Our country has not fared well in 2012 – NGOCC

 

NGOCC REFLECTIONS OF THE YEAR 2012

As the year 2012 comes to an end, the Non Governmental Organisations’ Coordinating Council (NGOCC) would like to give an analysis of the state of the nation from a gender perspective. It is our hope that this analysis will be useful in informing the government, stakeholders and ordinary women and men in terms of successes scored, challenges encountered and lessons learnt in 2012 in as far as governance of our nation is concerned.

Women in decision making positions

After the 2011 tripartite elections, Zambia witnessed a significant drop in the number of women elected to both parliament and in the council. The representation of women in parliament and at council level dropped from 14% to 11.3% and 7% to 6.1% respectively. With these statistics it was not unexpected that the first PF Cabinet had only two female ministers, which have since risen to four. It is commendable to note that inspite of the low number of women in elected positions cited above, President Michael Sata has appointed a good number of women in various decision making positions. This is commendable.

A major lesson to be learnt is that Zambia desperately needs affirmative action to address the gender gaps especially for women in decision making positions. We believe that leaving this important task at the discretion of leaders or the Republican President in this case, is not helpful in the long run.

Therefore our appeal to the Technical Committee drafting the Republican Constitution and the delegates participating in the consultative process (Conventions) is for us to collectively ensure that the provision for affirmative action in the constitution is guaranteed in order to facilitate legislated equitable representation of women and men at all levels of decision making.

Constitutional making process

The Constitutional making process has been going on under the auspices of the Technical Committee appointed by the President. District and Provincial Conventions have already been held in most parts of the country. NGOCC and other stakeholders have raised concerns on the lack of a legal framework guide and safe guard the constitution making process. This is because of our firm belief that “process protects content”. Therefore the fact that the Technical Committee will submit the final draft constitution document to the President as a mere recommendation is inimical to the principle of a people driven process. On the other hand NGOCC commends the decision by the Minister of Justice to disclose the budget for the Technical Committee as this promotes transparency in the use of national resources.

 

However we urge the government to bear in mind that Zambia has already spent enormous amounts of money on the Constitution-making process and the public is anxious to know how much more their Government is going to spend this time around. Therefore, we wish to restate our call thatthe budget for the whole constitution making process must be made public with immediate effect in the spirit of promoting transparency and accountability in the utilisation of public resources (from Technical Committee costs, drafting of the constitution, conventions, referendum process until enactment of the constitution of Zambia). The importance of publishing the budget cannot be overemphasised and we trust the government will rise to the occasion

 

We are also still concerned about the lack of a clear Road Map and detailed budget lines to guide the entire process until the adoption of the final Republic of Zambia Constitution. Further, we would like to reiterate our calls on the President to constitute a Referendum Commission in line with the Referendum Act. This will facilitate for the expansion of the Bill of Rights to include social, economic and cultural rights among others as provided for in the Republican Constitution under Article 79. Furthermore, not subjecting our draft constitution to a Referendum would be a departure from the Mung’omba Constitution Review Commission road map which envisages the holding of a Referendum before the draft Constitution is presented to parliament for enactment without further debate. Government’s silence on holding the Referendum has not been helpful.Implementation of the Anti Gender Based Violence Act

Gender Based Violence (GBV) is a cause and consequence of gender inequality. It is also a major cause of women’s ill health and a deterrent to their well being. The year 2012 will go down in history as one of the worst in terms of recording increased numbers and exceptional cases of violence against women and girls. The unprecedented number of gruesome gender based violence cases left the country shocked and traumatised.

Thus, with the Anti Gender Based Violence Act 2011, Zambia should have fully implemented it and heightened political will in providing leadership to holistically addressing gender based violence. We remain optimistic that government will move swiftly to implement the Act fully especially that cooperating partners have contributed substantial resources towards mitigation of gender based violence. We also note that the Head of State has directed the Ministry of Justice to stiffen laws on gender based violence. We hope that government will allocate more resources in the implementation of this important piece of legislation.

The fight against corruption

The fight against corruption has been the hallmark of the PF government and there is no argument that corruption is a cancer that deprives resources from the poor majority into the hands of a few minorities. President Michael Sata has spoken strongly against corruption such that a number of former leaders in the former ruling party, MMD, are still being prosecuted by the courts of law for alleged corruption and abuse of office. Our view is that such pronouncements should be backed by collective practical actions. On the other hand, the fight against corruption should not be seen to be selective as this is a recipe for public loss of confidence in the government – we demand that the law should be applied equally to everyone, whether in government or not.

NGOCC however commends the PF government for re-instating the Abuse of Office Clause in the Anti Corruption Act. NGOCC demands that going forward; the fight against corruption should not be based on Presidential pronouncements but needs to be anchored on legislation as well as independent governance structures such as the Anti Corruption Commission, Judiciary and the Police, among others.

In 2009, about K27 billion was misappropriated at the Ministry of Health. This resulted in major cooperating countries freezing funding to the ministry leading to serious shortages of drugs in some health centers. When a number of suspects were arrested over the scandal, our expectations as the women’s movement was that justice would be done. But we share our disappointment at the acquittal of some suspects in the Ministry of Health. Our disappointment does not stem from the fact that the acquittals put a serious doubt on the capacity of our investigative wings to successfully handle the fight against corruption and abuse of office, but that these cases were mishandled and hence sending a very wrong signal as to how safe our public resources are.

Another dent in the war against corruption has been the refusal by the Head of State to allow two Ministers being investigated for corruption to stand down. It is part of procedure to allow an officer being investigated for corruption or abuse of office to stand aside and allow the smooth conclusion of the probe. But as it turned out, the Head of State not only defended the two Ministers but also went ahead to condemn the Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) for “not getting permission” from him.

