a leader protects a political ally or a financial supporter from facing justice, that it corruption. The problem is not so much that these things are happening but it is the scale on which they are happening. Rape, defilement, teenage abortions and sexual favours for jobs are now so commonplace that they seem normal.
So if we have to define it, we can say that corruption is the bending or breaking of laws, rules and regulations or the refusal to comply with established procedure in both public and private matters for the sake of financial or non-financial gain. And let us not fool ourselves, corruption is taking place at every level of society, not just in our politics. Many engage in it because they feel they have no choice when the systems for applying for basic requirements like a registration card, an examination certificate or a passport, are riddled with undue bureaucracy. But many more are doing it because they see it as a fast track to success in a country where the Government has failed to provide solutions that can deliver basic needs like clean water, decent education, quality healthcare, durable road infrastructure and sustainable employment. So we have to ask the question: what is the PF administration doing about corruption, given that this was a major concern that they raised during and after the 2011 election?
The PF pledge to deal with corruption
In answering this question, let us start with the very words of the Republican President in his opening address to Parliament on 14 October 2011 where there was an undertaking to “ fight corruption in all its forms with commitment and vigour”. Mr. Sata stated that the Patriotic Front Government wanted to put more money in the pockets of many Zambians instead of promoting corruption, which puts more money into pockets of a few individuals. In the President’s own words, “corruption is a platform on which the PF campaigned and were elected”. He undertook to amend the Anti-Corruption Commission Act in order to introduce much stiffer penalties for corruption offenses, re-instate the abuse of office clause, and increase the budgetary allocation to the Anti-Corruption Commission. He also undertook to domesticate international protocols on the fight against corruption and to deal harshly and decisively with any form of corruption:
“I am sounding a timely warning that my government has taken a zero-tolerance stance against corruption in both the public and private sectors……We will investigate any past acts of corruption by all those responsible and prosecute culprits within the due process of the law. Our country needs a new beginning which gives hope to our people, that those who are entrusted with public office shall use the offices to serve, and not to steal from the people who elected them for such service.”
Fine sounding words. But what do they really mean? 17 months down the line, what have the PF actually done since their famous election? They have indeed made an attempt at stiffening the law on abuse of office but it does not have even half the bite that the repealed law had. The old law required a public official to provide an explanation for any property that could not be justified as having been acquired from that official’s salary or benefits. If there was no explanation, the court could determine the guilt of the person on that basis alone. The MMD repealed this provision before they left office, no doubt knowing that they would face difficult questions in explaining how ministers and officials had acquired wealth that was far beyond the reach of their incomes.
When you carefully scrutinise the President’s 2011 parliamentary address, one thing become clear: he wants to deal with past corruption but makes no commitment towards dealing with present or future corruption. This is a mistake. The PF must seek a solution that addresses corruption in all its forms whether past or present and to curb its occurrence in the future. NAREP’s plans on corruption will go a long way towards dealing with past, current and future corruption. We believe the way forward will lie in putting in place an independent body that will have powers to do things none of the previous commissions of inquiry have been able to do to date.
The NAREP proposals on dealing with corruption
We must remember that the easy and most tempting thing to do for any new administration that is confronted by massive historical corruption is to target members of the previous administration. This, however, is not a sustainable way forward. NAREP has set out a practical proposal: establish a Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Corruption (TRCC). This would be done through an act of parliament and would therefore require cross-party support and if done well, would produce a more effective outcome than the present efforts by the PF administration, which can best be described as lacklustre and selective.
How would the TRCC work? First, the TRCC would be one commission – the mother of all commissions – rather than the numerous and seemingly endless stream of commissions that have been established by the PF administration. Second, the TRCC would conduct public hearings to enable the whole country to get involved in exposing the many acts of corruption including ones that ordinary people are forced to participate in just to get basic services. Third, it would be mandated by Parliament (rather than the President) to look into all areas of corruption. This would achieve two things: (1) it would remove the possibility of selecting PF Party loyalists to investigate the activities of their political opponents (as we saw in the case of Zamtel, ZANACO and Zambia National Building Society) thereby ensuring a measure of objectivity and impartiality; and (2) because the TRCC would be answerable to parliament and would have representatives from civil society, it would introduce a far more transparent way of dealing not only with past corruption but also with corruption that continues within the structures of the current Government. Fourth, it would have power to grant amnesty to persons willing to own up to past misdeeds as long as they are able to provide information about how the corruption happened and who else benefited. This would in turn provide crucial information to law enforcement officials who would then be able to follow where the money ended up and more easily identify the culprits no matter how high up the ladder.
The final and perhaps most enduring role of the TRCC will be to recommend an agenda that can help in discouraging corrupt practices in both government and the private sector. This is not a fight that any government can wage and win alone. It will involve the Churches and civil society. It will require higher standards of what we consider to be morally acceptable behaviour and not the glorification of those whose wealth and prestige is based on ill-gotten gains. It will require a re-emphasis on values like hard work, discipline, and the pursuit of excellence. This will not be easy, given the rate of poverty and poverty-based dependence in Zambia. For that reason, the fight against corruption cannot be divorced from the fight to create opportunities for employment and enterprise accessible to every Zambian. And this is why we need to keep emphasising that the PF must abandon their obsession with politics and replace it with a passion for development.
Corruption in Zambia has become so prevalent and deep-rooted, it now seems very normal. The cost to our country in terms of lives and missed opportunities is enormous. Although there is no country in the world that can completely eradicate corruption, steps can be taken to minimise its negative influence on society, especially a society with profound development challenges like ours. Any committed attempt to deal with corruption cannot be based solely on what happened in the past. If the PF is serious about living up to its commitment to root out corruption, it must be prepared to subject its own dealings to the scrutiny of a truly independent entity like NAREP’s proposed Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Corruption.
Elias C. Chipimo
31 January 2013