My First open letter to incoming president

By Dr Given Mutinta

May I start by thanking you for your thumping victory as republican president in the 2016 general elections.

I wish you a very successful and eventful tenure as republican president.

Your landslide victory shows the admiration and respect you have won throughout the country and challenging duties you are to assume. Do not disappoint the electorate by u-turning on your election promises.

Allow me to talk to you on a few issues that you need to prioritise and deal with to set the basis for your successful leadership.

The first thing that you need to do is to breathe life into the basic democratic principles in order to have a democratic government.

In as much as the Constitution indicates that we are a democratic society, in the past few years, we have moved to dictatorship. As a result, people are denied the benefits of a democratic society. Therefore, let democracy rein!

Mr President, ensure that there is genuine citizen participation in national activities. This is one of the most basic signposts of a democracy.

We have observed, for example, where people are fooled to participate in the so called people driven Constitution making processes just to end up with a shoddy document amended and passed by Parliament not through referendum. This level of treachery is unacceptable!

Genuine participation Mr President is the key role of citizens in democracy. It is not only their right, but it is their duty. Ensure that citizen participation takes place in many forms and at different levels.

We need genuine citizen participation so as to have a society where people are free to vote in violence free elections, correctly informed about national issues without being lied to, and free to debate national issues without intimidation.

It is through genuine citizen participation that you will be able to build a better democracy for all people.

Your Excellency, it is important to ensure that equality as enshrined in the Constitution is upheld.

As a democratic society we are equal. However, this is not the case today. Some people are more equal than others.

Your challenge Mr President is to ensure that all individuals are valued equally, have equal opportunities, and are not discriminated against because of their tribe or region or political affiliation.

What we want to have under your leadership is a democracy where individuals and groups still maintain their right and pride to have different cultures, languages and beliefs without being demonised.

May I also bring to your attention what is worrying many people, and this is the issue of political intolerance.

Levels of political intolerance have reached unprecedented and unacceptable levels in this country. We have seen opposition party meetings disrupted by cadres from the party in power and sometimes by police officers working under instructions from ‘higher authorities’.

Mr President, by design Zambia is a democratic society and supposed to be politically tolerant. While we know that the majority of the people rule in a democracy, the rights of the minority must be protected.

People who are not in power must be allowed to organize and speak out their views which may be different from the government.

May you deliberately promote a culture where individual citizens learn to be tolerant of each other.

As a diverse democratic society we are composed of people from different regions and ethnic groups with different viewpoints.

It will therefore be for your benefit to appreciate our democratic society enriched by diversity unfortunately being used to divide people by politicians.

It goes without a word that one goal of democracy is to make the best possible decisions for the people. To achieve this, your government should have respect for all people and their points of view.

Upholding this value will ensure that your national development decisions are more likely to be accepted, even by those who oppose them, if all people are allowed to discuss them. This will also help to avoid policy inconsistencies.

Mr President, the people look up to you to instil the value of accountability. People want you to champion a democracy where elected and appointed officials have to be accountable to the people they are responsible for their actions.

Your officials must make decisions and perform their duties according to the will and wishes of the people, not for themselves.

Ensure that your leadership style is anchored on transparency. Let people be aware of what is happening in your government.

We have seen in the past were government concealed loans such as the US$192, 924, 047 contracted from China to improve security wings in the country. A transparent government would have explained in Parliament the need to re-equip the security services.

Make it a habit to hold press conferences so that the press and people are able to get information about what decisions are being made, by whom and why. That is how successful leaders set strong foundations for national development.

Mr President, there is need for you to show that it is possible to hold regular, free and fair elections in this country. This is one sure way people express their will by electing leaders to represent them in government.

We have had so many events of violence during or before by-elections. We still remember how the Patriotic Front (PF) Secretary General Davis Chama shot Mushaukwa in Mulobezi and police officers left him scot free. Our memories are still fresh on how the police, and cadres from the ruling party brutalised people of Manyama area in Solwezi, and many other incidents of violence that are stomach tossing to mention.

As a nation, Mr President, people yearn for a democracy where elected officials will be chosen and peacefully removed from office in a free and fair manner.

Intimidation, corruption and threats to people during or before an election should not characterise your presidency as this is against the principles of democracy.

It is your duty to ensure that obstacles that make it difficult for people to vote freely are removed.

I would be failing in my letter if I do not talk about the need to control the abuse of power.

It has become common to see elected government officials without restraint abusing their power.

One of the most common abuses of power is corruption where government officials use public funds for their own benefit at the expense of service delivery.

Your challenge Mr President is to employ various methods to protect against these abuses.

If it means re-structuring government to limit the powers of the president or branches of government or elected officials, let it be so.

Besides, we want to have independent courts and agencies such as the Anti-Corruption Commission and the Law Association of Zambia with power to act against any illegal action by an elected official.

People are fed up of seeing corrupt officials being protected by ‘higher authorities’ who are supposed to champion the fight against corruption.

Mr President, as a democratic country, we have a bill of rights to protect people against abuse of power. However the current regime is defiling people’s rights and freedoms in spite being guaranteed to all.

It is therefore people’s wish that you ensure the bill of rights is rightfully the cornerstone of democracy in this country.

May your government affirm the democratic values of human dignity, equality and freedom and empower courts to have the power to enforce these rights.

Let me also remind you that democracy strives to respect and protect the human rights of citizens. Your government Mr President should respect values that reflect respect for human life and human dignity.

We have seen how people today are denied the freedom of expression, freedom of association, freedom of assembly, and others.

How does one justify a situation where politicians and cadres from the ruling party freely exercise their freedom of assembly while opposition parties are denied the same through the application of some draconian pieces of legislation such as the Public Order Act?

Let your democratic leadership emphasize the value of every human being regardless of their political affiliation.

Mr President, for democracy to be healthy you need to promote multi-party system. Let political parties participate in elections and play a role in your government.

Do not waste time and resources trying to suck up political opposition parties by inducing wasteful by-elections.

Instead, see opposition parties as a necessary evil as they will help provide you with different viewpoints on national issues. Besides, voters should have a choice of candidates, parties and policies to vote for, and there is absolutely no room for dictatorship.

Lastly, may I talk about the late, I mean the rule of law we killed and buried a few years ago. Revive the rule of law for the benefit of all.

As a democratic country no one is above the law. From you Mr President we expect leadership that will uphold the rule of law.

People are fed up of how the Public Order Act is applied differently where opposition members have to get permission or are denied permission to assemble or protest while the ruling party members have meetings and protests without police permits.

People want to see a situation where everyone must obey the law and be held accountable if they violate it. Ensure that the law is equally, fairly and consistently enforced.

It is through appreciating a democratic society that will make your government easily set sail on the road to socio-economic development that this country needs.

Once more, congratulations on your flagellating victory and best wishes!

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