By Given Mutinta
When you have an agreement with people and freely make promises to each other to honour them but you know that you will not do so within the time limit you have set for yourself, for example 90 days, and then the other party delivers on the promise and you do not because you got what you wanted from them, you are definitionally and correctly called a liar or deceiver or swindler. You are a ‘utilitarian’ who values the ends not the means. You are ready to realize your goals using any means obtainable irrespective of the consequences or benefits to other people. Such an individual cannot profess to be ‘virtuist’ who values the means to justify the ends.
Sata completed his 90 days without delivering on his promises. His failure to deliver is a palpable indication that his promises were not supported by any sort of visionary action or technocraticism but barefaced lies rooted in ‘political sensationalism’.
In all honesty, what promise can a level-headed person relate with fulfilment delivered by Sata in 90 days? Because of Sata’s lies we appreciate more the adage that, ‘lies have short legs.’ Sata as the epitome of the Republic of Zambia and quintessence of all respect and authority in our land supposed to find it easy to bed with truthfulness. It is truthfulness not lies that makes it very far and comes with dignity.
It is evident that Sata’s deliberate and consistent lies greased his path toward State House to advance his career and agenda.
Regrettably, his ‘inflated promises’ to the people have caused disgruntlement in various sections of our society. Sata should have been realistic in his promises. By ‘overstating’ his promises he has put himself in a maladroit position. Knowing how unrealistic Sata’s promises were his publicly ‘ordained’ ‘choirmaster’ for his ‘praise team’ had to dedicate an entire editorial to justify (the unjustifiable) why he failed to deliver in 90 days, total nonsense! It is ‘CW’ Mr. ‘choirmaster’, I mean Conventional Wisdom; generally accepted as true by the public and experts that you can never go far with lies. For how long shall you thrive on lies of commission and omission, and illusions?
Sata’s promises were too overdone to be realistic. He promised to honour the Barotseland Agreement if they gave him their vote. Loyally, the people of Barotseland gave Sata their vote and they are now demanding that he honours his promise. Instead, he deploys police officers in the Western and North-Western provinces to defy the reported ‘rebellion’. We are in the 21st Century where it cannot be easy for Sata to pull the wool over the eyes of the people of Barotseland.
The issue of Barotseland cannot be resolved by a legion of police officers but through conscientious discussions. This is a wake up call to all politicians that politics sustained by lies have potential to cause chaos and must be discarded from our modern society. We want down-to-earth politician able to make reasonable promises.
Sata’s failure to deliver on his promises in 90 days suggests that he had a deliberate intent to deceive people. By lying he has failed to be honesty to the people, show respect and exercise justice.
As a veteran politician Sata should have known better that lying is always wrong especially for leaders. As human beings we are born with ‘intrinsic worth’ which stems from the fact that we are inimitably rational agents thus expected to make free and realistic decisions severely lacking in Sata’s promises.
Therefore, Sata is inescapably accountable for the promises he failed to fulfil. He was not coerced to make promises but rationally ‘sung out’ a litany of promises. Politicians are not exempted from being ethical. In fact, as leaders they are supposed to be beacons of light in promoting modest political conduct. When a leader fails to deliver on his promises he has failed to respect power in him and his people.
Zambia is not a ‘utilitarian’ but rather a ‘virtuous’ country. Thus promises made by leaders are solemn ethical issues. Lying is wrong because it corrupts our primary quality as human beings; our ability to make free and rational choices. Politics of lies characterised by ‘ballooned’ promises are unethical; it is corruption at the highest level. Sata knew that he would not deliver on his promises therefore he acted in an illusory way to the people
Each lie we pass on to other people goes against that part of us that gives us the moral worth and dignity. Politicians should desist from making spurious promises. We need pragmatic leaders; whose promises and decision making are informed by skill and knowledge not by a frolicsome ‘science’ of political sensationalism. Too cheap to inspire the people of Zambia!
If Sata is really a virtuous person and Christian guided by the Ten Commandments as he claims, then he must apologise to the people for failing to honour his promises or be tagged a liar. Sata’s outlandish lies have made many people uncertain of his leadership and future of our country.
The most horrible thing a politician can do is rob people their freedom to rationally choose their leader by inebriating them with white lies. Sata’s unrealistic promises led people to vote for him something they would have not done if they knew that his promises were lies. His lies have injured people’s dignity and autonomy.
