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Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Due process (Guest Blog)

Lately, the media has printed many pages of story lines on the subject of corruption, mismanagement, abuse, and theft in the public sector.

Tribunals, court cases and trials in the media have flavoured the first half of this year. The country has seen debates and discussions in the urban areas, on which Government officer stole what, and which Government Minister made some illicit deals.

The net result is that the public have been subjected to misinformation, polarized views, and continued use of tax payer’s money on issues that have not solidly taken the country forward. This is evident by the ongoing grumblings and mumblings on the streets about corruption, abuse of office, and theft within the Government machinery even after tribunal findings have been publicized and some Court rulings have been made.

The fact is that the public at large sit in a position of dissatisfaction with the final outcomes of investigations, hearings, and findings in respect to public sector indiscretions. There is an empty and unfulfilled feeling at the end of each episode, possibly because the final outcomes fail to take the country forward in any conclusive manner.

The public dissatisfaction is a good point to start analyzing where the underlying cause may come from. Irrespective of whether due process was followed in tackling the various accusations made against public workers and Government Ministers, the reality on the ground is that the public exhibit a sense of non-closure to the issues that have caught the media front pages over the last six months.

One possible reason for this non-closure may be that much of the debates and shuffling was focused on only one goal: to prove a wrong doing performed by a public worker or a Government Minister which should be rewarded by some form of punishment. When at the end of it all there is insufficient evidence to conclusively prove a wrong doing, no punishment is meted out and the whole affair appears to sit in limbo unresolved because insufficient evidence may fail to secure a conviction, but does not amount to absolute innocence.

The trend in Zambia is to focus only on evidence and not to consider other aspects such as integrity, sincerity, and judgment.

In many other countries when public workers are seen to act without integrity, or insincerely, and exhibit poor judgment, they are forced to resign or are sacked by the appointing authority. This is evident in the USA when the former World Bank president was seen to influence the remuneration package of a female friend. In the UK several senior Government officers and public officials resigned their positions in the wake of accusations of expense claims that were not considered normal. Italy has seen Presidents resigning their official offices because of having extra marital affairs that are not criminal offences but are considered distasteful in the eyes of the public. The rationale is that if a President can cheat on his wife then he can also cheat on his country as Head of State.

Much as Zambia puts much effort on following due process when analyzing the conduct of public officers and Government Ministers, it is equally important to use the issues on the table to develop more robust processes that protect the public interest, protect the public workers, and protect the Government Ministers.

The flip side of the due process paradigm that either convicts or clears a public figure, is to ensure that in the future an equally robust due process is followed in performing public duties on behalf of the people of Zambia.

What lessons did we learn from the Ministry of Communications MOU saga? What new measures have we put in place to ensure that a similar situation does not arise in the future? What options are there for Cabinet Office to compel the various Government Ministries to follow approved procedures for handling MOU’s, Agreements, and Contracts? How can we use the expensive lessons learned from the losses at the Ministry of Health to tighten up processes and procedures in managing public funds to prevent similar occurrences in the future? Is there a compelling case for the office of the Accountant General to be more pro-active in monitoring, evaluating and making corrections to Government accounting systems to curb the opportunities for losses in the future? What options are there to strengthen the linkages between the Attorney General’s Office and the various Government Ministries and Statutory bodies such that legal advice is easily and mandatory given where required in an effort to protect the interests of the country?

These questions may appear to be unanswered as several of the on going cases are concluded, and therefore, become the root for dissatisfaction and non-closure in the eyes of the public.

The private sector is also affected by this perception as it ingrains a sense of insecurity and lack of confidence in the public sector. The end result is fueled corruption and a higher cost of doing business within the country.

It is time that Zambia matured to a level where some of our goals should be to follow due process of the law, to ensure integrity, sincerity and good judgment in the public sector, and to evolve our due processes and procedures in Government.

Currently our focus is so narrow that we miss the opportunity to improve our performance and conduct, such that we fail to understand why more impoverished countries in our region continue to attract higher rates of investment than ourselves.

Yusuf Dodia
(Guest Blogger / Lusaka)


The Author is the Chairperson of the Private Sector Development Association
P O Box 33850,
Lusaka, Zambia.
E-mail: psda@coppernet.zm

2 comments:

  1. A very interesting piece!

    I think that what is lacking is a realisation that public institutions (including the Presidency) are accountable to the public. And when public confidence is dented, those at the helm of these institutions should be seen to work to restore it.

    That isn't quite happening at moment. To the contrary, it appears the authorities want to dig their heels in the face of criticism from the public over any issue. And that just escalates tension, rather unnecessarily.

    For instance, on the Dora Siliya and RP Capital saga, the public were quite clearly unsatisfied with the 'legal' outcome, and rightly so because so many questions remained unanswered, but instead of moving to restore public confidence the President took a stance of defiance.

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  2. very interesting article and well articulated.The article however is incomplete in my view by failing to include issues and inadequecies in the Private sector.most of the curruption that captures the attention of the Media and public is that which affects the public and not private.So much attention has been to whistle blow and prosecute corrution cases that involve the public sector and not the private. In the eyes of the Media corruption fight is only when a minister or civil servant is found guity yet most of these crimes are a corraboration of the Private sector and a public individual.Public and private sector are haevily intertwinned yet the concerntration of the efforts appear to be on one side. This is what has lead to loss of vital evidence and loss of lessons to be learnt on the full scale of the problem.The notion that NGOs and the private sector posses angelic behaviour towards fraud and corruption is very absurd in my view. There is certainly corruption amoungest NGOs and private sector companies that the Media has swept under the carpet.Because the Media and NGOs only view corruption as a public office only desease,public officers who are mainly politicians tend to see such views as political attacks "smear campaigns" that require political solutions.The whole fight therefore becomes diluted and govnt has to find solutions that are both legally and politically correct. While we seek to tighten business ethics in public institutions reciprocatory rules of engangement must be identified in the private and NGO sector for the whole system to be just and transparent.

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