Friday, 24 October 2008


By Gershom Ndhlovu

In December 2001 when I was a senior journalist at the Zambia Daily Mail, like many others assigned to various parts of the country, I was assigned to Kitwe where I beefed up the local staff, to cover the presidential and parliamentary elections there.
In the morning of the December 28, the day of elections, I covered the northern and eastern part of the city while one of my colleagues who was then Kitwe-based, covered the south and western parts of the city. My coverage took me as far as Race Course in Chimwemwe Constituency and Bulangililo in Kwacha Constituency. At a polling station in Race Course I met a former State House senior private secretary who had been fired by President Chiluba but was driving a ministerial Volvo which was somewhat strange. He did not say what exactly he was doing there.
At the polling station at Bulangililo Community Centre, a place I know very well having had grown up in nearby Kwacha myself, I met a former Kitwe Boys’ Secondary School classmate I had not seen for donkey years who whispered to me that some ballot papers meant for Livingstone had been found at that polling centre.
The centre’s returning officer explained to me that it was probably a mistake that those ballot books could find themselves at a polling centre in Bulangililo. I mentioned that fact in passing in my story which was the lead the following day.
I forgot about that little fact and had no reason to refer to it until now when a government driver was recently caught trying to smuggle ballot books from the warehouse at Lusaka International Airport in full view of, strangely, Electoral Commission of Zambia officials, to somewhere in Kalabo or whatever place it might have been where he wanted to take them. Stranger still is the fact that the commission over printed ballot papers by over 600,000 of the registered voters.
During the 2001 elections, the turnout in Kitwe was massive such that by 22.00 hours people were still queuing to cast their ballots I was sure it was because people badly wanted to get rid of the MMD government then. It was not surprising why the following evening there was a convoy of vehicles “celebrating” UPND’s Anderson Mazoka’s victory with the “kuyumayuma” chorus.
Obviously, people may not remember the truck carrying ballot papers to North-western Province that was gutted somewhere in Chisamba. It could have been an accident then, but again it could have been a ruse to rig elections by someone in the know who wanted to get rid of traceable ballot books.
Mazoka’s victory was not to be. Two days later, people in Luapula were still voting and the tide badly turned against Andy. Results started coming from other rural areas and the rest, as they say, is history. MMD candidate Levy Mwanawasa was sworn in as president almost seven days later, on January 2, 2002.
For the elections of almost five years later, in 2006, I was no longer in the mainstream media to cover them, but I keenly followed the proceedings such that I got the results as they were being announced at the central counting station in real time even as I was not there thanks to my journalist friends who spent sleepless nights at Mulungushi International Conference Centre.
At that time, PF’s Michael Sata was leading very, very comfortably at least from the results in urban areas, at least until those from rural areas started coming in.
All this was before the forthcoming presidential by-election. Thanks to the discovery of the “government” driver from Kalabo who was caught trying to smuggle ballot papers from the Electoral Commission of Zambia warehouse at the Lusaka International Airport warehouse which were yet to be verified.
The question to ask ourselves as a nation is, how many unverified ballot boxes have been smuggled out of the Electoral Commission of Zambia custody in the 2001 and 2006 elections in a practice that was yet unknown until driver Zaza came along a few days ago?
Was it accidental that Livingstone ballot books were found at a Kitwe polling station in the 2001 elections, or was it a well orchestrated exercise which was meant to steal votes in favour of the MMD even when the nation clearly wanted change particularly in 2001 and 2006?
Can the same tricks be employed in this by-election or is it that the citizens have become vigilant monitoring the illegal movement of ballot boxes?
Can someone monitor Zambia Airforce (ZAF) that ferry ballot boxes from outlying polling stations in rural areas? Zambia could avoid falling into the Kenyan curse the world witnessed at the beginning of this year.
“Dr Puma also said the issue of salary increments for constitutional office holders had been exaggerated by people with little information on the matter.He said the tax threshold for people in high-income brackets was 40 per cent and that if for example one got K20 million, K8 million would be removed from their salaries.He said what was being proposed was nothing to write home about compared to what chief executives of some companies got.”
The above quote comes from a Post story of 14 October 2008 made by former Resident Doctors Association official Felix Lwipa Puma now deputy minister of health.
This coming from a government minister, does it mean that the issue of salary increments for constitutional office holders is not dead, come November 1?
I have that sneaky feeling that the MMD government will bring back this issue if and when Rupiah Banda is elected president of Zambia.
If Dr Puma and his ilk want to compare what they yearn to earn with what obtains in the private sector, they should also be prepared to pay junior civil servants what the private sector pays its workers.
All the unions, but particularly those representing government workers, need to be alert to stop this greedy lot from giving themselves salaries, allowances and other fringe benefits worth more than K35 million per month when other workers go home with less than K15million per year.

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