By failing to honour his promises is Sata saying that he only values himself and his party not the electorate? Is he saying that the electorate is just a means not the ends to his leadership, a typical utilitarian political approach where the value of the electorate is determined by its utility? Is Sata through his lies confirming that he is a ‘utilitarian politician’; who believes that actions, including lies, are acceptable when the resulting consequences maximises benefit or greases ones path toward State House?
Sata should know that politics of lies are emasculating his noble duties to himself and our society. Let us no allow lies to injure, impede and misuse people’s ability to make free decisions to choose credible leaders not some worn out ‘federalists’.
It is unacceptable to lie in order to get what we want, at the expense of us developing as truthful citizens. By lying is Sata saying that virtues are not desirable qualities in leadership, when in fact they influence leaders to act in truthful ways?
Political leaders should be reminded that fairness to the electorate is critical. ‘Do not take advantage of the electorate’. In fact, fairness should be a virtue all politicians should choose to strive towards so as to fulfil their duties and promises. Zambia needs politicians who are virtuous in whatever they do to themselves and society.
It is wrong for politicians to lie to the people because lying contradicts the virtue of honesty. Are we all not supposed to strive for the virtue of honesty as individuals and society? If leaders are able to lie publicly, what are we teaching the generation of young people about lying and breaking promises? Leaders should be role models to inspire people they serve to be good citizens.
Sata’s failure to deliver on his promises makes us justified to argue that the means he used to come into power was flawed; based on lies or empty promises.
Sata poorly estimated the consequences of his lies and this has caused great mistrust and apprehension in our society. His empty promises have undermined the value of trust in him making cynicism in our country to multiply.
Let us discard politics of ‘ballooned’ promises and promote politics of pragmatism to pursue the common good not personal agendas.
We should not tolerate the potentially great cost in turning a blind eye to politics of lies for subjective reasons. Politics that flourish on lies are a recipe for chaos.
In Zambia there are several problems why politics of lies are thriving. We lack regulations to govern our political behaviour towards one another. In addition, our society as any person might expect, is a mixture of ‘virtuists’ and ‘utililitarians’ who share no common ground. This is a recipe for lies in politics.
Deducing from the potential chaos instigated by Sata’s politics of lies, I am proposing that we authorise certified election promises in form of ‘election or reelection thresholds’.
Politicians should outline their election promises in writing. Then these promises can be assessed before the next elections. If a politician fails to honour his promises, he or she should not be allowed to run for re-election.
This means that we will need an independent organization to decide whether and according to which parameters an election pledge can be measured and evaluated.
The feasibility of an assessment whether a promise has been delivered should be determined by two issues. First, the election promise has to be adequately defined. Second, the information on which it rests has to be ‘tangible’ and sufficiently influence-resistant. Promises which can be assessed this way can be certified and chosen as such. On the occasion of being certified, election promises become ‘thresholds’ agreements or contracts.
The degree to which they are honoured should be assessed before the next elections and if a politician has failed to meet his self-set threshold like Sata, then he should lose the right to run for reelection. A leader who delivers on his promises may run for office in the usual way.
The benefit of certified election promises and the reelection thresholds is that they will identify particular issues to be addressed by a leader. These certification measures can encourage leaders to honour election promises.
This form of pledge would hearten leaders to make significant efforts to translate election promises into ‘tangible’ projects. As a result, several socially needed issues can be taken care of and may have better chances of being addressed.
When it comes to whether and which type of certified election promises are offered this can be left to politicians vying for leadership. The agency should demand from each nominee a more conscientious and thorough thought of what political action he or she can accomplish, no ‘ballooned’ promises!
Simultaneously, our modus operandi would smoothen and increase dialogue between politicians and the electorate.
Certified election promises can improve politicians’ genuineness for the reason that those reluctant to pledge to certified promises would lose part of their political credibility.
There should also be a division into more or less realistic promises as this can improve mutual interaction between people and politicians. In addition, it can bolster people’s trust in politicians and institutions meant to serve them.
Certified election promises can be a practical and plausible way of dealing with politicians inclined to lie and eventually increase the usefulness of our democracy.
May this New Year, 2012 inspire us to work towards making our country a home for all !
*The Author is a Post-doctoral Research Fellow at the University KwaZulu-Natal; Health, Economics and HIV/AIDS Research Division, South Africa.