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Monday, 21 July 2008

NCC Discussion Updates (Diaspora Voting )

The National Constitution Conference (NCC) has rejected the proposal to allow Zambians abroad to vote. Clause 109 (g ) of the Mung'omba Draft Constitution requires the Electoral Commission of Zambia to ensure that "facilities are available for citizens living abroad to vote". Sensibly the Electoral Commission of Zambia and other participants agreed that this was a costly exercise.

A while back there was a petition doing arounds at various Zambian websites to allow Zambians abroad to vote. I always thought the idea was crazy. The ECZ has barely enough money, let alone the personnel to enforce its existing obligations, how Mung'omba and Co expected them to put facilities in place for Zambians abroad to vote is beyond me. What is unfortunate is that many Zambians abroad even jumped on this idea and started doing petitions. Many arguing that voting is right - at any financial price?

15 comments:

  1. representation without taxation is tiranny.

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  2. Why do you say that?

    I don’t think the issue of representation should only consider financial aspects of the “social contract” between the citizen and society.

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  3. It's not an financial issue.

    The issue is: should people shielded from the consequences of that decision be part of making the decision ?

    I'll bet you say that as Zambian citizen, they have pride, attachment, they care but still, it won't affec their everyday life, their jobs, their commute, their children's education, their health etc..

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  4. ”The issue is: should people shielded from the consequences of that decision be part of making the decision?

    But that’s not the case.
    Apart from the need to distinguish between “direct” and “indirect” consequences, its quiet clear that a new Parliament and government would have significant direct consequences on them.
    The laws and policies they pass or formulate could affect their choices to invest in Zambia, ability to visit relatives, their own citizenship status, etc. The list is endless. Not to mention the indirect consequences.

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  5. The laws and policies they pass or formulate could affect their choices to invest in Zambia, ability to visit relatives, their own citizenship status, etc. The list is endless. Not to mention the indirect consequences.

    The ability to visit your relatives ? Choices to invest ? How does that compare to jobs, education and housing for Zambians who live in Zambia ?

    I mean, this is like comparing Israeli living in Israel who will have to live under bombs and the hawkish diaspora who will have cancell their vacation plans.

    I'll give you citizenship, but then again, the stringent law is already there, isn't it ? They moved knowingly and the law can only get looser.

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  6. ”I mean, this is like comparing Israeli living in Israel who will have to live under bombs and the hawkish diaspora who will have cancell their vacation plans.”

    Lol!

    Your point was about consequences. You need a more stringent basis than consequences.

    Incidentally whilst voting without bearing the consequences has some obvious incentive problems, it also has its benefits….

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  7. Your point was about consequences. You need a more stringent basis than consequences. 

Incidentally whilst voting without bearing the consequences has some obvious incentive problems, it also has its benefits….
    The issue is that, because of their location (outside the country), they're not really part of the "community". They may have different priorities or may not have a clear idea of the consequences of their choices.
    The Israel example is accute. The diaspora, particularly the one in the US, is more hawkish BECAUSE they don't live under bombs.
    In Africa, how many times you've heard nationalist abroad who visit the country judge the government by how good the airport looks ? Or by how many potholes there are ? All of this, while not paying a single kwacha in taxes to finance either !

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  8. The Israeli diaspora is infact the wrong example. Their supposed 'hawkish' position simply reflects a desire to protect their investments. if there's a country held together by the diaspora, Israel is it. From diaspora bonds to physical investment.

    I still don't get the link to taxes. Many people in Zambia vote but pay no taxes. According to your original statement, they shouldn't right?

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  9. The Israeli diaspora is infact the wrong example. Their supposed 'hawkish' position simply reflects a desire to protect their investments.

    No disrespect but this doesn't make sense.

    You don't protect your investment by pushing the country to start wars which invariably result in the destruction of infrastructure, homes and lives, which result in either higher taxation or inflation (to pay for the military effort), disrupt huge sectors of the economy (less tourism, less exports to neighbouring countries etc...) and makes the survival of the country less likely.

    If anything, the financial influence of the diaspora on Israel is a compensation, a barely sufficient one too.

    I still don't get the link to taxes. Many people in Zambia vote but pay no taxes. According to your original statement, they shouldn't right?

    The people in Zambia who don't pay taxes are "taxable" and can be indirectly affected by taxation anyway. Raising import tarriffs to have a cuter airport is a trade-off they'll directly face. The diaspora's choice of policies is skewed by the fact that there won't be a trade-off.

    As I said again, there is something problematic with people not affected by most of the choices being in the position ot make the decisions.

    (isn't this the argument for decentralization anyway ?)

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  10. "You don't protect your investment by pushing the country to start wars which invariably result in the destruction of infrastructure, homes and lives, which result in either higher taxation or inflation (to pay for the military effort), disrupt huge sectors of the economy (less tourism, less exports to neighbouring countries etc...) and makes the survival of the country less likely."

    My point is that their hawkish position is simply that they have more to lose from lost settlements etc. Remember, most of these settlements are built by people in the diaspora. That is the investment I had in mind.

