Tuesday March 18, 2008 [03:00]
What is happening in opposition Patriotic Front (PF) can be said to be internal party wrangles and therefore should not necessarily attract public attention or involvement. But the expulsion of six members from the PF cannot be said to be purely an internal matter because its consequences have a bearing on the national treasury. There will be six by-elections resulting from these expulsions. And these by-elections will have to be funded by the taxpayer.
Therefore, the PF’s decision to expel six of its members of parliament affects all of us because the billions of kwacha that will be used to hold by-elections in the affected constituencies is taxpayers’ money, our money.
It cannot be denied that there are differences in the leadership of the PF. But are these differences so important to the Zambian people that they must be forced to pay billions for them?
So when by-elections are caused for reasons that don’t to have much merit, the taxpayers’ should legitimately raise concerns and denounce the perpetrators of such schemes.
Political parties are like clubs where members join voluntarily and pledge to conduct themselves in accordance with the rules of those clubs. The same can be said about the PF and its expelled members together with those other members whose expulsions are imminent.
But we have to bear in mind that any political party’s decision to expel a member of parliament has far-reaching ramifications.
This drama that has engulfed PF could have been avoided if there were some changes in leadership style of the party from one that is more personalised in the party president to a more collective one. And we think it is here that the problems of PF primarily rest.
It doesn’t make much sense to expel six members of parliament for withdrawing their monthly contributions from the party. It cannot, without qualification, be said that this act amounts to one resigning from the party and therefore the party’s central committee merely accepted their resignations when it resolved to expel them.
And when reminded that it was the party president who actually ordered all the PF members of parliament attending, against his wish, the National Constitution Conference (NCC) to stop contributing to PF what he termed “blood money”, the PF president yesterday said what he rejected was their suggestion to contribute 50 per cent of their earnings from NCC.
However, those who have followed this matter closely will have no difficulties seeing through these lies because some correspondence has even been published in the media. It’s not true that the “blood money” they talked about was to come or was coming from NCC.
Clearly, they are talking about the members of parliament withdrawing their monthly contributions from the party. We all know that the NCC has not sat for more than a month, so how can these members withdraw their monthly contributions when they have not even received money for a month? When they withdraw, it means they were initially remitting those contributions.
There is no doubt that the “blood money” they talked about is that money members of parliament voluntarily contribute from their salaries at Parliament. That is why they said all those members of parliament who chose to defy the instructions not to attend the NCC should immediately cease to make financial contributions because their money was bloody, whatever that meant.
In line with this directive, the affected members wrote to the Clerk of the National Assembly Doris Mwinga, advising her to stop effecting those monthly ‘bloody’ contributions because they were no longer wanted by the ‘clean’ party.
In reaction to this withdrawal, PF secretary general Edward Mumbi wrote to all the more than twenty members of parliament who gave those instructions, advising them that they had committed an offence against the party.
“I would like to inform you that my office is in receipt of your letter together with other members of parliament addressed to the Clerk of National Assembly dated 24th January 2008 in which you have conveyed your instructions to discontinue your payment at source being your financial contribution to the Patriotic Front as a member,” read Mumbi’s letter dated February 14, 2008 to one of the members of parliament.
“In this regard, withdrawal of your financial contribution is a breach of your membership obligations and is therefore an act of resignation from the party from the date of your letter of instructions referred above. In view of the foregoing, you must furnish my office within 7 days from the date of this letter with reasons why you must have decided to breach your membership obligations before I refer the matter to the central committee for further consideration and decision.”
It is very clear that there is no NCC money being talked about here, as they want the public to believe. In short, what we are saying is that the real reason for these members of parliament’s expulsion is their decision to attend the NCC against the party president’s instructions.
But because these members have a court injunction restraining PF from expelling them, they are avoiding to be cited for contempt of court and therefore are using other reasons to kick the defiant members of parliament out of PF. After all, they have publicly said this several times that there are several ways in which to deal with rebel members.
What they are doing by expelling the six members of parliament is merely testing the waters and also employing divide and rule tactics. If indeed it is an offence for members of parliament to withhold or withdraw their monthly contributions, why have they only purged the six members when over twenty of them gave the same instructions to the Clerk of the National Assembly?
And the argument that the expulsion of Faustina Sinyangwe is not connected to the NCC but her referring to the party president as a thug is not sustainable. This whole saga is connected to NCC.
We say this because it was only after Sinyangwe went to the NCC that the men she described as thugs descended on her, harassed and poured Chibuku on her. It is this event that prompted Sinyangwe to say the party president is a thug because as far as she is concerned, those thugs were his agents because they are his security men.
Anyway, the point we are making is that people must be interested in the goings-on of the PF because these events have a lot to say about the democratic values and principles of fair play and justice that we cherish as a country.
Above all, these events have a direct impact on our national treasury because to host 27 by-elections in constituencies where these so-called rebel PF members of parliament are coming from, the government will require a minimum of K80 billion since we are told that each parliamentary by-election gobbles a minimum of K3 billion.
Yes, by-elections sometimes are inevitable and let’s have these elections when it is really necessary. We should not allow individuals or parties to cause unnecessary by-elections for unjustified reasons.
There are men and women who decide to defect from one party to another, mainly for selfish reasons. When they do, let our people reject them for causing unnecessary strain on the national treasury by voting them out.
The question for now is: should we as a country spend K80 billion as a result of petty squables within PF? If channelled into programmes of national development, how much development would we record from that amount?
In saying this, we are not in any way suggesting that PF should not instil discipline in its members. Every institution or organisation has a disciplinary code, which has to be adhered to. But this discipline must be fairly and justly administered. It should not be propelled by arbitrariness or motivated by malice and vindictiveness.
PF is the largest opposition party so far and therefore one can safely look at it as an alternative government or the government in waiting. How they manage their affairs, internally and externally, therefore is a matter of public concern or interest.
If PF is not seen to be a democratic party, if its members are seen to be intolerant with each other, what reason should our people have to usher such a party into government?
We are raising these points because we feel that, given a chance, they would run the affairs of this country in the same way they are running PF.
They are showing very dangerous dictatorial and intolerance tendencies. They don’t seem to respect divergent views in the party. Only their wishes should prevail. This is not good leadership. It is a model of bad leadership.