Friday, 20 February 2009

THE POISONED CHALICE

By Gershom Ndhlovu

 

Clearly, Bwacha Member of Parliament and former Minister of Lands, the Reverend Gladys Nyirongo, has drunk from the poisoned chalice that has been associated with the higher echelons of power in Zambia in the last 18 years of the MMD at the apex of governance.

Rev. Nyirongo’s case is even more interesting in that she started off as one of the four opposition members of parliament on the Heritage Party ticket in 2002 but quickly jumped onto the MMD gravy train and as they say in the local street language, “anachita ova” or overdid things when she was sent to the ministry of lands by dishing out land to kith and kin on transfer from the seemingly innocuous ministries of youth and sport and community development.

Zambians are at a juncture where people who have served in public office at one time or another, ranging from a former president, to defence and intelligence chiefs, ministers and senior servants are either serving jail sentences, or are appearing in court for corruption-related offences.

Without passing judgment on those whose cases are still in court and are yet to be concluded, this state of affairs in itself says a lot about our country, endowed with rich natural resources such as emeralds, copper, gold, cobalt, and equally rich agricultural land for both arable and pastoral farming and great tourism potential, and yet the majority of the citizens live in abject poverty.

There are already stories of people in power and those linked to them who are allegedly involved in shady deals such as the importation of genetically modified organisms (GMO) maize, the partial privatisation of Zamtel, procurement of radar equipment for the National Airports Corporation the importation of petroleum products and other dodgy businesses all bordering on abuse of public resources.

Surely, this coming at the heels of cases of senior government officials of a previous administration—and others still serving—smacks of unimaginable impunity and brings to the fore the old saying about power corrupting and absolute power corrupting absolutely.

A precedent has been set where leaders from one administration have been prosecuted by new leaders even from the same party upon change of guard. I can only imagine what would happen if there was a whole change of parties at the helm and how many people would be appearing in court.

My fear is that the Rev. Nyirongo case and the few others who have held high positions and have been caught is just a very small tip of a very big iceberg on which the development of Zambia has been derailed with everyone trying to milk it for as long as it lasts and lasting it has.

It is doubtful how effective the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) and its twin sister, the Drug Enforcement Commission (DEC) have been in dealing with cases of corruption and related vices, most of the time in the face of glaring but disturbing reports from the Auditor General’s Office of how billions of kwacha are salted away year in and year out. What evidence do they require when it is all there and backed by Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee which in my view has done quite well under the chairmanship of independent Member of Parliament Charles Milupi?

We all know the limitations of the Task Force on corruption which was specifically formed to deal with plunder of national resources under the Chiluba regime and I would grudgingly say it has scored some successes which the two established anti-vice organisations have failed to score.

By 2011, the MMD will have been in power for 20 years, but the damage that has been done to the national resources is far more than the damage under UNIP’s 27 years in power. Levels of poverty and hopelessness in the nation are higher than they ever were at the height of UNIP in power.

Under UNIP, an occasional parastatal chief would be arrested for corruption and related offences, but it was unheard of for ministers and permanent secretaries, let alone Zambia Airforce and Zambia National Service commanders, to be sent to jail. May be it is because there was strict adherence to the General Orders and Financial Regulations, two documents which new civil servants had to acquaint themselves with but was done away with under the know-it-all Chiluba administration.

Is it any coincidence then that the former head of state, Frederick Chiluba himself is regularly in court to answer criminal charges? President Rupiah Banda has chance to learn from those who have come before him.

….

It is my sincere hope that I have misunderstood—yes, misunderstood—Vice President George Kunda on the introduction of food vouchers meant for peri-urban areas being piloted in some Lusaka townships.

One would only hope that this food voucher scheme being implemented in partnership with the World Food Programme (WFP) in response to increased food insecurity, would be significantly different to the mealie meal coupons introduced by the UNIP government circa 1988.

We all remember how the vulnerable who were supposed to be beneficiaries of the cheap and in some cases, free mealie meal, depending on the coupons a family was entitled to, were denied access to the commodity which had fallen to the control of corrupt party and government functionaries. Mealie meal ended up going to the highest bidder and most of it found its way to the black market where it in turn fetched extortionate prices.

This can also be likened to bursaries at universities and colleges from which students from poor families have been marginalized while those from families that can afford the tuition fees many times over are the ones who have been benefiting because their fathers, mothers, uncles and other connections are in control.

For exercises like these to meet their objectives of helping the vulnerable, there is need to involve established churches such as the Catholic, UCZ, RCZ, the SDA and Salvation Army which have a truly grassroots presence and know who deserves help and who doesn’t and are not led by fly-by-night pastors who are hell-bent on enriching themselves.

3 comments:

MrK said...

Hi Gershom,

Without passing judgment on those whose cases are still in court and are yet to be concluded, this state of affairs in itself says a lot about our country, endowed with rich natural resources such as emeralds, copper, gold, cobalt, and equally rich agricultural land for both arable and pastoral farming and great tourism potential, and yet the majority of the citizens live in abject poverty.

The problem is that the real power, money, is not kept in the country.

As a result, the politicians act as what they are - placeholders for western interests. They know they are not there to develop the country, but to implement policies coming down from the IMF, and the real power in the country, the mines.

That is why they bend over backwards not to tax the mines, and basically tell the electorate -tough luck, while they keep PAYE personal income taxes as high ever.

It is clear that they are representing western interests, so why not make the most of it and give scraps to themselves and their relatives?

All the money that is fleeing the country should be put in agriculture, infrastructure and manufacturing, and yet we have the Finance Minister going out of his way to describe the windfall tax as 'onerous', as if he is the personal representative in the cabinet of the mining companies.

They are there to oversee the plunder of Zambia's resources, as we are seeing with the Dora Siliya saga and other examples of 'privatisation' of state resources, like the Development Agreements.

francis said...

Gershom,let us see what will come out of the so called " Dora-membe" tribunal.One would deduce from the speedy amendement of the Tender Act done in december and then Siliya goes in full force to externalise $2m, something fishy indeed.Ncekelako at its highest.Was the repeal done at night or in the house with every one absent???

Kadansa said...

Gershom

The corruption that permeates our politics is as a result of the current political system that we have. No matter how many riders we change, if the horse is still the same, we can expect the same results. As Zambians, we need to wake up from our slumber and say "enough is enough". Our pedestrian approach to these scandals is a disgrace.

In any other functioning domcratic country, RB would have been forced to step down due to these scandals. People of Zambia, the MMD must go!!!!