Council of Churches in Zambia (CCZ) general secretary Emmanuel Chikoya says it is regrettable that some Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) have been bought off buy the powers that be and cannot speak out on the injustices going on in Zambia.
And Alliance for Community Action (ACA) executive director Laura Miti says although corruption is not new in Zambia, the levels at which the vice has reached is unique to the Patriotic Front government in which culprits were boastfully flaunting their ill-begotten wealth with impunity.
Speaking when the two featured on Lusaka’s Hot FM radio to discuss “The accountability crisis in Zambia”, Fr Chikoya observed that some pressure groups had been silenced while others had resolved to speak with one voice in an impactful manner.
“The various reasons why we have decided to work with other CSOs is because there was lack of cohesion. For some, they are compromised, for some they are makeshift entities that are meant to speak the masters voice. For the other entities I think it’s the question of trying the survival of the fittest and being ritualistic in approach to issues. So the reason like I have already said is that others have been bought off, others are too scared, too timid and also that tendency to want to work in isolation because we compete for resources, you always want to do better than the other,” Fr Chikoya observed.
“But what we have done now clearly shows that when there’s power in unity, there’s power in numbers. So we are basically just reviving what has happened before that we need to work together. People are differently equipped and capacitated. So when we bring all these resources together we will, and we should be able to have a bigger impact. So basically that’s the whole purpose of our coming together as CSOs.”
He said speaking for the voiceless was not a profit making business.
“You know it’s not about what we get it’s about how we serve the people of Zambia. It’s about that woman in Shang’ombo, that man in the remote parts of Zambia and so if we begin to just think about self reservation we are going to get undone and the people at the end of the day will have problems,” said Fr Chikoya.
And Miti said the corruption in Zambia had reached unprecedented levels.
“I don’t think corruption is new. I think the levels we have reached are certainly unique to this particular government. We have a situation in which people are willing to display unbelievable wealth and it’s wealth that is inexplicable. When you look at their day to day jobs and their salaries, there is no way they would be able to acquire this kind of wealth. Unless there’s miracle money, unless there is a pastor producing miracle money in State House, and President Lungu distributes it to those close to him, there has to be an explanation as to where this money is coming from,” Miti said.
“What Zambians need to understand is that there’s a lot wastage that never finds its way into the Auditor Generals report because it’s ‘legal’ waste. So for example if the President chooses to go for an eight day trip when he could make it three days, that will not appear in the Auditor Generals report. If people are undertaking trips that they do not need to, if people are holding bloated workshops in expensive areas and overpricing, that also may not be picked up. So we have two problems, we have the problem of straight out corruption, then we have a problem of mismanagement or redirection of resources. And then there’s just poor prioritisation. In a situation where you have such absence of transparency, we have come to a point where we just do not trust this government because we do not know what kind of resources are directed to capital projects. The issue of prioritisation in this country is really weak. The major issues that affect the poor, water, education, health, never seem to come on the priority list.”
Asked if she was confident that the Cabinet inquiry into the New York dossier would produce positive results, Miti recalled that other inquiries had been announced in the past, but they died out.
“I do not trust this government I must say but I do hope that it’s not the case again like has happened with the US$42 (fire tenders). We are told that matters will be investigated in order to silence us. It has become a strategy so we do hope that that delegation list for example, that included really strange people should be investigated. But when will it be investigated, when will we be told, how will we be told? Like I’m saying government relies on our very short memory or simply by overwhelming us. So we are saying to the general public, this cannot be left only to civil society, wherever you find yourself, stand up and ask the questions,” she demanded.
“Like civil society has said, show us the proper bank statement. The presidential spokesperson makes a habit of making statements without, in any way, giving us the verification which is in his power to do. We have this information, until government proves to us that this is not true, we are going with that information. With government it is so easy, all they have to do is publish the information that is actually true, up to this point they have not.”
Miti lamented that public resources were not being translated into service delivery for the people.
“The biggest crisis that is facing us as a country is actually the one about accountability. The fact that public resources are not translating into services for the people. In that situation it means that an ordinary Zambian is suffering. And on a day to day basis we are feeling the pain. We have had various crises in our country since independence but this particular one is one that should not be ignored and cannot be ignored because even if us citizens chose to look away, we choose to be quiet, we are the ones that are paying the price,” she said.
“So it’s equivalent to someone holding a cigarette butt to your head or pinching you and you are quiet. So those that are feeling the pain of this accountability crisis should be the ones to speak up. So I agree that we need citizens wherever we are to be heard by those in power and to say to them ‘this can not go on’. You might start wondering exactly where we would end up as a country if the kind of expenditure pattern we are seeing continues and the kind of wastage we are seeing continues. Anybody who lives in this country has seen the kind of poverty levels that we have, the hours and hours that ordinary citizens spend fetching water.”
Miti expressed frustration at the tendency by President Edgar Lungu of ignoring public concern.
“One thing that we said even in that press briefing (for CSOs) is that the government of Zambia and those that hold power are very certain of one thing which is that Zambians have short memories and they are also very sure that our storms never last. All those issues that we raised are still very much alive because we have had no response. And one thing that is really worrying us as civil society is the ability of this government especially and of the President to ignore questions asked, to ignore any unhappiness expressed by the general public,” observed Miti.
“Those in government know that issues fall away; they then go on and seem to create a new scandal everyday. In the last couple of days we have heard that for example, a decision has been made that all vehicle number plates will be produced by one company. Even that is about public resources. Why, what’s the thinking behind that, what happens to the manufacturers of number plates that have done this over the last few years? So it’s a case of drip drip drip, waking up every morning to another scandal.”