Transparency International Zambia chapter president Rueben Lifuka says corruption is getting worse and the country can no longer pretend that all is well.

And Lifuka says Zambia has dropped by a point on the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) from 35 to 34 out of 100, saying it was the worst the country had ever performed.

Speaking at the launch of the CPI 2019, Lifuka said it was anticipated that corruption would be worse as Zambia heads into the election period.

“The corruption situation is getting worse and we can no longer pretend all is well. And there is no sector which has been spared in the election period we are going into. We anticipate that corruption will even become worse as various political players jostle for power. The absence of laws to regulate political party funding and election campaign financing is a serious constraint for this country. As you know, there is no limitation on political party financing. In fact, one of the political players was challenging Civil Society Organizations to indicate their sources of funding and publish who is paying them and our response is very simple and I want to reiterate that we have no problem providing audited accounts from the day we started. TIZ is clocking 20 years today, we can provide audited accounts for 20 years. Our challenge to political parties is that produce even one year audited accounts [but] not a single political party will give you audited accounts. As long as we do not regulate political party financing, we run a serious risk in his country,” Lifuka said.

“We need to understand that state capture doesn’t begin when a political party forms government, it begins when a political party is campaigning. They receive money from all sorts of players whom they promise all manner of favours. So political parties have a role to play to deal with this issue of political party financing. There is no cap in this country on electoral campaign financing; a person can give as much money as they wish to a political party but they often don’t give that money for free. It comes with conditions so we are challenging government, we need to put in place measures. Let’s strengthen the electoral process laws so that we can seal the loopholes. And we should admit that in the 29 years of multi-party democracy, we have allowed money in politics to be the main determinant in our democratic fate.”

He said there was need for leadership to emerge and not political rhetoric.

“Money in politics has become the main determinant, it’s not the voters anymore. It is money in politics. And the CPI score should be a source of concern for all of us, in particular those mandated to provide political leadership to the country. In the dark moments we are in at the moment in terms of corruption, leadership must emerge and not political rhetoric. We have heard a lot of political rhetoric [like] ‘give us evidence’ [of those engaged in corruption]. Well, numbers don’t lie. Here we are: our worst performance as a country as far as the CPI [is concerned] and we should not take pride in that as a country. It is a dent or a blight on our standing as a country. We need a new blueprint in the manner that we fight corruption. We should not be content with the limited results we have achieved. We often hear government saying they have passed law but laws in themselves do not change the corruption landscape but leadership. Strong political will [is what] will change the political landscape and will change the corruption that we are grappling with,” Lifuka said.

He said Zambia has so far dropped 17 places on the CPI since 2017 while the Seychelles earned the highest score in the sub-Sahara region.

“Zambia has dropped; we have lost one point. We were at 35 out of 100, we are down to 34 out of a hundred. Our ranking is 113, last year our ranking was 105 out of 180. So we have dropped significantly on the ranking and 8 places on the ranking. In the four years since 2016, Zambia has dropped four points on the CPI, the worst performance for the country since we started the CPI. In terms of ranking, Zambia has dropped 17 places on the CPI from 2017 when we were ranked 96 out of 180. Our performance is the worst ever. When we see these results, we were interested [to know] why are we are dropping. So nine sources of information were used in computing our CPI. The concern is what will 2020 look like? Should it be that we drop below 30? Because it has implications. You can look at any of the development documents and any of the business due diligence, they will make reference to the CPI if they are talking about corruption,”Lifuka said.

“With a score of 66, Seychelles earns the highest mark in the region followed by Botswana with 61, Cape Verde 58, Rwanda 53 and Mauritius with 52. At the bottom of the index are Somalia 9, South Sudan 12 and Equatorial Guinea with 16.”

He said to reduce corruption and restore trust in politics, there was need to reinforce checks and balances and promote separation of powers.

“[There is need to] control political financing to prevent excessive money and influence in politics. Tackle preferential treatment to ensure budgets and public services aren’t driven by personal connections or biased towards special interests. Regulate lobbying activities by promoting open and meaningful access to decision making,” said Lifuka

And Alliance for Community Action Information and Advocacy officer Jimmy Maliseni said CSOs needed to be accountable to their partners for them to properly keep government in check.

“It is very important for Civil Society Organisations to understand that holding government accountable begins by we ourselves being accountable to the people we serve and to the people whose resources we use. When we do that, then we would be able to hold government accountable. Corruption [fight] must begin with ourselves, the way we manage resources that are entrusted to us by partners also known as donors, by being transparent and accountable in the way we ourselves manage resources we are given…,” said Maliseni

Meanwhile, Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Zambia national director Austin Kayanda said the media needed the Access to Information Bill to fight corruption.

“The fight against corruption can only be won if we have the Access to Information Bill. We have an information gap…the media cannot do investigative journalism so that they can expose corrupt practices. Getting information is very difficult and it puts journalists in a very awkward position for them to do the story the way it is,” said Kayanda.