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Saturday, 12 September 2009

Larger Parliament Is Costly (Guest Blog)

The National Constitutional Conference’s proposal to increase seats for Members of Parliament from 158 to 280 makes very sad reading, especially that it is coming at a time of serious challenges : tens of thousands of Grade 7 and Grade 9 students have continued to be spilled onto the streets every year; the healthcare system cannot meet the basic needs of the majority of citizens; the majority of Zambians have no access to clean water and electricity; a critical shortage of decent public housing has compelled so many of our fellow citizens to live in shanty townships nationwide; public infrastructure and services are still deficient; civil servants are still not adequately compensated for their services; crime and unemployment are still widespread; and, among many other socio-economic ills, taxes and interest rates are still very high.

It seems the huge allowances which members of the National Constitutional Conference (NCC) are receiving have intoxicated them so much that they have become incapable of thinking about the catalogue of socio-economic woes which cannot be addressed mainly due to the lack of financial and material resources.

Zambia cannot afford to implement the proposal they have recommended. There is really no wisdom in seeking to increase the number of constituencies when some of the existing constituencies cannot even generate enough tax revenue to meet the cost of maintaining their MPs.

Rather than increase the number of MPs, we should actually have been considering the prospect of reducing the number and restricting their functions to legislative matters. Parliament would still be representative and able to function effectively as the legislative organ of our national government with only 72 elected MPs, for example, so that 1 MP could be elected from each of the existing 72 districts.

If we cannot reduce the number of MPs, we need to continue to have a Parliament with 158 members.

And MPs should not be involved in the implementation of development projects; this should be the function of government ministries and local authorities. Besides, the provinces are already saturated with such portfolios as District Commissioners, Provincial Ministers and Provincial Permanent Secretaries, all of which are supposed to complement the executive branch of the government in the implementation of development projects. To reiterate, we need to restrict the role of Parliament to legislative functions — that is, law-making.

Our country’s meager tax revenues will not be sufficient to maintain such a large Parliament and the highly bloated Cabinet. And we cannot continue to borrow until we push the country back into the debt trap. Besides, donor countries, too, are not likely to continue extending a helping hand while we continue to misuse our meager resources.

There is a need for NCC members and the government to realize that donor countries, like Zambia, do not have unlimited resources. They have to make do with scarce resources by going through public expenditures line by line, program by program, agency by agency, department by department, and ministry by ministry in order to eliminate unnecessary application of public funds.

We need to start doing the same in order to wean our country from its current addiction to loans, its over-dependence on donor funding, as well as attain economic independence and sustained socio-economic development mostly with our own local resources.

Henry Kyambalesa
(Guest Blogger / Agenda for Change)


  1. Kyambalesa,

    Once again I must commend you and AfC for bringing forward a common sense policy which could easily be adopted by any party interested in fiscal conservatism in the face of recession. While I appreciate the questions of resource allocation surrounding the proliferation of executive branch ministerial offices, I feel that there is a far greater affront to the constitutional concept of separation of powers in play here. Namely the ability of the elected President to appoint anyone at any time to the legislative branch. This effectively awards greater power to the President's supporters in an undemocratic fashion (i.e. one person no longer equals one vote), and should not be allowed to persist in the new Constitution. From a future governance perspective this is perhaps far more important than the number of ministries or total parliamentary seats. Some of those seats are being given away as political patronage, and that is undemocratic in the extreme.

  2. Kyambalesa,

    Our country’s meager tax revenues will not be sufficient to maintain such a large Parliament and the highly bloated Cabinet.

    This is another example of a central government/party driven initiative, coming up with ways to hand themselves more money and tasks.

    What is needed, is the full funding of local government with 50% of national revenues.

    That would solve a lot of problems. The bloat of central government, increased oversight by local people of government expenditures, a reduction in the number of ministries, decentralisation away from Lusaka, and the provision of jobs and services to rural areas, where most people live, in the process slowing urbanisation and all the problems that go with that.

    However as long as this is a central government driven process, the results are predictable.

    People often talk of 'meagre resources', but the President and cabinet never blinked when it came to extending the NCC.

  3. Yakima and MrK,

    Great observations! Thanks.

  4. Nice article I hope the powers that be and the NCC members get access to this article and make use of these sensible observations.

