A LEADER with the will to fight corruption should grow or strengthen these institutions, not undermine them, says University of Zambia lecturer Dr Sishuwa Sishuwa.

And Dr Sishuwa says transformative leaders holding public office should demonstrate competence to resolve the health challenge at hand instead of worsening it in times of disruptions.

Speaking at the virtual Levy Mwanawasa public lecture, Friday, Dr Sishuwa said corruption undermined good governance.

“Corruption also undermines good governance, especially when you have a leader who undermines watchdog institutions or investigative wings of the state like the Anti-Corruption Commission. A leader with the will to fight corruption should grow or strengthen these institutions, not undermine them. There are two ways this can be achieved. One is by developing a much more open and transparent process of appointing the leadership of these institutions. Vetting should be encouraged so that the public can have a direct say in the appointment of, say, judges or heads of the ACC. It is not simply about the legal qualifications. It is also about the integrity and moral wealth of character,” he said.

“How do you have a corruption-accused magistrate presiding over the case of the accuser and both the magistrate and the head of the judiciary in Zambia do not see this as a conflict of interest issue that undermines judicial integrity?”

Dr Sishuwa also wondered how a politician was appointed Central Bank governor, a position that he said required independent judgement and professional independence.

“How do you appoint a politician as a central bank governor, a position that requires independent judgement and professional independence? How do you retain in your government a permanent secretary who lies that they have a PhD from Princeton and another one from Oxford?” he further wondered.

Dr Sishuwa said anti-corruption institutions must be accountable by ensuring that they report to Parliament.

“It is important to create the necessary rules and safeguards that would let the public have a direct say in scrutinising some of these appointments to public office because some members of the public know the weaknesses that the appointees exhibit even before they assume office. The other way is to make the anti-corruption institutions more autonomous and accountable by ensuring that they report to parliament, not the executive, and that they enjoy security of tenure in their jobs. In many cases, the executive is the bedroom or site of many thieves,” he said.

And Dr Sishuwa said President Edgar Lungu had been facilitating the spread of COVID-19 and also sacrificing citizens in an effort to get re-elected.

“In times of disruptions, transformative leaders, especially those holding public office, should demonstrate competence to resolve the challenge at hand in a way that does not worsen it. Now competence involves wisdom in judgement, dignity in action, soundness in decision making, ideally founded on the best knowledge available at the time and capacity to effectively communicate what their vision is about how they hope to carry others along in getting past the issue. Let me illustrate this point with an example of how leaders in Zambia and the United States have responded to the coronavirus pandemic. At a time when physical meetings were restricted or banned, both Lungu and Trump were not averse to holding mass gatherings at a time when their governments advertised social distancing as an effective response to containing the spread of covid-19,” Dr Sishuwa said.

“The problem here is twofold: first, the leader is not only facilitating the spread of the disease but also sacrificing citizens in order to make an effort to get elected. Second, the leader is effectively undermining the government’s health guidelines or policies by communicating conflicting messages to the public against what they are doing. This is the highest form of irresponsibility. In the case of Zambia, we have also seen how leaders have used COVID-19 as an instrument to deny other people their rights to organise or meet. What is required in moments of crisis is the resolve to provide high quality leadership, even in instances where you are facing a major health pandemic like now. And a leader can do that through speech, regular updates that communicate hope and resilience, and demonstrate leadership through action,”

And Dr Sishuwa said leaders should unite the people in times of disruption.

“…unite people, especially in ethnically diverse or fragmented societies. They build social inclusion. In times of serious divisions, be they political or ethnic, effective leaders respond by seeking to build an inclusive society, one where no one feels marginalised or denied any opportunity that ordinarily should be available to them because of their ethnic identity or political choices. There are at least two ways this can be achieved. One is through a change in legislation. Constitutions can influence behaviour in multi-ethnic societies,” he said.

“Let me illustrate this point using the example of Kenya. At one time, Kenya felt that it had a particular problem of ethnicity, where more ethnic groups were overly represented in certain public service jobs while others were excluded or only had tokenistic representation. To ensure diversity, the Kenyans enacted a constitution that recognises, respects and promotes ethnic inclusiveness, and which allows citizens to challenge the government or private sector if they note that a department or unit is not ethnically representative. What we see here is the making of ethnic inclusivity in the public and private sectors as a deliberate constitutional value.”

Dr Sishuwa said freedom to appoint people should not only be limited to members of one’s ethnic group.

“In the same way that we reflect gender diversity in our statutes, we should do the same for ethnic inclusiveness. There is a bit of this value in Zambia’s Constitution, but it is couched in very broad terms that make it difficult to enforce especially in the absence of a progressive judiciary, which itself lacks ethnic diversity among its judges, a problem separately created by the appointing authority. Of course, someone might say, ‘but the president has the discretion to appoint’. That is true, but the freedom to appoint does not mean only appointing your friends or members of your ethnic-language group or those who come from the regions that support your party,” he said. “It is easy to see the absence of a woman from a workspace, but much more difficult to regard the absence of a member of another ethnic group from a board or department as a problem. No one is born into any position in government.”

Meanwhile, Dr Sishuwa said it did not make sense to procure a presidential plane costing millions of dollars at a time the country was almost drowning in debt.

“Does it make sense for instance for the leaders in government to procure 42 fire trucks at a cost of US$1 million each at a time when public sector employees have gone several months without pay, when public universities are no longer the sites of research and making critical knowledge about the country’s fate because of poor funding, and when thousands of citizens are dying from hunger, the poor state of public roads and the lack of basic medicines in public hospitals?” asked Sishuwa.

“Does it make sense to procure a presidential plane costing millions of dollars at a time when a country is almost drowning in debt; to invest in expensive crowd control equipment when citizens are yearning for the fulfilment of basic aspirations that can prevent them from taking to the streets a job, a roof over their head, respect for their civil liberties including the right to assemble, associate with anyone and express themselves freely either as individuals or media institutions? Leaders must exercise their minds on these issues and act ultimately in the best interest of the public.”