Monday, 25 February 2013

Plunder Under National Interest Guise



By Nyalubinge Ngwende

The Patriotic Front seems to read from a very queer book of organizing as a political party and, consequently, it is managing to use legitimate means to achieve wrong ends that strengthen its partisan interests.


The PF is using public finances for its party functions. But worse to this truth is that all this is happening under a guise that Zambians cannot unravel as political corruption masquerading as national interest.


This is because President Michael Sata and his friends crafted a PF manifesto over 10 years of being in opposition on wrong fundamentals of patriotism. The manifesto created wrong impressions that Zambia could only develop if it is run by the patriots of the PF. To this effect, it enshrined in its manifesto a clause that says that all positions of decision making in government—the civil service, commissions, authorities and commercial ventures—would be a preserve for party patriots.


It is difficult to tell whether Zambians who went to vote for the PF on September 20, 2011 elections fully understood the implications of provisions in the then opposition party’s manifesto. 
Thanks to the party’s leadership that worked so well to make Zambian voters believe that the country was in crisis and the PF and its manifesto was the panacea. In the run up to September 20 elections, sloganeering turned Zambians into true believers, rather than informed electorates who could make alternative and substantive arguments about the beliefs outlined in the campaign promises of the PF. 

To those true believers, regardless of their political awareness and knowledge on what constitutes good governance, the manifesto is mantra, legitimatizing even the most awkward of policies and decisions. 

The implications of the PF manifesto are now manifesting in a way that has given the PF unbridled access to the country’s finances which it is systematically using to run the party’s errands guised as government functions.

For example after taking over Zamtel, Zambia’s fixed telecommunication carrier, from a private entity, the PF appointed a management board that included PF cadres Wynter Kabimba and Willie Nsanda among others.

The risks of taking back this company to poor management abound, but that is not a concern to the PF.

Despite Willie Nsanda having no comparable formal education to qualify to sit on boards that require admirable credentials, his presence in corporate boards did not end at Zamtel. President Sata rewarded him with the chairmanship at the Road Development Agency (RDA). 

When one raises questions about Nsanda and those of many others rewarded with senior government positions they hardly qualify for, like a school leaver who is now Muchinga province deputy permanent secretary, and a chain of district commissioners, the true believers who are educated and must make informed meaning of these wrongs, prove to be gullible.  They say PF is governing according to its manifesto which Zambians accepted by voting for the party and its President, Sata.

But there are some hidden things that might never be known and posterity may realize too late as political crimes.

Plunder of national resources to finance the activities of the ruling party and repay those who financed and worked for it is taking a new dimension. 
 
It all boils down to the absence of laws on how political parties must finance its activities. Zambians hardly discuss the topic of party financing, but the issue is now haunting the country with alarming levels.

The Patriotic Front parliamentary candidates financed their election campaigns, while the other money came from business owners like the now Finance minister, Alexander Chikwanda, who is also uncle to Sata.

Those who heavily contributed financially to the party today make up the 22 member PF cabinet. Then those who gave their time and hard work landed jobs as deputy ministers, permanent secretaries, members of various government boards and as district commissioners. Today each ministry has two deputy ministers, meaning almost all of the 66 PF MPs, hold ministerial portfolios.

Yes, the President has a right to appoint the people he needs to work with.

But the problem is that some of these appointments are mere tokenism; the appointees cannot add quality to the country. They are being rewarded as cadres, and they completely lack any scruples to separate government functions from political party activities.

We watch in shock on ZNBC TV how Willie Nsanda on a purported RDA programme, inspecting roads in Kabwe, and lambasting contractors at the site at one point. On the next turn, in a convoy of RDA fleet, going on a sloganeering campaign receiving defectors and calling voters to retain President Sata in 2016. 
 
Wynter Kabimba recently travelled to Havana, Cuba, and there is nothing in the meetings he held that discussed Zambia’s justice system as within the accepted democratic governance norms in this country. Instead, Kabimba went to seek PF interests of trying to give Zambia a communist party system that would in the end kill the free political competition. The question is: who financed Kabimba’s trip to Havana and was his business our national interest in political diversity?

The problem is not with Nsanda or Kabimba alone. District Commissioners openly declare that they are there to ensure the extirpation and eradication of the opposition MMD and UPND in districts where PF is yet to make inroads. Therefore a big chunk of their government paid time and resources are being used for PF functions.

President Sata governs as he pleases, putting scorn on all constitutional limitations imposed on his office. He is using government funds and assets as bounty to promote coquetry of political prostitution; appointing as many deputy ministers as his whim directs him from among opposition MPs, using them as renegades to destroy their political parties. Zambia now has ministries with three ceremonial deputy ministers whose functions do not even add any value to running of government, other than increasing unnecessary costs at the expense of service delivery.

