The PF administration under the leadership of President Edgar Lungu, reached the mid point of its five-year term in April 2019. In total, the Patriotic Front has been in power for 39 months out of a possible 60 months and this is a propitious time to take stock of what has been achieved or not achieved in the fight against corruption. The key questions we ask include- Has the PF successfully managed to contain and control corruption, particularly in the public sector? Has the government put in place sufficient measures and systems to mitigate the serious negative consequences of corruption on society?
As a starting point, we recognise that the PF in its 2016-2021 Party manifesto, candidly recognise and properly characterise corruption as a cancer that retards the social and economic development of a country by diverting the scarce national resources from intended areas of investment thereby leading to increased levels of poverty, social injustice, distortions in the cost of goods and services, poor quality education and health services, high levels of unemployment, reduced life expectancy, increased cost of doing business, as well as erosion of confidence by foreign investors and cooperating partners. With three years gone into its mandate, has the PF government done enough to change the landscape and build a corrupt free Zambia? Has the government done anything significant to unequivocally address the drivers of corruption in Zambia? Are we at a point in the life of our nation where we can confidently say we have a leadership which is determined to eradicate corruption from all sectors of society? Has the PF government demonstrated it has a clear vision of fighting corruption in all its forms?
It is with these lens that we assess the performance of the PF Government in 2019. From the outset, we want to categorically state that the year 2019 was an ordinary year and Government did not do anything significantly impactful or memorable to change the course of corruption in the many facets of society. This scourge continues to be the threads choking the tapestry of our democratic state. If anything, the reported incidents of corrupt behaviour particularly in the public sector, continues to increase. Various corruption measurements confirm the seriousness of the scourge and point to some urgency in the manner we should be responding to this growing cancer.
To put matters into context, the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index score for 2016 when this government took office, was 38 out of 100. This score dropped to 37 in 2017 and 35 out of 100 in 2018, and most likely, this downward trend will continue in the 2019 CPI score. Similarly, Zambia’s performance on the Millennium Challenge Corporation Scorecard for the “control of corruption” indicator, has been less than impressive. In 2016, the scorecard for Zambia on control of corruption was 87%, this dropped to 85% in 2017, 84% in 2018, 82% in 2019 and now 71% for FY2020. A review of the Ibrahim Index of African Governance for the period of 2016-2018 for Zambia, under Safety and Rule of Law, and specifically the indicators for Transparency and Accountability, is a cause for concern. Other relevant studies such as the 2018 Global Economic Crime and Fraud Survey confirm that Bribery and Corruption were cited as the most disruptive form of economic crime that respondents experienced. This survey pointed to other serious economic crimes of asset misappropriation, accounting fraud and procurement fraud. What is obvious and indisputable from all these indices and surveys is that we are definitely not in a good space insofar as our efforts to counter corruption is concerned and the prophesy made by the PF in its manifesto on the impact of corruption if not urgently addressed, will certainly come true.
2019 was resplendent with many exposes and stories of corruption scandals, some of which were allegedly committed by high profile Politically Exposed Persons. It is in this year that we had the story of the mysterious 51 houses which remains unresolved, the Forest 27 saga where government officials including Ministers are beneficiaries of land in an ecologically sensitive area and the recent revelations of the Mukula timber trade allegedly perpetrated by senior government leaders despite official bans on this form of trade. Additionally, one or two high profile individuals were arrested and charged with corruption. The Auditor General’s reports continue to make for sad reading pointing to problems of misapplication of public resources, abuse of office as well as reckless wastage of public resources through the procurement of unnecessary and exorbitant public goods and services. The Public Accounts Committee of Parliament continued to go through the ritual of holding public sittings and taking controlling officers to task although with no real sanctions taken against erring officers. In October 2019, Chief Government Spokesperson and Minister of Information and Broadcasting Services, Hon Dora Siliya indicated that President Lungu had (conceded) that there was a serious problem with the procurement system which is allowing inflated bids and thereby permitting “legal corruption’ through the normal tender procedures. Further, President Lungu himself, in September 2019, expressed concern and warned Ministers and senior party officials against abusing the 20 percent construction contract allocation meant for local companies.
