Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) chief electoral officer Patrick Nshindano says stakeholders should appreciate how the delimitation of constituencies will improve service delivery instead of focusing on how much the country will spend on more members of parliament. Obviously, from an electoral officer’s point of view, he has a point. But we don’t think this view can be supported by the electorate.
We have observed that politicians from both sides of the political divide have supported this particular issue, with the UPND suggesting that although the idea is good, the timing is wrong because the country is financially crippled. Those in support argue that constituencies are too large and, therefore, we need more representatives and so forth.
But, unfortunately, that’s a very incorrect argument in our view, and we are arguing from the perspective of the electorate. The question that the voting citizenry is asking is simply: what change have the existing members of parliament brought about in the constituencies? The answer is nothing, and their excuse is that they are not receiving Constituency Development Funds (CDF).
Nshindano’s ECZ is not responsible for providing CDF, this is the responsibility of the government through the line ministry. If we are failing to give CDF to 156 constituencies, where will the money come from to support 235 constituencies? It is not only the cost of creating constituencies that we should worry about, but the cost of developing them and the benefit to the people. Yes, it may make Mr Nshindano’s work easier during elections, but how will more constituencies help develop the country?
Our Constitution right now has sections under the local government system, which haven’t been fully realized. We are talking about devolving power from the centre to the grassroots. What is going to bring efficiency in the governance and development of the country is not more members of parliament, but efficiency of the existing local government structures.
It cannot be disputed that of the 156 MPs, only 10 or less are performing, the rest are in Lusaka enjoying expensive alcohol at Chicago’s and other elite drinking joints. When they are elected, they leave their constituencies and come to Lusaka to play and spend their money in lodges.
Our argument is that we need to devolve power to the grassroots if we want to drive development in this country. Power has to move from national, to provincial, to district, to constituency, and to the ward-level. Constituencies have to have their own councils. That’s how service delivery will be accelerated.
We believe that when Michael Sata was creating districts, that is what he had in mind – to devolve power to the grassroots. Of course, he was criticized for doing so, as it was seen to be a costly undertaking, but we understand that he was trying to further decentralize the administration of government because, indeed, districts have an immediate impact to the local people and the civil service.
Bringing more politicians to Parliament just to be dozing and drinking tax-free whisky when they wake up is not the solution to the problems this country is facing. And we find it very strange that the ruling PF doesn’t want mayors and council chairmen to be elected, but they are willing to bring in more MPs. What is their motive?
We insist, devolution of power is the only way that we are going to accelerate development, especially in the rural areas. Increasing power at the upper-level doesn’t work because it is going to be a top-down approach. We need a bottom-up approach, from the grassroots coming to the national. We need devolution of power, not by increasing the number of constituencies, but by making the local government structures more effective.
Increasing the number of MPs to 235 will also increase the cost of running the National Assembly. To start with, the current building will have to be redesigned to take that number of lawmakers in the Chamber. When they increase to 235, they will obviously need to increase the number of offices for parliamentarians and also increase the number of support staff. The wage bill, allowances and gratuities will leave a huge hole in the Treasury.
Should Zambia, with its economic problems be talking about this issue, really? We don’t think so. This idea is one of those that have been looked at with one set of glasses, forgetting all the other implications. We respect your views, Mr Nshindano, and like we said, we understand your perspective as an electoral officer, but we beg to differ. To the MPs who are supporting this, please GO BACK AND CHECK YOUR WORK!