Friday, March 23, 2007

De-politicising our markets, bus stations

De-politicising our markets, bus stations
By Editor
Friday March 23, 2007 [02:00]

The government’s decision to come up with a Markets and Bus Stations Bill is highly welcome and long overdue. According to the Minister of Local Government and Housing Sylvia Masebo, this bill seeks to provide - inter alia - for the establishment and regulation of markets and bus stations and the establishment of management boards for the markets and bus stations.

As the chairperson of the Committee on Local Governance, Housing and Chiefs’ Affairs, Regina Musokotwane, rightly observed in her report to Parliament on Wednesday, this is an opportunity for the country to bring rational economic and political conduct in our markets and bus stations and to identify and network with legitimate stakeholders.

It is indeed an opportunity for Parliament to enact a good law that will address the chaotic manner in which our bus stations and markets appear to operate. And in the words of the parliamentary committee, “It is time to overcome the emergence of markets and bus stations political warlords”.

It is encouraging to note that the committee discussed this highly political issue in a non-partisan way. This is important because, as Masebo observed, political party involvement in the running of our markets and bus stations have to a large extent proved to be an impediment in the smooth operations of these markets and bus stations.

But this did not happen by accident. This monster in the markets and bus stations was a creation of our past leaders in government who in their own wisdom thought that they could only have a firm hold on power with the support of cadres from the markets and bus stations.

As a result, these leaders allowed their political thugs to infiltrate and take total control of the markets and bus stations. The cadres became untouchable and did as they pleased in these markets and bus stations.

And what did we see as a result? These thugs usurped the powers of our local authorities. They made the operations of these local authorities very difficult, if not impossible.

These thugs in the name of cadres would collect millions of kwacha on a daily basis which ended up in their pockets and those of their sponsors, all in the name of supporting the ruling party. We also witnessed the proliferation of market associations within markets, mainly by political cadres, which further contributed to the anarchy in our markets and bus stations.

Of course we recall that even in the UNIP days, markets were highly politicised. We remember that when ever Dr Kenneth Kaunda visited towns and districts, markets were closed temporarily for the marketeers to welcome him. We also remember that in most cases, those who sought to run market stalls had to produce the UNIP membership cards before they were allocated stalls.

But even as the market place was highly politicised in those UNIP days, we do not remember a day when UNIP cadres collected levies purportedly on behalf of the ruling party. UNIP utilised the markets mainly for political mobilisation. And this they did very well.

Today, the anarchy in our markets and bus stations has mainly been perpetrated by the ruling party. And it is good that the MMD national secretary Katele Kalumba, the chief executive of the party, is also the chairperson of this parliamentary committee which has seen “the need to overcome the emergence of markets and bus stations political warlords” including the proliferation of market associations.

The MMD government, if it means well in bringing up this law, should ensure that its cadres are kept away from the running and managing of our markets and bus stations.

However, we are also aware that this is not solely an MMD problem. We know that in areas where opposition Patriotic Front controls the local authorities, its cadres have also taken control of markets and bus stations for similar selfish motives.

But like Monze UDA members of parliament Jack Mwiimbu appropriately observed, this matter should not be politicised. All the major political parties that have a measure of influence and control in these markets and bus stations should go back on the ground and explain to their cadres the need to de-politicise these places because they belong to all citizens regardless of their political affiliation.

And the local authorities, which are mandated by the people, should be allowed to manage these markets and bus stations without hindrance from the cadres and their associations.

In fact, these cadres do not even manage these markets and bus stations. They collect millions of kwacha in levies on a daily basis but our local authorities are expected to manage and maintain these markets and bus stations.

There is need to de-politicise our markets and bus stations. Today, our people are not conducting business in these places in the manner that they should, nor are the market and bus users enjoying the usage of these facilities.

And President Levy Mwanawasa should be commended for this bold decision he has taken because it goes to the root of MMD’s successful organisation as oftentimes it is claimed that the strength of a political party lies in how established it is at the market place.

Of course Levy has seen through the emptiness of this claim which is usually forwarded by some party leaders and their followers for their own selfish motives and simply as a source of livelihood.

We know that it will not be an easy task for Levy to convince all those MMD members who have been surviving on market and bus station levies for some years now but this work should be done. In fact, Katele should be very useful in this process because the parliamentary committee that he chairs has also endorsed the government’s intervention in this matter by way of bring up the Markets and Bus Stations Bill.

It is high time our people experienced sanity and good order in the markets and bus stations. The amount of disorder and chaos currently taking place in our markets and bus stations is nauseating, to say the least.

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