Saturday, 8 December 2012

Zambia Expands Bureaucracy at Development Expense

The country has abundant underutilised civil servants but the
Patriotic Front still makes creating new districts
to expand the civil service as its No.1 priority

By Nyalubinge Ngwende
If Zambians are to define their development priorities in terms of the presence of civil service bureaucracy in every nook and cranny of the country, then the Patriotic Front has every right to pursue the path of creating districts and burgeoning civil service without any vova (frustration).

However, this development path the Patriotic Front has taken has received sharp reaction from opposition leaders, with Alliance for Development and Democracy party President Charles Milupi taking a scathing attack on the creation of districts. Mr Milupi says the creation of districts is a pursuit by the ruling party to gain political mileage.

Indeed, even in one’s wildest of dreams, it is difficult to understand why government can still think that constructing offices for government departments and employing the district commissioners, alongside a chain of departmental bureaucrats, in new districts is development.

Does this just show how Zambian leaders have taken the wrong end of the meaning of development?

The meaning of development goes beyond the physical government offices and officers at district level.  

It must be defined with concepts that contribute to human development in terms of food security, sound social welfare, quality education, a fledgling health system—especially one that ensures absence of mortality rates from preventable and curable condition, good housing and sustainable management of natural resources.

However, that is not the way the Patriotic Front government views the priority of development.

Government spokesperson Kennedy Sakeni quoted by the Zambia Daily Mail of November 29, 2012, bragged that government will be spending K200 billion next year to construct infrastructure for various departments in the new districts.

Sakeni says that government is serious about the creation of new districts because it is an important vehicle for taking development to the people.

He justifies that the creation of districts will lead to robust infrastructure development as a result of increased transfer of resources from central government, which will in turn attract private sector investment in the new districts and subsequently create job opportunities.

The problem with the assertions of the government spokesperson is that they lack a point of reference.  Maybe he, together with his government, must be under some bad spell or illusion—gaining political mileage—they are refusing to accept.

There are existing districts even within the 50 kilometre radius from city centres that barely meet basic education needs and still struggle with health needs of the people.

Lusaka, for example, which is a hub of the central government, holds all the hues of professional qualifications in the name of chief engineer so and so, chief planner so and so, and health expert so and so that are still underutilised.

The residential areas in Lusaka are poorly planned and hardly serviced with basic utilities. The roads are rutted with potholes, the drainage systems are blocked, the sewer-lines hardly function and every other rainy day all houses are flooded in a cesspool of garbage and human excreta.

Smart governments today know that a blotted civil service focused at nonessential staff, is not the best to invest in, especially in a rural area. So, the value of a block of offices constructed at K200 billion for government workers is useless to rural residents that grapple with malnutrition, unclean water sources, collapsed crop marketing structures and farm extension services that are inaccessible.

Government priorities must always focus at optimising resource allocation into development pointers that produce immediate results and innovative ways to stimulate private investment in rural areas if any tangible wealth and job creation is to be realised.

A private investor who wants to put up a tourism resort for bird watching and canoeing at Ncheta Island in the Bangweulu Wetlands wouldn’t mind to see government administrators at Samfya once in a blue moon. But what would kill his immediate inspiration to invest is the absence of reliable water and air transport, lack of good schools, absence of health facilities that can handle emergence cases, and a shorter distance where he can tap energy.

Suffice to say that there is no single district in this country that is adequately meeting these social services. Health infrastructure are mere shells and cannot offer even the basic of primary health care, schools grapple with delivering quality education and peasant farmers are without extension services. Worse still the conservation and management of the natural resources in this country is hopelessly bad.

Sports activities and other personal development programmes like women social clubs are poorly organised, while residential areas are dens of drugs and alcohol abuse and insecurity looms large. This is all in old and existing districts.

Therefore developmental problems of Zambia’s rural ilk do not lie in the absence of heads of departments. This country does not need financing the bureaucracy of unproductive positions—District Commissioner, District Agriculture Coordinator, District Medical Officer, District Intelligence officer and heads of blah…blah… blah!

The development priorities of the Patriotic Front government and its justification of creating districts must be causing sleepless nights among the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) experts away from their diplomatic corridors. This is because the Human Development Index has no district commissioners’ office as a measure of progress.

What Zambia needs today is not to create the bigger bureaucracy of rural district white collar jobs.

The country needs a motivated trained labour that will fold sleeves and do the hands-on work—show the hapless villagers the basic technology in water and sanitation, break the stones with them to pave their roads and mix the mulch and manure for a composite heap to produce market crops.

It also yearns for motivated paramedical personnel, teachers and social development workers, provided the right support to hold firm the hands of rural children and women and walk with them through that challenging path of primary health and education. Above all they need business scouts that will pave new exciting path of technology and entrepreneurship.

A visit to a single government office in a rural area reveals the dysfunction a typical district bureaucracy occupies in the strata of rural development.  It reveals government officers, who are more of ‘mortuary attendants’ watching over dead reports that indicate more failures than successes.

It reveals how busy the bureaucrats are organising gossip meetings with ruling party cadres and talking shop development coordinating committee meetings that hardly result into implementation.

Worse still, the major daily activities includes forging receipts to retire funding,  with barely a quarter of the allocations going into service delivery other than administrative consumption— expensive furniture, fuel and allowances to attend workshops in Lusaka, office tea, cookies and soft drinks, including all unnecessary expenditure.

Therefore cost efficiency of creating district office blocks fall far short when of the long term development that the Patriotic Front claims the exercise is intended to facilitate.

This is why it must be shocking to politicians like Charles Milupi to hear government spokesperson, Sakeni, justify government creation of districts.

There are districts, long created before this country’s independence 48 years ago, that cannot still deliver the development needs of the people.

Despite these old districts having a lot of potential for private investment, they have gone through boom and bust cycles with the vagaries of the market economy working against them.

Sadly, the district bureaucracy that has changed names of positions and programmes has done very little to address these developmental challenges, simply reminding us that the development Zambia needs is different from the same old way of doing things.

Therefore the K200 billion for infrastructure in new districts is another budgetary allocation completely put in a wrong place by government in an old way of doing things.

This kind of money can build nine good second level referral hospitals with all emergence equipment that would cut on the cost resulting from women dying in child birth due to obstetric complications and money spent on fuel to transport patients from one remote mission hospital over a pothole rutted 120 kilometres road to a provincial hospital.


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