Don’t threaten whistleblowers, give us clear, tangible roadmap for wiping out corruption

President Edgar Lungu’s pronouncements made during the swearing in of the ACC Commissioners cannot go without comment and as Transparency International Zambia, we wish to make a couple of responses to what was said:

While we agree with President Lungu that corruption, whenever it rears its ugly head, should be nipped in the bud, we want to underscore that the PF administration should go beyond mere pronouncements about the fight against corruption. The results of any meaningful fight against corruption are self-evident and people do not have to believe propaganda to attest to this- but the quality of their lives will improve, public procurement will be free of corruption and generally the number of cases of impropriety will drastically reduce. Government should move from this rhetorical approach and put in place strategies to ensure that we reverse the corruption trends in this country. The undeniable truth which we cannot run away as a people is that we have a huge problem of corruption in this country. In fact there are various forms of corruption and it will be amiss of the President and his administration to reduce the debate and concerns to allegations of corruption made against himself and his ministers. 

Corruption in this country has become pervasive and it affects all sectors of society. Ordinary people are made to pay bribes to get social services like education and health, among others. Public servants like Police Officers have been caught by Government Ministers soliciting bribes from motorists; files have gone missing in government offices only to be seen when bribes are paid. Some people have stayed long in police detention because of corrupt dealings of unscrupulous court officials. Similarly, nepotism and patronage continue to thrive in this country with relatives and friends of those in the corridors of power, accessing employment and public contracts at the expense of several other eminently qualified Zambians. President Lungu himself is on record lamenting how some of his Ministers were receiving huge deposits in their bank accounts from unknown earnings. The President at that stage had no evidence of corruption but he was raising concern about possible criminal activities that some of his ministers may have been engaged in. State capture is real- in a country where there is high unemployment and poverty, and high competition for public works; and where we have an absence of laws to regulate political party financing, state capture thrives and some private entities will do all that they can to access public contracts, even it means providing funding to the ruling political party or public officers with decision-making powers. We have to stop being in denial that corruption in this country is real and it is hurting the lives of the ordinary people. We need not look through the microscope to see that the quality of life of Zambians is at its lowest, and probably sinking even further. Government’s own statistics show that poverty levels stand at 61.4% (national average); unemployment rates for young people are excessively high: 12–19 years (41.7%), 20–24 years (36.1%), 25–29 years (17.9%) and 30–34 years (8.7%).

The Auditor General’s Reports frequently point to inimical activities of public officers in the manner that they handle funds and properties of the state. Most of the revelations made by the Auditor General are possible ingredients to some form of wrong doing and this is the basis for further investigations by law enforcement agencies. Additionally, President Lungu and his cabinet are surely fully alive to many questionable transactions that give room for concern – for instance, the acquisition of 42 fire tenders, the Social Cash transfer saga, and the allegations of impropriety in the management of donor funds in the Ministry of Education etc. Interestingly, even as late as last week, Government terminated work contracts of some public servants on many grounds including allegations of corruption. Some of these public servants have been fired even before their cases have been heard in the courts of law. 

As Transparency International Zambia, we do not condone false allegations of corruption against any person or institution but we also condemn any attempts to create an atmosphere of fear of reprisals among those who genuinely witness situations of corruption. Whistleblowing is not an easy act and those that courageously come forward to bring tips and information of possible wrong doing, should not be made to carry the full burden of proving their cases. That is why we have investigative agencies to do that- and these agencies in a number of cases, depend on the active participation of the public. Time and time again, we hear law enforcement agencies calling on the public who may have vital pieces of information on a particular case to come forward. In this new dispensation, it would seem members of the public should only come forward when they have the full evidence of wrong doing of public officials.  In fact the veiled threats made by President Lungu will have the chilling effect of scaring away whistleblowers who will shy away from bringing vital information to relevant law enforcement agencies. Already we have a very weak culture of whistleblowing in this country and that is why we see Ministers and public servants only speaking out when they have left office. Again we reiterate that we do not support whistleblowers who maliciously make allegations of corruption but we also find it unacceptable to implicitly create a perception that most whistleblowing is about “framing and painting government black”. 

Zambia has only itself to blame for allowing corruption to take root in the manner that it has done. International and local studies, some of them conducted by Government itself, indicate that corruption is a major source of concern. In the 7th National Development Plan, the PF government acknowledges that the fight against corruption in all its forms is key to promoting good governance and integrity; and a commitment is made to work towards attaining a corruption-free society. Zambia continues to be on a free fall on the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index and this should be of primary concern to government. What we expect from President Lungu are not just threats against those alleging corruption, but a clear tangible and time-bound strategy of cleaning up the public service of corruption. President Lungu should be setting targets for all his Ministers and Permanent Secretaries to do all that they can to address corruption in their respective ministries. President Lungu should be making a commitment to Zambians that in the shortest possible period, corruption in public procurement will be a thing of the past. President Lungu should be demonstrating how his government will strengthen the ACC, Office of the Auditor General, Office of the Public Protector, Financial Intelligence Centre, Drug Enforcement Commission, etc. President Lungu should be telling us when he will appoint a substantive Auditor General. 

Fighting corruption requires strong leadership and commitment and we will be making a big mistake to imagine that we will clean up our country of corruption merely by gagging people from expressing their concerns. It is also an insult to the international community to insinuate that they arrive at conclusions on the state of corruption in Zambia merely by reading social media postings and listening to bar room chats. The international community has various means of conducting their due diligence and the onus is not on them to prove that we are doing all that is necessary to fight corruption- the ball is firmly in our court as Zambians, and President Lungu and his team should not abdicate their role to provide leadership at this crucial period in the life of the nation. 

(The author is TIZ president)




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