Monday, May 20, 2013

Civil servants and corruption
By Editor
Sun 19 May 2013, 14:00 CAT

Albert Muyembe, general secretary of the Professional Teachers Union of Zambia, says meaningful development will only be achieved if civil servants and those entrusted with public offices desist from sowing seeds of corruption.

It would be very difficult for politicians to engage in corruption if civil servants and other public workers were not corrupt and refuse to be used in corrupt schemes.

It is very difficult under our system of government for politicians to initiate transactions on behalf of government and complete them without the involvement of civil servants or other public workers. Politicians work through civil servants and seldom are they able to by-pass them.
The controlling officers of all public resources are not politicians but civil servants. Of course, some of the civil servants we have today are not different from the politicians they serve because they themselves are politicians who have been appointed to the civil service as permanent secretaries or district commissioners. There is a problem in this. But the law is very clear on what their roles are.

There is no doubt that the starting point in cleaning up government is the civil service. A clean civil service, a civil service with upright men and women, will make it very difficult for a politician at any level to steal public funds and abuse public resources. When Remmy Mushota attempted to steal K210 million without the support and assistance of civil servants, he was exposed and caught and his whole deal failed. If some civil servants were involved in that transaction, it would have gone through and the public would have lost money.

The corrupt activities of Frederick Chiluba were exposed by civil servants who were against corruption. But it is also interesting to note that the most corrupt elements in Chiluba's government, those who were convicted for corruption, were civil servants. They are the ones who went to jail, they are the ones who are not in jail of bail pending appeal. There are very few politicians in Chiluba's government who were charged with corruption and were convicted. It's only Katele Kalumba. Most of them were civil servants. This goes to show that if the civil service is rotten, corruption becomes the order of the day.

Muyembe is therefore right when he says "meaningful development will only be achieved if civil servants and those entrusted with public offices desist from sowing seeds of corruption".

And we should not close our eyes to the reality that we have a corrupt public service. Of course, the nature of corrupt activities our civil servants are engaging in differ. There are some corrupt practices that are no longer seen as being corrupt in the civil service. We have civil servants who do very little to earn the salaries they earn. We have civil servants who are simply collectors of all sorts of sitting and travel allowances while contributing nothing to the operations of the civil service. They are just employees in name and not in deed. Receiving money you have not worked for is corruption - this is in truth unearned income.

We have many civil servants who cheat on expenses, faking receipts. This is corruption. But it seems, to some extent, to be accepted in our civil service as normal practice - 'as long as you bring receipts it's ok'.

We have civil servants who are abusing government motor vehicles and fuel. This is corruption. But most of our civil servants don't see this as corruption. It has become some acceptable 'initiative'.
We also have civil servants who every day report for work late and leave very early. They don't work the hours required of them. But they get paid as if they worked all the hours and days required of them. This is corruption.

We also have corruption from very low civil servants and other public workers. The cleaners of government offices who steal cleaning materials and take home. We also have those who make tea and steal sugar, teabags and coffee to take home. That's corruption. But all this seems to be acceptable. Few see it as corruption any more.

If one is engaging in any of these forms of corruption, they will have difficulties opposing what we may see as grand corruption. They will tolerate it and sometimes even seek ways to get their small cut.

Actually, put on the scale, civil servants may come out more corrupt than politicians. And there is need for us as a nation to realise this and cleanse our country of this vice. If we do this on all levels, it will help strengthen us, it will make our country more powerful, it will make the people's faith in the institutions of the state and in the political leadership of our country firmer. It will make the faith of all who want to do business with our country in us greater. Why? This is because the fact that we know how to make corrections, how to cleanse ourselves of iniquities, of evil practices will give our country and ourselves prestige. It will give our country all the strength which nations have when they know how to purify themselves of evils!

By doing this, we will be able to deliver our people from the abject poverty in which they are today wallowing. By doing this, there will be no problem or challenge that we will not be able to overcome because by so doing, we would have overcome our own obstacles. There should be no corruption that we accept as tolerable and we should not oppose or denounce.

We agree with Muyembe that "corruption is the biggest detriment to our country's economy and its quest to attain good governance". There can be no good governance in a country where corruption reigns supreme. Good governance requires honesty in the discharge of public duties. Corrupt elements cannot be expected to be honest in their discharge of public functions.

Lastly, we welcome the Professional Teachers Union of Zambia's decision to partner with the PF and its government in eradicating corruption in the education and all other sectors of governance. This is a very important declaration because without this partnership on a broader scale, Michael Sata and his government are not going to accomplish much in the fight against corruption and in their efforts to give our people a better and deserved life. The challenge, however, is to move from rhetoric to action, and action at an unprecedented intensity and scale. Those who are ready to join hands can overcome the greatest challenges.

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