Friday, August 14, 2009

Electoral corruption and impunity

Electoral corruption and impunity
Written by Editor

Not all has been as it should be in the conduct of the Chitambo parliamentary by-election. There has been undeniable electoral corruption and intimidation on the part of the governing party, the MMD. And what Transparency International Zambia is saying cannot be dismissed as lies and unfounded allegations against those in government and their political party.

It cannot be denied that the MMD has been using new and unregistered automobiles in the Chitambo by-election campaigns. It can also not be denied that these unregistered automobiles are government motor vehicles. It is also not a lie to say that some of these motor vehicles belong to the stock that was purchased for chiefs. And before being delivered to the chiefs, they were deployed in Chitambo with a full knowledge, and probably at the request, of the highest political authorities.

Transparency International Zambia says their monitors have observed that the MMD was using over 12 motor vehicles without number plates and they believe these motor vehicles belong to the government. They have also complained about the ruling MMD dishing out materials to the electorate in Chitambo in violation of the Electoral Code of Conduct.

But Transparency International’s great worry is that despite all these Electoral Code of Conduct violations being carried out in broad daylight, the Electoral Commission of Zambia has denied having received or observed any report of corruption and other electoral malpractices.

Transparency International has also observed that the law enforcement agencies have failed to punish people who are practicing corruption in Chitambo just because they belong to the ruling MMD, the governing party.

It seems where the MMD is concerned, where those in charge of government are involved, our law enforcement agencies are rendered impotent. They simply watch them break the laws of this country as they please. And the most they do when challenged is to pretend or claim they never saw anything like that.

In short, when challenged, our law enforcement agencies come to the defence of those in government and their political party.

We may rush to blame members of our law enforcement agencies as being dishonest and biased in their work. But it may be necessary for us to look at why they all invariably behave in that way. We should ask ourselves if the system in which they are operating does adequately permit them and protect them to be impartial law enforcement officers.

We should look at how easily they are dismissed from their jobs, transferred to other lesser jobs when they step on the toes of those in government and their political interests.

It appears there is very little our law enforcement agencies can do in matters where the president’s interests are affected. As Col Panji Kaunda correctly observed the other day, we have a system that allows the president to act with impunity, without being questioned, without being subjected to the operations of the law enforcement agencies when he does something wrong.

They can neither raise anything against him nor arrest him for wrongdoing. The process of dealing with a corrupt and criminal president in this country is rigorous and in most cases, impracticable. One has to wait until the end of his term for charges to be brought against him. And this depends also on whether his successor and those around him are willing to have his immunity removed. If they don’t, it’s a matter of God’s case no appeal, as Chinua Achebe once remarked. This being the case, where does it leave our law enforcement agencies which are directly under the president’s command? And moreover, all the key appointments in our security agencies are directly made by him.

But our worry is that if those in government do not respect the laws of the country, who will? Those in government, in the ruling party, cannot call others to virtues which they themselves do not make an effort to practice; they cannot expect those in the opposition to respect the laws of the land which they themselves are not willing to follow. Where does this lead to? It can only lead the nation to one thing: anarchy.

Those in government are expected to be the first ones in respecting and observing the laws of this country. After all, they are the ones who initiate almost all our laws. As such, they are expected to respect the laws and be exemplary in their daily political dealings. Our people are looking for political leadership that is exemplary. If one had to follow our current leaders, where will they end? What is exemplary about this crop of leaders we have in our country today? Instead of setting good standards, they are every day setting bad examples. They are the leaders in electoral malpractices, in corruption, arrogance, dishonesty, deceit, lies and so on and so forth. Impunity is the order of the day when it comes to the dealings of those in power and their political party.

In last year’s presidential election, Rupiah Banda was directly involved in violations of the Electoral Code of Conduct by distributing sugar and mealie-meal to the electorate in Katete. The electoral commission was aware of this but did nothing. Our law enforcement agencies were also aware of Rupiah’s electoral corruption but did nothing. The only statement was a caution from the Attorney General against such practices, which was also not received kindly. There was abuse of government resources by Rupiah. Automobiles from the Ministry of Health were being used in Rupiah’s campaign with impunity. And it is this impunity that is encouraging Rupiah and his party to engage in electoral corruption because they know that at the end of the day, nothing will come out of it, they will win the election and retain their power. For them, it is power at any cost or price. And in pursuit of that power, there are no principles or laws to be followed. What matters to them is only the practicality of what they want to do.

But what does this mean for our multi-party politics and the elections that accompany such a political system? There is a danger of anarchy taking over; of serious divisions emerging in the nation.

We believe we must always be mindful of this one thing, whatever our lust and desperation for power or unbridled desire to win elections. The ultimate strength of our country and our people will lie in the unity of our people that will result from our holding free and fair elections whose results are accepted by both the winners and the losers. We need to put this first, ahead of any divisive partisanship and political or even criminal practices. Whatever our political affiliations and personal interests, we should guard against this type of divisive politics and practices and all its ugly consequences. We should never lose our unity as a nation in suspicion, distrust, selfishness and politics that are based on crooked and corrupt methods and other abuses of power and privilege.

The path we are on is a very dangerous one. And we urge those in government to deeply meditate over this issue and show positive leadership in the conduct of elections. We say this because not doing so will soon prove disastrous for our country. The supreme function of statesmanship is to provide against preventable evils. We know there is the besetting temptation of politics to concern itself with the immediate present at the expense of the future; we know that those in power are not prepared to lose it at any cost. But there is a danger that lurks in such an attitude, such an approach to politics. In a democracy, losing an election should not be a matter of life and death because an election is simply a competition to serve. When we lose an election and consequently power, we shouldn’t take it as the end of everything. Losing power, losing an election is only a beginning, always. And our politicians must know this. We say this because greatness comes not when things always go good for you, but the greatness comes when you are really tested, when you take some knocks, some disappointments, when sadness comes, because only if you have been in the deepest valley can you ever know how magnificent it is to be on the highest mountain.

Only resolute and urgent action will avert this crisis, a crisis arising out of poorly conducted elections. Whether there will be public will to demand and secure a correction of this, we don’t know. All we know is that to see, and not to speak about these issues, would be the great betrayal.

And we don’t think politics of money is what our people want. The great majority of the Zambian people are poor. And if we create a political system where only those with money count, then the great majority of our people will be excluded. We can all see that money is a decisive factor in our elections today. Those who don’t have resources can’t set themselves any political goals in this country anymore, because they are excluded and eliminated.

Clearly, there is need for a conversion of heart and for the transformation of our social structures in order to build our country. Our politics need people with credibility and not crooked elements who never hesitate to manipulate anything and have no restraint in their abuse of public resources and institutions. If we have criminals in government, it is not reasonable for us to expect fair play and honest dealings in the conduct of elections. What we are seeing today is a clear demonstration that laws mean very little if they are not respected by the people, by their leaders. All these things mean nothing if they do not lie in our hearts; when respect for laws dies in our hearts because of our crookedness, no constitution, no law, no court will save us from the impending Armageddon.

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