PRESIDENT Hakainde Hichilema’s speech at the United Nations General Assembly has kept the whole country talking. Everybody who watched the President’s maiden speech is saying one thing – the bar of leadership has been raised so high up. Indeed, the President has made every Zambian citizen proud. But those who knew Mr Hichilema before he became President will tell you that nothing less was expected from him. He may not be a career politician, but carrying himself as a President and speaking like one is something that he has been doing for all his adult life. The man is so presidential that his party found it difficult sell him because some Zambians felt he was a boring candidate.
Those who are clapping for the President are free to do so, but we can assure them that they will soon get tired because what they saw at the UN General Assembly is what they will see at pretty much all other forums where the 7th Republican President will be invited to speak. He is a serious man and he is not here to play. But what we advise our people to focus on instead is the message that the President is delivering. Speaking well doesn’t automatically translate into good leadership. When the time comes for the incumbent Head of State to be judged, his delivery of speeches will not really matter. Chiluba was an orator, but his legacy is well known.
Our people must pay attention to the pledges and promises that the President, government leaders and party officials are making. Our take home from the President’s speech at the General Assembly was his pledge to ensure that there is zero tolerance to corruption, that the media is granted it’s freedoms and that civil society organisations are strengthened. We understand that the President means well, but without any malice on him, we can say that he is not the first President to make those promises. In fact, all his predecessors promised the same things but they did not deliver.
We have no doubt that President Hichilema will perform so well in government and that our country’s economy will take off towards a place it has never been before. Everything we have seen from him so far points to the fact the he wants to fix the economy. But there are some promises that his party has made which we don’t think they will deliver.
Media Freedom: This is easy to say, but politicians don’t like it when the media is actually free. A truly independent media makes those in government very uncomfortable. They find investigative journalists quite irritating. What is expected to happen is that they will gradually stop encouraging the media and citizens to be free in expressing opinions. Instead, they will say, people must express themselves with restraint and within the confines of the law. After that stage, the next stage will be to start sending mercenaries to start attacking what they describe as hostile media. Publicly, they condemn attacks on the media, but behind the scenes, they sponsor thugs to carry on. The PF was not the last party to do that.
The new minister of Information has made a commitment to pass the now all famous Access to Information Bill. This is not going to happen. As soon as the minister and her appointing authority fully understand what this Bill seeks to achieve for the media in Zambia, they will not support it. Instead they will push for journalists to statutory regulation.
In November 2018, Dora Siliya who was then Chief Government Spokesperson and Minister of Information, pledged that before the end of 2019, the long forgotten Access to Information Bill would be enacted into law. Her reasoning was that if government planned to defuse fake news, it first needed to quickly pass the Access to Information Bill that would allow citizens to legally access factual data from State institutions. People applauded this reasoning, but it never happened. Ministers have come and gone, presidents have come and gone, they have failed to enact this bill into law. We see the same happening under the UPND, and we challenge them to prove us wrong.
Strengthened civil society: When we hear the President talk about his desire to see a strengthened civil society that can provide checks and balances to his government, we hear a man who has good intentions, but doesn’t fully understand what he is calling for. Just like the media, a strengthened civil society can be very irritating and politicians don’t like that. What ushered President Hichilema and the UPND into office is a very weakened civil society. If pressure groups in Zambia were allowed to operate freely; if the court system worked as flawlessly as it was designed to, the PF would not have stayed in power upto 2021.
Allowing a strengthened civil society doesn’t only mean allowing three or four protestors to carry placards, March to State House and chant some slogans, it means leaving them to take power holders, including the President, to task. It means allowing them to challenge wrong decisions in court, letting the courts rule independently and doing as ordered by the court. This is not an easy promise and we do not think the party in power will deliver.
Zero tolerance to corruption: This is the toughest promise of them all. We have heard enough promises on this matter. But we are yet to see the strategy that they will use to stamp out corruption. Corruption is not something you can fight in speeches, the corruption fight is not won by dismissing perpetrators from government. Engaging in corrupt activities with absolute caution not to be caught is not the same as zero tolerance to corruption. Fighting corruption calls for a change of mindset. It’s a cultural issue. We do not think that our ministers and others who have been appointed to government positions have what it takes to say no to a bribe. They don’t have the requisite values in them to accept that they should see money and not take it. We do not see the UPND delivering on this promise either. We will unearth corruption scandals under the UPND and some of the perpetrators will go unpunished.