    "The people in Zambia who don't pay taxes are "taxable" and can be indirectly affected by taxation anyway. Raising import tarriffs to have a cuter airport is a trade-off they'll directly face. The diaspora's choice of policies is skewed by the fact that there won't be a trade-off."

    People abroad are "taxable", its just that they avoid those taxes by going abroad and carrying out activities there (remember they still remain Zambians). Its no different from the informal sector, which avoids taxes by operating in a parallel informal economy.

    Incidentally, the indirect effect can be extrapolated to people in the diaspora.

    Also I don't see why we should only focus on taxation, and not other ways in which people contribute.

    I guess its the "principle" that I am struggling with. According to you people have to bear consquences of their actions, but I think that is too broad a requirement..on the other hand if you said DIRECT CONSQUENCEs, that again would rule out those who are taxable but don't pay tax because they operate in the informal sector.

    "(isn't this the argument for decentralization anyway ?)"

    Is it?

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  11. My point is that their hawkish position is simply that they have more to lose from lost settlements etc. Remember, most of these settlements are built by people in the diaspora. That is the investment I had in mind. 


    People from the diaspora or in the diaspora ?

    I mean, yeah Russian Jews who moved to Israel in the 90's are quite hawkish and have an interest in the settlements but I'm not talking about those.
    I'm talking the hawkishness of Jews in the US, in UK, in France who visit Israel every now and then and at best may have second-cousins living there and who beat the drum of war all the time. They have nothing to loose.

    People abroad are "taxable", its just that they avoid those taxes by going abroad and carrying out activities there (remember they still remain Zambians). Its no different from the informal sector, which avoids taxes by operating in a parallel informal economy.

    Hmmm, no.
    People who move abroad become untaxable.
    People who operate in the informal sector are taxable but not effectively taxed. And that's just income tax. People in Zambia pay all sort of indirect taxes and tarriffs, when they consume imported goods, when they buy a cellphone, when they buy fuel or when they consume goods produced or sold by someone who pays taxes.

    Incidentally, the indirect effect can be extrapolated to people in the diaspora. 


    How so ? How does say a 100% tax fuel change their life ?

    Also I don't see why we should only focus on taxation, and not other ways in which people contribute.

    To the government ? I mean we're talking about representation in politics here.

    I guess its the "principle" that I am struggling with. According to you people have to bear consquences of their actions, but I think that is too broad a requirement..on the other hand if you said DIRECT CONSQUENCEs, that again would rule out those who are taxable but don't pay tax because they operate in the informal sector.

    I mentionned taxes in that first quote for 2 historical reasons:

    - "No taxation without representation" was a slogan of the American Revolution and of the American suffragettes and of many other political movement. I guess I don't have to explain the idea but there's a wordplay to make on the other conclusion one can get.

    - One of the big demand of the French Revolution and the Russian Revolution was to end the priviledges of the clergy and the nobility. Those two classes were not taxed while common citizen were AND (in France at least) each had 1/3 of the representation in the decision-making. So yeah they were all for raising taxes to build gigantic churches or to start honor wars or to build palaces.

    In both historical examples, we're talking about a long time before income taxes were established in any of these countries. In fact the creation of income taxes was a logical continuation of the same egalitarian principles.

    Those who operate in the informal sector may not pay direct taxes but they live in Zambia and directly or indirectly, taxation and spending and inflation and government activities in general does have a quite crucial influence on their well-being.

    People in the diaspora who build their entire lives abroad don't see their wages rendered meaningless by inflation, don't face choices between their children's education, a new airport, higher taxes or higher prices on fuel, their lives are not at the mercy of a corrupt politician or cop or chief or civil servant etc..etc..

    Basically if they voted they'll have a voice in government without bearing the cost (which is being at the mercy of the same government).

    "(isn't this the argument for decentralization anyway ?)"

Is it?

    Basically yeah. I mean in the Niger Delta, the big issue is that the Nigerian government got the benefits from drilling and distributed to ALL Nigerians while only the people in the Delta faced the costs (environemental degradation and loss of income).
    The argument for decentralized decision-making is that the central government's decisions won't be as good because people removed from the issue have a role in making those decisions.

    A government elected by people in Livingstone, Lusaka, Mongu and Nakonde cannot know if people in Ndola need a road or not or where in Ndola the road is needed.

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  12. ”I'm talking the hawkishness of Jews in the US, in UK, in France who visit Israel every now and then and at best may have second-cousins living there and who beat the drum of war all the time. They have nothing to loose.”

    Some of the settlements are being funded by people in the US, UK and France. The Jewish diaspora is very interesting. It is much more intertwined in the political activities than other diasporas.

    ”People who move abroad become untaxable. People who operate in the informal sector are taxable but not effectively taxed. “

    We are splitting hairs here. The point is that they both don’t pay taxes and have chosen not do so either by going abroad or operating in informal activities.

