GOVERNANCE advocate Rueben Lifuka says citizens expected the UPND government to scrap off District Commissioner positions because they are a drain on Zambia’s meagre resources in their current form.

In response to a press query, Lifuka said currently, those positions were not serving any real purpose other than being a reward for cadres.

“The new dawn administration has taken unnecessarily long to decide on the matter of District Commissioners and yet the United Party for National Development was unequivocal in its condemnation of what it termed as an extraneous political position. The general expectation from the voters and citizens alike was that the UPND government would take decisive action to basically scrap off this position which for all intents and purposes has remained a superfluous position with serving no real purpose but a reward position for cadres,” he said.

He observed that District Commissioners had no job description.

“The indication that this new UPND government which came into power promising sweeping changes, is not only confusing, uncomfortable but disappointing, for several reasons which I enumerate as follows: UPND under the leadership of President Hakainde Hichilema, has categorically proclaimed its intention to ensure effective decentralization, namely taking resources from the center to the local government. This entails that the elected political leadership of the Mayor/Council chairperson together with the bureaucracies under the various councils should take the lead in this decentralization process. Central government functions are ultimately going to be devolved to the local authorities and in this place the Office of the Town Clerk or Council Secretaries, together with the elected councillors in charge of the decentralization process,” Lifuka said.

“The appointment of District Commissioners, who until now have had no clear job description, is simply a recipe for not only overlaps in responsibilities but unnecessary power struggles and chaos between elected political leaders and bureaucrats. What the UPND government should explain is the cogent rationale and purpose of what is widely agreed as a redundant position in furthering the decentralization agenda. It will be a travesty for this government that has been talking about financial prudence to maintain the office of DCs merely to find something to do for its cadres and supporters. The UPND was quite vocal and rightly so in its advocacy for the scrapping off of the deputy minister position.”

Lifuka said the UPND government should be consistent and not rationalise the position of DCs which they condemned while in opposition.

“The ruling party should therefore be consistent and not rationalize the position of DCs which it generously condemned while in the opposition ranks. What has changed in the two months in office? Has the UPND suddenly realized DCs are the linchpins in implementing decentralization? We are all painfully aware of how former President Chiluba used the position of district administrators at the time to further his political ambitions. Of course, we remember how former President Kaunda used the district governor’s position and it seems UPND is not ready to dispense with this colonial vestige,” Lifuka said.

He said as long as District Commissioners were appointed by the President, they would be political figures.

“District Commissioners, as along as these are appointed by the President or have the semblance of co-ordinating government activities at district level, will be nothing but political figures. We sadly have witnessed in the recent past how DCs even usurped the powers of Zambia Police and ordered the arrest of political opponents of the ruling party. DCs were notorious for ordering off air radio programmes which were not favourable to the ruling party, not to mention allegations of election malpractices including the ferrying of unqualified persons to obtain voters’ cards and distribution of campaign materials among others. A review of the Commission of Inquiry on Voting Patterns and Electoral Violence report of 2016, demonstrates the complicity of DCs in perpetuating not only electoral violence but other criminal activities. Some of the current UPND leaders suffered at the hands of DCs, one of whom even ordered the bringing down of a helicopter,” Lifuka said.

“The political violence of the past had the full endorsement of some of these DCs and some of the divisions that characterizes this nation were fueled by the poor and partisan leadership of DCs surely, UPND which suffered at the hands of DCs should know better that this position, unless reformed is nothing but a waste of scarce public resources. How does the country reconcile the position of the government that the coffers are dry and yet it will have the luxury of not only paying off the benefits of the dismissed DCs and then appointing a whole new set with no clear deliverables?”

He wondered how the new DCs would be recruited.

“We are made to believe that DCs are supposedly civil servants and if this is the case even for the UPND, the barest minimum we would have expected is an open and transparent recruitment process. Even in instances where serving civil servants are considered, transparency in the process should not be compromised. The question that begs an answer is how were the DCs that will soon be announced, recruited? Government cannot allow itself the luxury of doublespeak- it cannot proclaim a vigorous fight against corruption and yet allow for less than transparent processes of recruiting DCs. The gravest mistake of previous governments was the politicization of the public service and the UPND government seem to be beating the same path which will lead to obvious inglorious consequences- namely heightened corruption,” said Lifuka.

“The UPND should communicate clearly the intentions with the DCs position. Has the government conducted any review of the current position to understand the intricacies and weaknesses? Further, the government should explain the purpose of this position, how DCs will relate with local authorities etc. We should be told what is different with DCs this time around?”