Clearly, the corruption that this country is dealing with is not restricted to receipt of kickbacks or bribes only, it is the use of political patronage to award cadres from the ruling party public works contracts, even when some of these cadres lack the capacity to execute these contracts. Corruption is trading in influence where those who are politically connected can arrange access for their business partners to various government contracts and services without necessarily being subjected to competition. It is about collusion among some of the international companies, who have a lion’s shares of public works contract and it is about nepotism and state capture where the private sector are favoured on account that these companies provide unrestricted political funding to the ruling party. Corruption is about senior government officials including those involved in procurement processes, receiving cash in form of kickbacks or gifts which are not officially declared. Corruption is about conflict of interest where government officials including ministers running businesses do not declare these interests and utilise insider information to unfairly access government contracts.
There are many drivers for the state of corruption in Zambia and this includes the absence of consistent and strong leadership. President Lungu and his cabinet ministers, continued to send mixed signals on their seriousness in the fight against corruption. We witnessed unprecedented vacillation in positions – with the President in some public statements reiterating his commitment to intensify the fight against corruption in the country. Next, we were treated to statements not just from President Lungu but his Ministers which did not inspire confidence that this government was up to the task and had the political will to deal decisively with the scourge of corruption. For reasons which only government can explain, a narrative has been developed where the political leadership feel under siege by what they claim are false allegations of corruption and a culture of framing and branding of innocent people corrupt. While this maybe true in some instances, this narrative has come to provide a secure cover even for those who are involved in corruption and this will continue to make it difficult for the ACC to execute its mandate.
We have heard very unfortunate statements attributed to some Cabinet Ministers that the talk about fighting corruption has become “boring”. Clearly, the serious ramifications of corruption on the lives of ordinary Zambians, are completely lost on these Ministers who ironically are beneficiaries of public taxes contributed by the same suffering masses. President Lungu should not find comfort in this convenient narrative that he and his team have wittingly written for themselves.
The fight against corruption demands serious political leadership – one that is committed to go beyond the usual empty public statements about fighting corruption. No allegation should be unduly trivialised and no report including those from the Financial Intelligence Centre, should be rubbished as the case has been in the period under review. We also note with concern that this is an administration which missed an opportunity and made unjustified excuses for not subjecting the top echelons of the leadership to Lifestyle audits and yet such an exercise would have put to bed all manner of allegations against leaders whose lifestyles may not commensurate with any known past and present earnings. Such leaders would have been provided an opportunity to explain their wealth and where there are legitimate sources, the public outcry would have diminished. There was simply no political will to undertake Lifestyle audits and probably for fear of the potential outcomes. As Transparency International Zambia, we will continue to advocate for Lifestyle audits because there is every indication that some among our leaders are living beyond their known official earnings.
Going forward, we want to urge the PF government to recalibrate the fight against corruption. It is time to develop a new blueprint for fighting corruption- we need a new energy, new strategic directions and new insights and zeal. This blueprint goes beyond the National Anti Corruption Policy- it is a model of how to tackle the pervasive problem of corruption in different facets of society. This should be a plan that is not limited to legal sanctions but introduces moral imperatives in the fight against corruption. We should all admit that the current modus operandi has not yielded meaningful results and we should have the courage of our convictions as a people, to change this. It is a travesty for this country to continue to pour resources in a venture which is not yielding the necessary results and it is time to reorganise the whole fight against corruption, starting with a fair dose of serious and unflinching commitment from those who have the privilege to lead the people. We want to underscore the point that fighting corruption in a superficial manner and without any real commitment, is not only tragic but a great injustice to the people of this country and the victims of corruption themselves.