    ”And that's just income tax. People in Zambia pay all sort of indirect taxes and tarriffs, when they consume imported goods, when they buy a cellphone, when they buy fuel or when they consume goods produced or sold by someone who pays taxes.”

    People abroad do the same, when the send things. Admittedly may be not as much but actually per capita it works out quite high. But its not like their transactions involving Zambia are free.

    ”How so? How does say a 100% tax fuel change their life ? “
    Remittances often react to domestic pressures. So if you inflation increased in Zambia, Zambians abroad compensate accordingly, all things being equal of course.

    ”In both historical examples, we're talking about a long time before income taxes were established in any of these countries. In fact the creation of income taxes was a logical continuation of the same egalitarian principles.”

    The historical context is well understood. But actually in many other countries, taxation was not the basis for voting. It was personal income or plots of land etc. The quest for universal suffrage was simply the recognition that all men are equal.

    ”Those who operate in the informal sector may not pay direct taxes but they live in Zambia and directly or indirectly, taxation and spending and inflation and government activities in general does have a quite crucial influence on their well-being.”

    Aside from the fact that Zambia’s economy is largely dependent on foreign aid (30% of the budget, not to mention non-budget support), I would be interested to know whether you think if Zambia’s persona; tax rate was zero, no one should vote? Not too hypothetical, because many resource rich nations have very very low personal tax rates.

    ”Basically if they voted they'll have a voice in government without bearing the cost (which is being at the mercy of the same government).”

    You have not demonstrated that this is necessarily bad. Zambians abroad are more educated on average than Zambians at home. They have more information. They are also beyond the catchment of “commodification of politics”. Not easily corrupted by Zambian politicians, because their reservation price may be too high. All these things points to more informed electoral choices.
    The other point is critical mass. I mean we are not talking about half of the electorate being abroad, just a few :)

    As I said, I don’t think diaspora voting is a good idea, because the operational costs, outweigh any possible monetized benefits. But I don’t think that is because they don’t pay direct tax.

    ”A government elected by people in Livingstone, Lusaka, Mongu and Nakonde cannot know if people in Ndola need a road or not or where in Ndola the road is needed.”

    Well to some degree. But as I have often noted, such advantages hinge upon other assumptions e.g. information, no corruption and so forth.

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  13. Sad that finance is the issue that has stopped this, especially as many national of other countries can vote whilst they are abroad. I personally think voting for Zambians whilst abroad is a good idea.

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  14. CC,

    But there's also the issue of corruption. Our embassies are not impartial.

    Some Italian regional assemblies actually pay you to go and vote back at home, presumably to avoid the possibility of corruption and delay in voting!!

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  15. Cho,
    I am now convinced that – like Chairman Mao’s Red Book or Stalin’s indoctrination machine, sometimes some form of national propaganda is necessary. For I cannot see how ‘selfish ends’ propagated by say Random African be explained? I have been following your exchange.
    Policy or law making should not be based on causal relationship or consequential outcomes. A responsible citizen should not only be advancing laws or policies from which one expects personal gain. A soldier dies in war not only because his family members stand to benefit. Neither does a freedom fighter make sacrifices because he or her cousins would one day become Ministers. The Kaunda’s and others were prepared to die for the general Zambians good. Everybody’s good.
    You do these things for the national good. Those living abroad are not tax doggers.
    By the same token, not only those who pay taxes should have the right to vote. The right to vote should be enshrined in the constitution and not be based on the amount of value one contributed to the national coffers. It should be based on citizenship rights. That is whether you are in Diaspora or not, as long as you are a Zambian should be entitled to vote. Practicality of doing so or cost is entirely a different matter. The right to vote should be there nevertheless.
    Therefore I think that the NCC members were overzealous when they turned down this principle. They never really considered the demands and fundamental rights of a citizen. They put narrow political expediency before more fundamental legal rights a citizen is entitled to. This decision sounds like someone has a personal vendetta against someone in the Diaspora. And that voices like Random African can support them is shocking.
    It is very unfortunate that dangerously simplistic considerations like those raised by Random can be highlighted. You cannot build a nation on selfish and individualistic assumptions. We mustn’t forget that we are able to come to America or Britain not purely on individualistic efforts. It is through a communal collective which made it possible for us to move out of Zambia. We attended schools manned by unpaid teachers and ate food prepared by our grand mothers who have absolutely no connection to the system.
    And lastly, when you go to Lusaka and lament the rundown toilets at the Airport or broken down roads – you are reminding those responsible that they are not doing their duties well. Pointing out things which are wrong is good because that is a form of evaluation – awarding a passing grade of sorts if you will. Why shouldn’t you compare orange with other oranges? A $100 spent in Zambia should be comparable to a $100 so spent in Tanzania.
    In fact tourism is based on such principles as being able to provide amenities and services. So here it is, we are puzzled by even the very simple things. It is against this background I lament the exchange between Cho and Random African. Cho did his level best to defend the correct position and I hope that Random African truly grasped the point. If not, then we are in trouble!

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