Saturday, March 17, 2012

A military of corrupt commanders

A military of corrupt commanders
By The Post
Sat 17 Mar. 2012, 12:00 CAT

IT seems something has gone seriously wrong with the leadership and organisation of our armed forces.It seems for close to two decades, our armed forces have generally been led by crooks, thieves or corrupt elements.

How can one explain the fact that all the commanders of our army, air force and Zambia National Service have either been convicted for corruption or are in court on corruption charges or facing arrest and possible prosecution for corruption? What has gone wrong? What is happening in our armed forces? What type of leadership is there?

Where is this greed coming from? If the early leaders of our armed forces were this corrupt, this dishonest, this greedy, where would this country be today? What would be the state of our armed forces?

If Kingsley Chinkuli, Malimba Masheke, Benjamin Mibenge, Peter Zuze, Godfrey Miyanda and many of their colleagues were this greedy when they took over the leadership of our armed forces as young and inexperienced officers in the early days of our Republic, where would we be as a country today? As young officers, these now old men conducted themselves with sufficient honour and integrity and never ever thought of using the positions they held to enrich themselves.

None of these men has what the commanders of today have accumulated in such a short time. Look at the houses they live in and look at the houses corrupt Lt Gen Geojago Musengule and his corrupt friends live in!

Today, our senior military officers are businessmen, and they don't depend on their pay to sustain their extravagant lifestyles. They are the owners of most of our lodges and other businesses. Where do they get the time to run all these lodges and manage the affairs of our armed forces?

How was all this possible? It was possible because there was a breakdown in honesty, in integrity in our country's top political leadership. As commander in chief, Frederick Chiluba was stealing public funds. And he was using some of these intelligence and security institutions of the state to steal.

And those who were helping him to steal from public institutions also started helping themselves, started stealing for themselves. This is why all of Chiluba's top commanders, including his intelligence chief Xavier Chungu, were in problems for corruption. This was not possible under Kenneth Kaunda because immediately one was found wanting, they were out.

Kaunda could not send anybody to go and steal for him. Under Levy Mwanawasa, his top military officers who attempted to steal were immediately arrested and prosecuted. But discipline collapsed again under Rupiah Banda.

Rupiah's commanders are now being investigated for corruption, theft of public funds. With such leadership, how can our armed forces win the support and respect of the public? With such corrupt elements at the helm of our military institutions, how can we expect our soldiers and other officers to be disciplined, to be honest?

We wonder what the true state of our armed forces is today in terms of ability to defend the nation in times of trouble. This is what happens in a nation when values are lost, when principles are traded on the altar of political expedience. What security can be provided to the nation by rotten men? What can such corrupt generals defend?

We hope our politicians are learning something from all this. We also hope that those in our military are learning something from all this. Without an honest political leadership, especially at the level of president, no nation can expect to be led well, to have honest senior military officers and other civil servants. We hope those in charge at the Ministry of Defence are learning something from these prosecutions and convictions.

But we have a general problem of dishonesty and corruption in the country because we are trying to turn every civil servant and public officer into a businessman. You can't have a government led by businessmen, one in which every minister is a businessman, every general is a businessman.

Government institutions probably procure the largest amount of goods and services. And the decisions to do so are made by civil servants and other public officers. Sometimes even politicians participate in such decisions.

But if the government is full of businessmen, this means some of these goods and services will have to be purchased from the same people running government. Where does this leave the country? Inside dealings become the order of the day, corruption sets in and starts to dominate government business.

This is why we probably had a situation where a junior intelligence officer who was promoted to become the country's intelligence chief started to think he belonged to the business class. Most of his key friends were businessmen. What can you expect out of such an officer? This is how Chungu ran the intelligence.

We wonder how many hours our civil servants and other public officers put in government work. We say this because most of their time is taken up by their businesses. They are all the time dealing with suppliers to their businesses who sometimes also happen to be suppliers to government - a good opportunity for corruption.

Rupiah and his sons, before he became vice-president under Levy, used to move around government offices to look for contracts to supply this and that. Then one day he was made president and to be in charge of all this government business! What a big feast there was for him and his sons! Now they could get all the things they failed to get when they were not in power.

More is needed in the management and organisation of our affairs as a nation. If we continue on this path, fighting corruption will not be easy. We will be continually replacing one group of thieves with another.

If Michael Sata does not come up with a new setup, with a re-organisation of things, the ending of his government will not be that different from that of Rupiah and Chiluba.

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