This is exactly why President Edgar Lungu promoted Dora Siliya to the position of Chief Government Spokesperson. No matter how senseless her arguments are, she debates in a manner that makes you begin to think that perhaps she has a point, when in fact she doesn’t. We cannot take it away from her; the Minister of Information is smarter than several of her predecessors. However, even the world’s greatest spin-doctors have a degree of nonsense that they can’t succeed to defend.
In case you have not followed the latest confusion coming out of the Patriotic Front and its government, here it is. The Lusaka City Council this week rased trading stands and shops at Luburma market in Kamwala. Shop owners protested by blocking roads and burning tyres, a demonstration that attracted the sympathy of PF secretary general Davies Mwila. In his reaction, the ruling party chief executive rebuked the acting Mayor Chilando Chitangala whom he summoned to his office for questioning.
Citizens then questioned where Mwila was drawing the authority to summon a local government official whose job description was to implement policies as directed by the line Cabinet minister. The PF secretary general responded by saying he, in fact, has the power to summon any Cabinet minister to exculpate themselves because he is number three in the government structure.
We found this claim shocking because as far as we are concerned Mwila is not a government official to begin with. He is number three in PF. He is senior to the Central Committee chairperson for agriculture Given Lubinda, but he has no authority over Given Lubinda as Minister of Justice. At least that is what we thought.
But what was even more shocking was that the Chief Government Spokesperson agrees with Mwila’s position that Cabinet ministers are answerable to him, for the simple reason that government was formed out of the PF Central Committee.
We asked Siliya how Cabinet ministers who are sworn to protect the oath of secrecy are expected to explain their decisions to a non-government official, and being a talented spin-doctor that she is, the Information Minister argued with courage to defend a position that is senseless even to her.
“There are certain things that are discussed in Cabinet that the oath of secrecy bears on, but the general principles to do with the citizens, there is nothing wrong with the secretary general to ask the minister of local government and say ‘minister, why are we doing this?’ There is a very clear line between the government and the party, and what is discussed at the Central Committee is at party-political level. The issues discussed in Cabinet with Cabinet ministers are not always the same things that are discussed in the Central Committee. There are some things that are purely government. So what is secret about the fact that shops and markets were demolished?” asked Siliya.
We reminded her that there are Cabinet ministers who are nominated members of parliament and have no membership to the PF Central Committee, and further asked her to explain how Cabinet ministers were expected to refuse if their boss, Mwila, gave them orders that contradicted Cabinet position. The minister’s answer was not making sense, apart from insisting that Mwila is number three in the structure that forms government.
But Siliya is not to blame for this confusion. She was merely justifying her salary so that she continues looking sexy and attractive to her admirers. We also know that President Lungu did not initiate this structure. It was engineered by late president Sata and his secretary general Wynter Kabimba.
We recall that after the PF assumed power in 2011, the party resolved to remain indomitable in Zambia and also exceptionally influential on the continent. To do that, they needed a powerful think tank to run the secretariat, and there was no better person for the job than Kabimba himself. That is how he was deliberately left out of Cabinet before he was later called to replace dismissed justice minister Sebastian Zulu.
But to make sure that Kabimba was not underrated and to emphasise the supremacy of the party, President Sata introduced a policy that saw the secretary general being recognised third after him and vice-president Guy Scott during State functions.
It seemed normal at the time because, not only was Kabimba the respected architect of the PF victory in 2011, he was also an intellectual with vast influence across a spectrum of society. But, unless Kabimba who is still alive today disagrees with us, we do not think that Sata intended that the PF secretary general should wield the power to interfere and challenge minister’s decisions and force them to undo what was resolved in Cabinet.
Today, the PF has lost all its popularity in Zambia, and the respect it was enjoying internationally is gone. But with scatterbrains in charge of the secretariat, the PF functionaries want to remain superior to Cabinet, the Judiciary and Legislature. What Siliya and her President don’t want to admit is that there are further implications to this kind of government structure.
We wonder if President Lungu has time to see the abnormality in this matter, which is clearly the cause of endless violence in the country among many other vices. With this structure in place, it means the Lusaka Province PF chairman has authority over the provincial ministry, the provincial police command, not to mention the district government institutions.
This means if unruly PF youths break into a radio station to beat up an opposition leader and the police intervene, the provincial chairperson who sent the youths will report to Mwila who will then summon the Home Affairs Minister to give him instruction against the police action. Where in the Zambian Constitution does this nonsense appear? Which law are these people in government using to govern us?
If the PF government structure recognises Mwila as more powerful than the Secretary to Cabinet, the Chief Justice, the Speaker of the National Assembly and the Director of Public Prosecutions, then we shouldn’t wonder anymore why the rule of law in Zambia has completely collapsed. Davies Mwila and Mumbi Phiri are giving instructions on how to run the country while ministers are getting rich.
Comrade Sata, you left us this mess. The people who were raising middle fingers at your party in Parliament are the ones defending your legacy. Give us a signal papa!