Sunday, February 20, 2011
By The Post
Sun 20 Feb. 2011, 04:00 CAT
It cannot be disputed that Dr Kenneth Kaunda and UNIP were serious about fighting corruption and took the fight to very high heights. The institutions we have today were created by Dr Kaunda and UNIP to enable our people to resist and fight corruption. Under Dr Kaunda, we were all forced to live an honest and transparent life as far as corruption is concerned.
Dr Kaunda and his government demanded that each one of us lives within the bounds of his or her earned income. If one was seen to be living beyond this, SITET moved in to ask them to account for the sources of their income.
In this way, we came to learn about some illegitimate sources of income; we came to learn how some Zambians like Vernon Mwaanga were living off income from the sale of mandrax and other dangerous drugs. If one failed to account for the source of his income, that income was forfeited to the state. This was so because unearned income is a prima facie case for corruption.
Under Dr Kaunda’s reign, institutions like the Anti Corruption Commission and the Drug Enforcement Commission were also created to enhance honesty in the way our people lived.
But the first thing the MMD did when it came to power was to destroy SITET, an institution that was created to investigate economic crimes. Why? This was simply because the key leaders of the MMD like Mwaanga knew what SITET stood for and how it was going to stand in their way to loot public resources. Soon after the new MMD settled in, corruption started to manifest itself in all sorts of ways.
Frederick Chiluba presided over an openly corrupt government where stealing government resources was acceptable. This explains why some very senior and high ranking individuals that served in Chiluba’s government were later to face various charges for their criminality.
It cannot be denied that Levy Mwanawasa tried his best to put up a reasonable fight against this cancer of corruption and theft of public resources. But today, we have a government that is doing everything to reverse the modest gains against corruption and theft of public resources that were made during Levy’s tenure. It is for this reason that we agree with Dr Ludwig Sondashi when he observes that this government will be remembered as a government that killed the people’s aspiration to fight corruption.
Our people, like most people around the world, have an instinctive hatred for corruption and the many social ills that it leads to. This is why we are observing that every revolution that has taken place or is brewing in North Africa has the people’s anger against corruption, as one of its major driving forces. Leaders in this country grew accustomed to operating in an environment where they thought public opinion about corruption and its attendant ills did not matter. What they forgot was that their people were bottling excessive amounts of anger at the injustices that they observed.
It only took an apparently insignificant suicide of a disillusioned common man in Tunisia to spark the revolution that was to sweep away long standing presidencies of Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak. Today we are hearing of angry noises in usually quiet places like Libya and Bahrain. These are countries that are reasonably prosperous and a number of their people enjoy very high standards of living. But the streets are ablaze today because of people’s anger with corruption and abuse of power.
We continue to say that there are significant lessons for Rupiah Banda from what is happening in North Africa. We say this because it was very clear from the very early days of his presidency that Rupiah had chosen to defend corruption and side with the corrupt. Our people’s complaints on these matters have clearly fallen on deaf ears. Rupiah does not care what they think. Today one of his government’s clearest legacies is that he has seen to it that any serious attempt at fighting corruption has been thwarted. The Anti Corruption Commission is moribund serving only the persecution interests of Rupiah and his minions.
What is also clear is that our people are keeping track of all these things. One does not need to be an expert in assessing public opinion to realise that the mood of our people is decidedly anti-corruption. What is surprising is that Rupiah does not seem to think that this is important or does not care at all.
This is what his friends in North Africa did; they didn’t think fighting corruption was important or necessary; they did not think that their people were keeping track of their wrongs and the illicit benefits that they and their families were accruing. Where has that left them today? Tunisia’s Ben Ali is now reported to have suffered a stroke and Egypt’s Mubarak is sheltering behind high walls in Sham el Sheik. Rupiah and those around him should not think that this is something that can never happen in our country. We are sure if you had asked Mubarak one year ago if it was possible for his country to explode in the way that it did, he would have given you a hundred and one reasons why that could not have happened. Like Rupiah, he could have boasted about numerous infrastructure projects and some theoretical percentage growth in the economy. What such people forget is that people do not eat good news, they eat food.
Giving people all this good news about how the economy has grown and how there are so many infrastructure projects will not fill their stomachs. People want actual jobs and food on their table for themselves and their children. And moreover, if these projects were undertaken or executed in an honest way without corruption, there would be more and high quality infrastructure. For every kilometre of road works, without corruption, several kilometres would be done. For every school built, more schools would be built. In a word, for every infrastructure development project undertaken, more would have been constructed if there was no corruption. If 10 schools would be constructed instead of one if there was no corruption, what is there for one to brag about if one school is all they have done when they could have done 10?
The problem with corruption is that it is a much bigger problem than just people getting bribes in return for favours that they give to unscrupulous business people. Corruption erodes the very fabric of government. Corrupt leaders quickly learn to abuse their power in all sorts of ways. It is these abuses that lead to pent up anger which leads to the kind of explosions of public fury like we have seen in North Africa. Corrupt leaders are usually autocrats as well. Autocrats do not allow free expression or even free elections. They hold shams that they call elections. But in time, people decide that they cannot take it anymore and rise against these autocrats. This is a historical reality. It has happened many times. And there is no way a corrupt politician can be expected to take to higher heights the fight against corruption. Whose corruption are they going to be fighting? Their own corruption? Fighting against themselves? Expecting a corrupt regime like the one we have in this country today of Rupiah to take the fight against corruption to high heights is expecting an impossibility, and in Bemba they would say it is expecting to see a dog’s horn. We don’t know anybody who has ever seen a dog’s horn.
Corrupt power blinds those who possess it. They begin to believe that they are invincible and can do whatever they like. This is because they do not have to follow any rules or any laws. They keep the law by breaking it. Truly, power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. George Orwell was very correct in this observation because we see it every day in our country.
Since Rupiah has embraced the corrupt and their corruption, no one should be surprised that his government is so corrupt. But the warning still remains: do not take our people for granted. One day they may decide that they have just had too much, ‘enough is enough’. But this can be avoided if our people are allowed to express their frustrations and misgivings by exercising their democratic rights. When our people believe that even the electoral processes have been hijacked by corruption, we should never be surprised if we are engulfed by an Egyptian style reaction. Rupiah and his friends should learn the lessons when there is still an opportunity to learn. Their embracing of corruption has not gone unnoticed by our people.