THE United Party for National Development (UPND) says the PF is working hard to buy off councillors in rural areas because it knows that it has lost the urban population due to the economic meltdown.

In a statement, Wednesday, UPND chairman for the finance and economics committee Situmbeko Musokotwane observed that the PF was trying to hoodwink people that its popularity was growing.

“In 2016 PF failed to win any parliamentary seats in Western, Southern and North-Western provinces. In addition, they lost all or most of the rural constituencies in Lusaka, Copperbelt and the southern parts of Central Province. These are the areas the PF are now working hard to entice councillors to resign. The PF are aware that their fortunes in the Provinces where they did well in 2016 have declined sharply since then because of the harsh economic environment that has occurred all around the country. The urban areas, which were the PF strongholds, have not been spared from the economic meltdown. And, of course, PF knows very well that urban voters shift political alignments swiftly. PF can no longer with certainty depend on urban voters to be their strong supporters. This is why they are now trying hard to gain political mileage in the rural provinces that rejected them in 2016. The frequent by-elections in rural areas are a tool to further this goal,” Musokotwane stated.

Musokotwane gave an illustration of how induced by-elections were draining the national treasury.

“By-elections are costly. On average, the Electoral Commission of Zambia will spend about K2 million per ward by-election. This does not include the funds that the political parties spend for the purposes of campaigning. Yet the PF and their government find it fit to go around the country inciting poor councillors to resign from their positions to create by-lections that are costly. Here is what is disturbing and puzzling about these by-elections. The dire financial state that Zambia finds herself in is now clear to everyone. Even before the coronavirus came on the scene, the country was already struggling. Many public projects like schools and roads have been abandoned in the middle of works due to lack of funds. Emoluments for some public sector employees can’t be paid. The Constituency Development Fund, a very useful resource for financing development projects in remote local areas has been released no more than three times since the PF came to power in 2011 even though the provisions for it have appeared each year in the national budget. But money for deliberately created by-elections is always available!” Musokotwane stated.

“Let’s now relate this to the district councils themselves where the councillors belong. The national budget has provisions for the central Treasury to provide ‘Equalisation Funds’ to councils to finance local development projects like infrastructure. This funding is in months of arrears. Further, salaries of both local council staff and the councillors themselves have not been paid in the last five months because there has been no usual support from the central Treasury. But the government finds it desirable to create unnecessary by-elections, make sure there is money for them and also therefore, make sure that there is no money to pay salaries for councillors and council staff! Why are deliberately caused by-elections considered a higher priority to paying the salaries of councillors and council staff?”

Muskotwane said inducing by-elections was an indication that the PF lacked proper priorities.

“These unnecessary by-elections can be ended at the stroke of the pen by the government itself if it wished. This would go a long way in saving resources for the country which are needed for more serious priorities especially now when COVID-19 has added to the economic problems of the country. It is no secret that most of Zambia’s activities to respond to the covid19 pandemic are funded by donors, most of who are hit more than us by the same COVID-19. Despite their own woes, they have sacrificed their resources to assist us while our own money is being employed for trivial priorities like deliberately created and endless by-elections. By-elections that encourage people to gather together contrary to the instructions from the same government as it fights covid19. Surely it is better to do the correct things before we are lectured by donors on how to use our money prudently,” Musokotwane stated.

He stated that the Patriotic Front (PF) had caused an unprecedented number of by-elections, especially at local government level from the time it assumed office in 2011.

“There has never been any time in the history of the country when so many by-elections have been held. Very recently, PF teams have been busy in the Western, Southern and North Western Provinces enticing councillors to resign. Some have indeed resigned, meaning that more by-elections are on the way. Some resigned but soon reversed their decisions while others have angrily rejected appeals to make them resign. Councillors resign because of promises of rewards extended to them in exchange for resigning. Typically, there is a lump some cash offer to compensate the councillor for the loss of salary from that point up to the time when councils are dissolved ahead of the next general election. In addition, there is the promise to be employed in some of the public services like the Police or in the teaching service. The councillor targeted to resign will be told that there is no guaranteed future in politics because there is no assurance of being adopted to be a candidate or to be successful at all in the election. Instead, a job in the public service secures one’s future career wise,” stated Musokotwane.

“In this era of high unemployment, the promise of a permanent job for a councillor can be very tempting. This is more so that the majority of councillors are young people, many of whom would have completed their secondary schools within the last five years and thereafter had no opportunity for further training or being employed. But even with these tempting promises from the PF, however, the majority of councillors have stood their ground and have rejected the offers. These are the unsung heroes of our democracy.”