It is easy for the President to find money to buy a brand new VIP Landcruiser for a deputy minister than buy an ambulance for a rural health centre that grapples with monthly maternal mortality rates in double digits. He also finds money for by-elections caused by the renegade opposition MPs that are readily adopted by PF. 
  
Following his appointment as deputy minister of lands in the PF government, MMD Kabompo East MP Danny Chingimbu travelled to Kabompo, purporting he was going to spearhead tree planting activities.

Instead, reports on the ground showed that he was consulting with the electorates whether they would support his defection to PF. 

Upon his exit from Kabompo, 10 councillors resigned from the MMD and UPND causing by-elections. The ruling party adopted the same defectors as its candidates.  This followed dark corner meetings, for purely political coquetry, that Chingimbu held in Kabompo during a government financed tour.

Youth and Sport deputy minister, Stephen Masumba, was local government deputy minister poached from MMD. He left the MMD after similar activities on government expenses in Mufumbwe and PF readily sponsored his re-election at a huge cost.

Now the opposition UPND Itezhi-tezhi MP Greyford Monde has been recruited in the Sata’s political coquetry, given a government vehicle, fuel and public funds to campaign for PF in the Southern Province.

Political parties must become more alert, the civil society need to open its eyes and stop this systematic theft of public resources that has continued to pass as legitimate privileges for those in the ruling party or serving in it through betrayal.

Those NGOs that claim to be activists against abuse of public resources must see through these appointments of tokenism and Judas-style and condemn them as corruption.

But the problem is the Zambian civil society knows better acting as firefighter after fire has destroyed all the trees in the forest. Only the Catholic Bishops have so far spoken with authority about the wrongs of the PF, but groups such as the Transparency International Zambia are busy championing the removal of former President Rupiah Banda’s immunity so that he could be prosecuted for alleged plunder. They are oblivious to the active actions of government that clearly border on abuse.

Transparency Levels

With the goings on in the country, I think the election of the Patriotic Front and ascendency to presidency by Sata was necessary for one thing: to serve as a lesson to all those with the ability to make better judgment that this country needs more than just true believers in political leaders who create false crisis and over simplifies national problems and solutions. 

Zambia needs more than a myth like the PATRIOTIC FRONT to deliver it from bad politics that give no scruples to abuse of scarce national resources.

Its people and civil society groups must start seeking new programmes that monitor the activities of government officials. In England, a government official was made to resign from his position when they discovered he had carried on his official entourage abroad a personal confidant who was not entitled to travel on government expense.

Levels of transparency must surely be adjusted; members of the civil society must closely follow the activities on which these ministers, commissioners and board members are using their paid government time. 

There are ministers who have carried concubines from the party ranks, dining and wining with them at a huge cost using government Imprest, while there are government departments that struggle to have operational tools to execute services.

It will be useless for the civil society to come out and become vocal about the plunder by sitting presidents and call for removal of immunity after they have left government and all the misappropriation is committed.

It is failure of duty for civil society to remain silent or not take record of how ministers, chairmen of government boards, permanent secretaries and district commissioners spend funds from the national budget. Money is being used purely for political campaigns.

The auditor general, too, must take interest. Government vehicles are breaking down and being serviced or replaced at a huge cost. When will vehicle log books become accountable-documents that should at the end of each quarter be audited?

Civil society must also produce independent reports about the activities of ministers, permanent secretaries, district commissioners and chairmen of government boards.

There are also contracts awarded without any tenders being advertised. These contracts are being offered to PF cadres who have formed front companies. Permanent secretaries are receiving threats from PF secretary general when they refuse to offer contracts to cadres. These acts border on nepotism, one of the offences under the anti corruption Act, but no single civil society wants this mode of graft to end. It is political crime that has made the political play ground uneven, but our electoral system starts and ends during elections, forgetting all the other events that culminate to the polls.

Zambia is a nation that has been hijacked by politics that masquerade as development, and political parties in power have no scruples to stop the same wrong things they criticized in their predecessors.

This country is old enough and it has citizens that are better informed not to know this. But it has allowed leaders in government to carryon doing unacceptable things that tilt elections in their favour and choosing to do nothing about the problem.

Now everyone, including people who not agree with government way of doing things, end up financing the wrong and unfair practices of a ruling party through taxes they pay as employees or business entities. Donor project funds as well as opposition political parties, through various statutory fees to the registrar of society, also pay for these illegalities. 
  
This is not normal and it must be stopped. As a country, tax payers must know what is happening to their every ngwee that is disbursed to government. Tax money is not meant to bribe voters or used to appease ruling party cadres. Each Kwacha spent must go towards reducing poverty.