It was therefore least surprising that one of the Ministers went to ACC in the company of a horde of PF cadres and demanded to be interviewed in their presence. Our view is that this act was a direct affront to justice and rule of law.  It was sad to note that the Minister responsible for Justice was at the pinnacle of this debacle. What could happen if all women and men facing charges of corruption demanded to be interrogated by ACC in front of their supporters or sympathisers? These are genuine concerns that must be addressed if pronouncements on the fight against corruption by our leaders will be taken seriously.

Democracy and rule of law

In the last 12 months, our country has witnessed a blatant disregard for fundamental freedoms particularly freedom of assembly. The PF government has been abusing the implementation of the Public Order Act to disadvantage the opposition. For the first time in our current multiparty dispensation, this country has seen a virtual freeze on opposition parties to hold rallies. The Zambia Police has been used to suppress, with impunity, freedoms of women and men. These are dangerous trends to our hard fought freedoms.

Similarly, a number of questionable deportations of citizens suspected, wrongly or rightly, to be against the interests of government or PF have been carried out in the last 12 months. Not only are these deportations unprecedented but are reminiscent of the one party state. Those critical of the government are now under threat of detentions, harassment and intimidation.

Given this background, our conviction is that unless the PF government begins to promote, preserve and protect fundamental rights of citizens, the country risks going back to the dark days of one Party State. Dialogue between government, the opposition and other stakeholders is urgently needed. Pretending that all is well will be disastrous.

Agriculture and food security

Zambia again recorded a maize bumper harvest during the 2011/2012 season though there was a 6% decline from the 2010/2011 season. The Food Reserve Agency (FRA) however failed to pay most farmers on time a situation that led to many farmers selling their maize at lower prices than the floor price of K65,000 per 50 kg bag to other business persons.

Despite the country recording a bumper harvest, the price of mealie meal remained high for an average family as evidenced by the cost of living for a family of five in Lusaka as measured by the JCTR’s Basic Needs Basket for the month of November 2012 which stood at K3, 475,720. Serious shortages of mealie meal were experienced in most parts of the country where the average price of a 50 kg bag has risen to over K70,000. It is therefore unacceptable that mealie meal prices should remain beyond the reach of an ordinary woman and man when the country has recorded three consecutive maize bumper harvests.

Our belief is that government seriously needs to review the agriculture policies by revisiting the role of FRA. There is no doubt that FRA has not performed to the expectations of the country. Further, there should be deliberate policies to diversify our agriculture from being maize dependant to other food crops.

Another issue government must handle with care is the break out of army worms. Our fear is that small scale farmers, who are mostly women, will be badly hit by this disaster which has potential to threaten food security at household level next year. Government should therefore ensure that small scale farmers whose crops have been attacked by army worms are adequately compensated.

Maternal Health

NGOCC appreciates Government’s commitmentto open up more than 600 new health centres. However, we are of the view that the existing health facilities should be given priority through adequate funding, sufficient medicines, proper staffing levels and the provision of  up to-date equipment. In addition,Maternal Mortality remains very high in this country at 591 per 100,000 live births. This translates into 8 women dying per day due to complications arising from pregnancy and child birth. On the other hand the Infant Mortality Rate (IMR) is 34 per 1,000 live births and this translates into 48 newborns dying per day due to complications at delivery, prematurity and infections. Provision of adequate health facilities to women especially the rural-based remains a challenge. Therefore, moving forward, NGOCC expects to see introduction of more programmes by government aimed at addressing the challenges being faced in the delivery of maternal health in Zambia.

National Gender Policy

The National Gender Policy aims at advancing gender equity and equality in as far as promoting the gender agenda is concerned. Therefore, the process of reviewing the National Gender Policy progressed well during 2012 in a more consultative manner with various stakeholders making their submissions. However, although the second draft has made significant improvements from the first draft, a lot remains to be done for this policy to meet the aspirations of the Zambian people.

Conclusion and way forward

It is NGOCC’s considered view that, in the last 12 months, our country has not fared well with regard to promoting democracy and the rule of law, the fight against corruption, maintaining stable prices of our staple food and indeed the constitution making process. We are however optimistic that the PF government that came into power on a popular platform would not want to miss this opportunity to give the Zambian woman, man, girl and boy a people driven constitution. It is therefore important that government concentrates on fulfilling its campaign promises and not be preoccupied with wanting to have majority seats in parliament through instigating unnecessary but costly By-Elections.

Therefore, NGOCC herein demands concerted efforts, with the government leadership, towards job creation, improvement in the delivery of health care, education, sanitation, repeal of the Public Order Act and the NGO Act. We further expect that government will embrace the spirit of consultations and dialogue on national issues such as the constitution making process, domestication of protocols, full implementation of the Anti Gender Based Violence Act especially making defilement non billable, speedy processing of GBV cases by the law enforcement agencies and the judiciary and creation of shelters countrywide for victims of GBV.

We wish to appeal to the opposition parties, civil society organisations, religious organisations and all well meaning citizens and the media to remain watchdogs against any indications of misrule. This country, more than ever, desperately needs well resourced independent institutions that shall provide checks and balances to the excessive use of power by the current government. The Church must also continue to provide spiritual guidance and prayers for our leaders at all levels and most importantly uphold the prophetic voice.

As we enter the New Year 2013, we would like to pledge to the nation that WE WILL DIALOGUE AND, CONSULT AND that we shall remain vigilant and speak for the majority of our constituents. This we shall do even at the risk of retributions from those that won’t agree with us.

May the Almighty God continue to grant our Motherland abundant peace and harmony even in our diversity. God bless Mother Zambia.

Beatrice Grillo

NGOCC BOARD CHAIRPERSON

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