Try to be sincere this time, NGOs tell Lungu

Lusaka, 09 February 2021: As President Edgar Lungu prepares to address the National Assembly on National Values and Principles in line with Articles 8 and 9 (2) of our Constitution, the Civil Society Constitution Agenda (CiSCA) demands that he sincerely addresses the many deviations from our national values and principles under his leadership.

CiSCA notes that past addresses on this have been hollow and full of rhetoric and appear not to be taken seriously by the Head of State. CiSCA hopes that this address will be taken seriously, being the last address by the Head of State under his Constitutional final term of office.

We would like to remind the President of some of these deviations that we hope he will sincerely reflect on and address on Friday.

Our National Values talk about morality and ethics, but what we have witnessed over the last one year and prior renders the provisions of Article 8(a) of our constitution null and void. One of the biggest indicators for this are the numerous corruption scandals that the country has witnessed – corruption so brazen that perpetrators now do not even make any effort to mask it; corruption so brutal that citizens lives are put at risk as witnessed in the procurement of expired drugs, defective condoms and surgical gloves; corruption so heartless that citizens’ hard-earned pensions are routed and looted in questionable investments from our national pensions authority. The President has dismissed allegations of corruption and challenged citizens to provide evidence of corruption. This is immoral, and the President owes the citizens of this country, whose lives have been put at risk, a public and personal apology. Morally, this is the least that is expected of him. There is sufficient evidence through various government reports such as the Financial Intelligence Centre (FIC) report and Auditor General’s report that highlight high levels of corruption including exposes by media houses that have led to public outcry. If there is one scandal that the President must address immediately given that we are in the middle of a global health pandemic, it is that of drugs procurement. The President must, as a matter of urgency, direct that there be an inquiry in the procurement of drugs in the country, given the many recalls of drugs and must direct that all those culpable are brought to book and that there should be no sacrificial lambs and no sacred cows in the process. This is the right thing to do and has been expected of the President from day one.

On national unity, the President himself has over the years proven to be such a divisive figure. Never in the history of our country have we seen such high levels of polarization across political, regional and even religious divides. The President has on a number of occasions talked about tribe, voting patterns and development all in the same breath and even suggesting that development cannot be taken to areas that are opposition strongholds. This is what has raised the stakes in our democracy and this is what has led to disunity. The political landscape has completely been altered since the coming to power of the Patriotic Front government, especially under the leadership of President Lungu. This President thrives on chaos and it is therefore not in his interest to see any kind of unity anywhere, including in his own political party. The President needs to demonstrate and live up to this value by holding accountable those in his own party and government who have openly and publicly uttered divisive tribal sentiments and have not been reprimanded in the slightest. Sadly, we know that the President will proceed to mockingly talk about national unity in his address disregarding all this. The President and his leaders may have forgotten, but Zambians have not. We wish to remind the President of a very wise but profound saying from the East that ‘mulya nyemba aibala, mutaya makoko saibala’, which means the one who eats groundnuts (in this case national funds) forgets, but those used to throw the trash won’t forget. The President must use this address to redeem himself and his political party by announcing and taking decisive measures to deal with all those that have been advancing the tribal/regional agenda and those known to be withholding development to some areas on the basis of tribe or political affiliation.

The President must use the address to also reflect on the progress that we have made in our democracy that was once seen as maturing but is now a fledgling democracy under his leadership. Our brand of democracy may not have been perfect, but it was bearable – levels of political tolerance were higher than now. The Public Order Act, though used by many successive governments as a tool of oppression, has been highly abused by the current government as an instrument not only for restricting freedoms and violating rights of citizens, but also to murder citizens. The barbarism witnessed under this regime is unlike any other in the history of our independent nation. President Edgar Lungu has nurtured and allowed a kind of sycophancy only seen in some of the world’s worst dictatorships where loss of life became the order of the day and acceptable. We have professional cadres willing to sell their souls for a few pieces of silver. Citizens do not just morph into savages, they have been groomed and coerced with money, contracts and other ‘freebies’ thrown their way by those in power.

Our democracy has been reduced to holding of elections and so we use this yardstick to measure the country’s performance on democracy. With elections around the corner in August 2021, we can already see how democracy has faltered – questionable process of voter registration, the ruling party campaigning without any hindrance but will not allow opposition political parties to do the same, and so forth. We urge President Lungu to ensure that there is a level playing field for all political actors ahead of the August polls. If he is unconstitutionally re-elected, he must be so re-elected by willing citizens, without fear or favor. We know this means nothing to those who would want to cling to power at any cost but we nonetheless point this out for posterity. This is democracy.

We have noted that the address on national values and principles is so detached from the day to day lives of ordinary citizens and is often a textbook script to fulfil a mandatory obligation. We would like to remind the President and his speech writers that there is a reason why we the citizens of this country wanted to see these values in our constitution. We must as a country to live by these values and operate under these principles. We find it strange that the President and his party advanced the very retrogressive Bill 10 which grossly tried to undermine the issues of representation, human dignity, equity and social justice which are part of the national values.

The President must address the issue of widening inequality in view of our crumbling economy. The President must provide a clear direction of how he and his government intend to get us out of the economic malaise we find ourselves in as a country that has led to inequality. The usual lamentations of ‘it’s global, it’s COVID-19, it’s climate change’ – we have heard and yes, we know, but what is the Zambian solution to these challenges? This is a fair ask of him given that he has indicated openly that he is unconstitutionally seeking re-election and has maintained he is eligible to stand. He is seeking re-election to do what? To address inequality?

We are living in difficult and unpredictable times that call for sincere and genuine leadership in addressing issues that are critical to the well-being of citizens and an honest introspection on our national values, a commitment to address these challenges, is the only hope that the citizens of this country have and desire.

We have always been a country of great potential but sadly that is all we have ever been and destined to be if those in leadership pay only lip service to these values. The moral fabric of our nation is now beyond mutilation and now requires bold leadership to restore it. We can only hope that President Lungu, in the last few remaining months of his presidency, will attempt to restore our values and uphold our principles for the benefit of us all.

The address on National Values and Principles is not a political rally, but it is a constitutionally defined process that must be given all the seriousness it deserves.

Issued by:

Judith Mulenga
CiSCA Chairperson

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