THE PARALLEL UNIVERSE SERIES ISSUE NUMBER 6: Rising above petty politics
Just over 2 weeks ago, I received an invitation from the Commonwealth Secretary General, Mr. Kamalesh Sharma, inviting me – along with fifteen other Commonwealth citizens – to join the Commonwealth Observer Group for the forthcoming Kenyan general elections that are due to take place on 4 March 2013. I am pleased to confirm that I have accepted this opportunity to work for the next two weeks under the Chairmanship of the first winner of the much coveted Mo Ibrahim African Leadership Prize, former Botswana President Festus Mogae. The assignment commences immediately and I will return to Zambia on 10 March.
This rare and unexpected honour comes at a time when our nation is facing many challenges. We have just emerged from mourning the loss of over 50 people in one of the worst road traffic accidents in our history; civil liberties are being increasingly threatened and new measures to monitor the e-mail traffic of private citizens are already underway; yet another unnecessary by-election looms following the recent expulsion of the UPND Member of Parliament for Itezhi-Tezhi; calls from certain quarters are increasing for the lifting of the immunity of former President Banda; and (for the first time in our history) a petition has been lodged with the Commonwealth Secretariat by a combined effort of our fellow opposition leaders to investigate actions by the PF administration that have stifled political freedoms enshrined in our constitution. In the midst of all of this, it should come as no surprise that formal employment, education and social progress remain severely neglected while the acrimonious and toxic politics of name-calling, accusation and counter-accusation take centre stage.
NAREP believes it is time to rise above petty politics; time to raise the standard of leadership in our nation; time to demand of one another the very best that we can offer to build our country together. This is not an option. Quality leadership at every level of society that is committed to nation before self is the only thing that will spare us from our continued state of underdevelopment.
In keeping with our goals and values as a Party, we want to air our views on the way forward regarding these matters of political, economic and social development. For we believe that no student should have to die due to poor sanitation and sewerage at any of our tertiary institutions. No mother should have to bear the burden of losing a child because of the neglect of our healthcare system. No citizen should have to bear the cost and burden of another unnecessary by-election when they have to face continual load-shedding, poor road infrastructure and lack of access to safe clean drinking water.
Let us start with the recent road tragedy that claimed the lives of over 50 Zambians. It is not enough to declare 3 days of national mourning and thereafter fold our hands after such a devastating tragedy. We need an expert study to examine what could have been done to avoid the disaster – a disaster that was always waiting to happen and could, heaven forbid, happen again at any time, particularly if the correct lessons are not learned and appropriate measures put in place as soon as possible. This would include such action as introducing and enforcing a rule requiring speed inhibitors in public service vehicles, setting permanent speed traps along built-up areas and high penalties for non compliance with existing limits, placing well-marked durable speed humps along all major roads running through built-up areas and markets. If the death of those innocent Zambians is not to have been in vain, the PF administration must act now on these and similar suggestions and take the appropriate responsibility expected of them as a government that was voted into power to improve the lives of ordinary citizens.
Monitoring of private e-mails
The PF administration has elected to maintain uncharacteristic silence over the allegations that they have made elaborate plans to secretly monitor all internet activity in the country. When we first broke this story two weeks ago, ours was the lone voice that warned against a form of tyranny that is in some ways far worse than denying permits or gatherings. The fact that the Republican President can reveal private banking details of a member of the Opposition makes clear the danger that lies ahead with spying on private citizens. What will happen to the independence of the media? How will political parties be able to provide effective and necessary opposition if their strategies are compromised? Will local and foreign investors dealing with the State have the confidence to deal with an administration they know is likely to be spying on them? These are questions that must be asked of those in power by the media. It is your freedom that protects our right to know and be informed about everything that affects our wellbeing as a nation.
Public Order Act
No amount of words can justify the continued abuse of the Public Order Act and the unjust application of its restrictive provisions. There are many hard working men and women in uniform who know deep within their hearts that this law is being applied unfairly and in a manner that better reflects the tyranny we overcame in 1991 with the introduction of plural politics. In keeping with our approach as a Party, we believe that the parliamentary opposition are in a position to amend the provisions of the Public Order Act to remove the discretionary power granted to the police and to provide an alternative mechanism that protects public order without undermining fundamental freedoms including the right to assemble and move about freely.
Lifting of immunity
There have been calls from certain quarters for the lifting of former President Banda’s immunity. While we recognise the importance of addressing any credible evidence of misdeeds by all government officials, regardless of rank or position, we need to be careful about how we approach the option of prosecuting our nation’s former leaders. If evidence exists that warrants a debate on the lifting of immunity, let the evidence be presented and debated in Parliament and more widely among the Zambian people. Let us not over-politicise a very straight-forward matter and follow the requirements of the law. Let us also not lose sight of addressing the most pressing challenges we face today: jobs and enterprise opportunities for our youth, protection for our women against discrimination and gender-based violence, decent healthcare, quality education and robust modern infrastructure.
To more objectively address the problem of past, current and future corruption, NAREP has proposed the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Corruption (TRCC) that would be appointed by members of the National Assembly through an Act of Parliament. The TRCC would have power to grant immunity to perpetrators of corruption on condition that the person seeking immunity (i) confesses to the role they played in any corrupt activity; (ii) is prepared to return assets acquired through such corruption; and (iii) is prepared to provide information about how the corruption was undertaken and who else benefited. All hearings would be in public and since the TRCC would be answerable to Parliament, the likelihood of manipulation or selective prosecution would be minimised if not done away with all together.
We believe that this will provide an opportunity for Zambia to develop a strong foundation in its fight against a scourge that can be tied to the death of many innocent men, women and children that are deprived of vital life-saving drugs or crucial infrastructure to ensure safe roads and bridges and clean drinking water.
I end this week’s Parallel Universe with a comment on the decision by our fellow opposition leaders to present a petition to Commonwealth Secretariat officials in Johannesburg. Let me make it clear that we try not to make it our business to comment on the approaches that our colleagues choose to adopt in their desire to win the hearts and minds of the Zambian people. We believe it is not our place to praise or condemn the tactics that any fellow politician believes will best achieve his or her objectives. We, however, stand on the principle that the battle for the hearts and minds of the Zambian voters will be won right here at home and we make it a point not to criticise our Government on foreign soil. As NAREP, we believe that our country deserves leadership that will not place priority on politics at the expense of development. We believe in issue-based politics. This will mean criticising the things that the PF are doing wrong and offering alternative suggestions for the sake of our country. It may also mean commending them whenever they do the right things. We will not waver on these commitments. We will remain true to our calling. And we believe, with God-fearing hearts, that our approach will be the difference at the next election.
I thank you and may God’s grace be with you all.
Elias C. Chipimo
25 February 2013