Saturday, May 24, 2008

Levy pledges drastic action against corruption

Levy pledges drastic action against corruption
By Mwala Kalaluka
Saturday May 24, 2008 [04:00]

PRESIDENT Levy Mwanawasa has said he will never shy away from taking drastic measures against any government ministry where chronic corruption is detected. And US Ambassador to Zambia Carmen Martinez said the increasing news stories on corruption in the country are an indication of expanding openness to discussing issues of public and private corruption.

Officiating at the opening of the Ministry of Lands Customer Service Centre at Mulungushi House in Lusaka yesterday, President Mwanawasa said he was concerned over the levels of corruption in a certain government ministry.

Referring to the closure of the Ministry of Lands after the media exposed corrupt activities at the public institution last year, President Mwanawasa said the action taken against the officers was an example of his government’s steadfast resolve to root out corruption from its ranks.

“I am happy to be with you here today at the historic commissioning of the Ministry of Lands Customer Service Centre,” President Mwanawasa said. “Last year, I had to take drastic measures in order to stop corruption at the Ministry of Lands. I am on record of having said the Ministry of Lands stinks with corruption.

My statement follows revelations, particularly in the media, which exposed and revealed corruption in the ministry. The new deal administration is committed to fighting corruption and the revelations of the ministry had to be tackled vigorously. I was therefore compelled to halt the operations of the ministry and I directed law enforcement agencies to move in.”

He said subsequently, the government took a number of appropriate correctional measures aimed at cleansing the ministry of corruption.
“We have now defined a new process for a transparent, effective and efficient land administration system for our country,” President Mwanawasa said. “Land is our national heritage and source of wealth and it is imperative that the ministry charged with oversight and administration of land is clean beyond reproach.”
He reiterated his caution to public officers to detest from engaging in corruption.

“I shall not shy away from taking necessary steps to root out corruption wherever it is detected,” he said. “I take this opportunity to advise all public service personnel to make the challenge of building integrity and developing service delivery systems that are free from bribes and corruption.”
President Mwanawasa disclosed that one ministry was in the process of being visited by the law in view of its heightened levels of corruption.

“Allow me to issue a timely warning to other government ministries that I will not hesitate to do what happened to the Ministry of Lands to any corrupt ministry,” he said. “There is one ministry; it is on the roadmap to be visited by the law. I will not mention this ministry, they know themselves. It is high time they clean themselves before they are visited by the law in a big way.”

President Mwanawasa said the opening of a customer service centre at the lands ministry was a culmination of a two-year programme being championed by the United States (US) government through the Millennium Challenge Account under the Zambia Threshold Programme.

He said the projects, which were being carried out under the programme had helped reduce corruption occurrences within the selected public service institutions.
“I am aware that at the Immigration business and transactions are being conducted in an open and transparent manner,” he noted. “It is evident that delivering services in this type of environment where administrative red tape is reduced ensures customer satisfaction…”
President Mwanawasa said even though the fight against corruption was against a pervasive enemy, it was one that the Zambian government and people had no choice but to win.

“The type of openness and transparency in the delivery of service to the people of Zambia makes the Customer Service Centre, we are commissioning today, a key element in this fight,” he said. “Here in this centre, the government and its constituents can hold each other accountable to ethics and rules which aid our interaction.”
President Mwanawasa expressed satisfaction at the efforts made by the Ministry of Lands to put its house in order vis-à-vis the corruption crusade.

“According to revenue projections last year the Ministry of Lands was expected to collect K10.9 billion. I am pleased to note that the projection was exceeded and K20.4 billion was collected,” President Mwanawasa said.

“This is commendable and I congratulate the minister and his officials. I thank our cooperating partners for providing the support which has made this effort possible.”

And Ambassador Martinez said reporters were deepening their understanding of the often complex world of corruption, and that their editors were giving them the freedom to write on these themes.
She also noted that the local civil society organisations were in turn taking a more active and robust position that holds the public officials accountable for their actions.

“The results of this discourse speak for themselves…Zambians are now emboldened to take that dialogue into the public arena,” Ambassador Martinez said. “Zambian citizens from all walks of life have made it crystal clear that corruption has no place in their country.”

However, she told President Mwanawasa that more challenges still lie ahead in the anti-corruption crusade.

She urged President Mwanawasa to continue exercising the leadership and commitment necessary for Zambia to fight the battle.
Ambassador Martinez further urged the government to enact key laws that promote openness and accountability such as the Freedom of Information Act, which she said would help further open the inner workings of the government to the public as well as the Whistleblowers’ Protection Act and the Asset Forfeiture Act.

“Passage of these laws in the coming year will demonstrate to the Zambian people and the international community your government’s continued commitment to stamping out corruption,” Ambassador Martinez said. “The United States has been, and will remain, an enthusiastic and solid ally in your campaign against corruption. With each accomplishment we celebrate with you.”

Ministry of Lands acting permanent secretary, Pola Kimena said the ministry was still on a path of self-cleansing following corrupt activities that led to the closure of the institution last year.
Pola asked for more funds to roll-out the cleansing programme to the provincial centres.

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