TRANSPARENCY International Zambia TI-Z says the country’s governance level deteriorated in the year 2020.

And TI-Z says it was unfortunate that government trivialised corruption in 2020.

In a statement, Sunday, TI-Z chapter president Sampa Kalungu said in 2020, there was a significant increase in the restrictions of citizens from enjoying their freedom of expression and assembly.

Kalungu added that 2020 also saw an increase in political party cadres engaging in lawlessness such as the storming of radio stations and disruption of radio programs.

“The year 2020 was a difficult one for Zambia and the rest of the world as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic that had a negative impact on many aspects of life. The COVID- related difficulties that we faced as a country were not helped by the fact that our practice of good governance generally deteriorated over the course of the year, leading among other things to significant restrictions on citizens’ ability to enjoy their freedom of expression and assembly. As Transparency International Zambia (TI-Z) together with other stakeholders, we raised concern about the Zambia Police Service’s unjustified denial of citizen’s rights to gather and express their views on a range of governance- related issues, and the fact that a group of youths had to resort to go to the bush in the outskirts of Lusaka to enjoy their rights of assembly and expression was a damning verdict on our commitment to practice good governance as a country,” Kalungu said.

“The year 2020 further saw an increase in political party cadres particularly from the ruling Patriotic Front (PF) actively engaging in acts of lawlessness such as storming radio stations to stop the airing of discussion programmes perceived to be not toeing the PF line in some way, or indeed storming the Police Headquarters to engage in violent acts. Such blatant attacks on the media, and on society in general were usually committed with no much resistance from the Police, and this raised public concern about the extent to which the Police were impartial in the performance of their duties. It was particularly concerning that throughout 2020, the Police appeared to have adopted a harder stance against people perceived to be opposed to the ruling PF, and this was clearly seen in the unfortunate events that occurred on 23rd December 2020, when two citizens lost their lives due to the reckless manner in which the Police were trying to control a crowd of United Party for National Development (UPND) supporters.”

And Kalungu said it was unfortunate that government trivialised corruption in 2020 which brought into question government’s commitment towards the fight against the vice.

“The year 2020 also saw government officials trivializing the state of corruption in Zambia in ways that caused concern about the extent to which the government was committed to the fight against this scourge. Again, TI-Z spoke out against several corruption-related topics such as: the Minister of Information’s comments that corruption was everywhere and should therefore not be a daily song; the arrest and prosecution of the Minister of Health; the scandal at the Ministry of Health involving the questionable award of a US$17million contract to Honey Bee Pharmacy; the misuse of the COVID-19 funds as revealed by the Auditor General’s report; and the 2019 Financial Intelligence Centre (FIC) Trends Analysis report. Further to this, the year 2020 was also the year in which senior government officials such as the Lusaka Province Minister flaunted their wealth in unprecedented ways, thereby strengthening our call for all senior government officials to undergo lifestyle audits,” Kalungu said.

“In voicing out on all these issues of concern, as TI-Z we also did score some successes that we would like to highlight. Our cooperation with key government institutions, designed to promote integrity in those institutions was formalized with the signing of Memoranda of Understanding with the Zambia Police Service and the Office of the Public Protector. Ourwork with the Zambia Police further resulted in the launch of the Police Whistle Blower and Gifts policies, whose implementation we will mutually oversee going into this year.Throughout 2020, our ongoing collaboration with the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), the Judiciary, and the Road Transport and Safety Agency (RTSA) also continued in earnest, and is expected to start bearing fruit in this new year.”

Kalungu said corruption remained a serious problem in the country and hoped that government and other stakeholders would actualize their commitment to fighting corruption.

“Looking forward to 2021, there is no doubt that this is a very crucial year for Zambia,with the general elections set for the 12th of August. Our hope as TI-Z is that the country will make great strides in our practice of good governance and that the commitment to fight corruption will be actualized by all stakeholders such as the government, civil society, the private sector and even citizens. Corruption remains a serious problem that this country is grappling with and we can ill-afford to give it the trivial and half-hearted attention that we have seen from senior government officials if we are to address the scourge effectively. In the same vein, we expect that the ACC will make headway in changing the negative public perception that exists about them. We are committed to our continued collaboration with the ACC on this score because we are convinced that Zambia needs a strong and truly independent ACC if we are to make real progress in the fight against corruption,” Kalungu said.

Kalungu called on the police to be professional in their administration as 2021 was a crucial year for Zambia.

“We also hope that in 2021, we will not see the sort of lawlessness and violence that we have seen from political party cadres. Rather, our hope is that our political discourse this year will be premised on a civilized exchange of ideas on how we can turn around the economic fortunes of our country for the benefit of all citizens. We therefore expect civility from all stakeholders across the political divide in order to create a competitive but conducive and respectful environment heading into the general elections on 12th August. For the year 2021, we are also expecting to see more professionalism from the Zambia Police Service not just in terms of how they implement the Public Order Act, but also how they generally conduct themselves particularly when dealing with sensitive political matters or indeed matters that have to do with the constitutionally-guaranteed rights of citizens. We expect a Police Service that will not hinder the enjoyment of citizens’ rights and freedoms in any way, but will be impartial in executing their mandate,” said Kalungu.

“Lastly, our hope is that all of us as civil society, politicians, government, the media, the private sector, the Electoral Commission of Zambia, and citizens in general will play our part in contributing to the holding of free and fair elections on 12th August. We all have an obligation to contribute to our democratic ideals as a country and where we see these being threatened in any way, we should be brave enough to speak out. TI-Z’s commitment in this regard remains resolute.”