  5. Like a voice in a forest awash with wolves- Kyambalesa, Dr Mutesa, Dr Lewanika, the late Mwanakatwe and other properly educated Zambians have over the years called for fiscal and effective government. But these voices are in all truth too weak in contrast to the influence political magnet being wielded by Presidency and his party machinery.
    You can look back in history and find the lone voices of late Simon Kapwepwe and late John Mwanakatwe in age of UNIP warning against the excess of massive government, the young turks in age of MMD warning against untoward reach of unrestrained executive authority in creating unnecessary entities like PHI, vendors desk etc.
    The power of the political establishment has always managed drowned out the voices of reason though occasionally lip service is paid to some calls such the current NCC yielding to the cry of the late Lucy Sichone who called for a constituent assembly.
    The hope for reclaiming the people voice or indeed the voice of reason lies in the confluence of sufficient numbers of enlightened Zambians and consolidated leadership of properly educated minds like Kyambelesa, Dr Mutesa, Dr Lewanika, Mugande, HH, Prof Clive Chirwa and others. Not standing as singular entities each seeking titular authority but presenting an amalgamated party of combined intelligence,vision wisdom and united resolve to overpower the status quo.
    That my dear friends maybe what it might take to bring about sanity and development in Zambia or we might have the alternative of resort to a strong man as did Ghana under Jerry Rawlings who cleaned up using military prowess but look what a beautiful state Ghana is today, compared to Zambia's peaceful yet violently poor existence over the same timeframe.
    I urge Kyambalesa, Dr Mutesa, Prof Chirwa, Magande and others not to present several separate weak party platforms to Zambia, consolidate your visions and pull your strengths together to over mediocrity in Zambia.

    Anon 1

  6. It would be interesting to do a cross country comparison - per capita.

    Also checking the share of MPs expenses as a proportion of annual expenditure across nations.

    If I had time...and if the delegates showed any ounce of reason...


  7. Ha ah..
    Cho -
    You do not have to, the World Bank, CIA nation Facts, Transparency international, Ibrahim Governance index even the BBC country profile have useful data for cross country comparison.

  8. Anon,

    I think you spoke too soon!

    The 'per capita' comparison was the 'legisltative per capita'

    None of the organisations provides that measure. May some econometric study has computed it, but I have never seen it.

  9. Anon,

    To put in simplest terms.

    Can you refer me to an index that provides a cross country ranking of 'legislative representation' per head?

    For the USA that would be quite difficult to compute, with multiple layers of the legislature.

    It's probably an impossible measure...

  10. Anon 1 USA, Everyone,

    I urge Kyambalesa, Dr Mutesa, Prof Chirwa, Magande and others not to present several separate weak party platforms to Zambia, consolidate your visions and pull your strengths together to over mediocrity in Zambia.

    I completely agree. Considering that the PF-UPND is most likely to win in 2011, I suggest that everyone pools their talents, and shape the actual platform of the PF-UPND.

    There has to be a real policy alternative to the MMD's neoliberalism and frankly, the neoliberal policy elements of the PF-UPND.

    And I would add the people from the Citizens Democratic Party to that.

    The PF-UPND have an existing party structure, so there would be no need to build another party.

    We could identify constituencies where the PF-UPND does not have representation, and run our own candidates in there under the PF-UPND ticket.

    From the CDP's website and manifesto:


    The vision of the Citizens Democratic Party is to; Put People First in a decentralized national governance system that will be compatible with an economy that will guarantee Zambians of a life of hope, freedom, and opportunity where people in their own communities can decide what’s best for them rather than being told what to do by the central government in Lusaka.

    In contrast, what is being practiced in Zambia is deconcentration, which is sometimes called administrative or bureaucratic decentralization. This system of governance simply transfer functions from the central government to the district or provincial offices. Real decision-making is retained by the central government.

    The Citizens Democratic Party will lead a smaller but efficient government with clear separation of power among the three arms of government; the executive, the legislature and the judiciary, by strictly appointing cabinet ministers from outside parliament.

    The definition of the CDP Draft Manifesto is driven and inspired by the CDP core principle; "Putting People First".

    This Draft Manifesto distinguishes itself from the traditional presentation of any other party's' manifesto in the way it has been structured. This is not a Manifesto of PROMISES; rather it is a Manifesto of SOLUTIONS.

  11. Continued...

    The CDP recognizes that our country is plagued with many problems which can easily be identified from virtually any angle. To catalogue and address every single challenge our nation faces would result in a non-cohesive Manifesto, which may turn out to be self-contradictory. With this in mind, the Draft Manifesto focuses on the ROOT and CORE issues which once resolved will provide the momentum to solve the critical challenges our nation faces. The Draft Manifesto will be found to lie within the parameters of the CDP 7-Point Agenda. The goals in the Draft Manifesto are mainly, but not limited to the following;

    i. A revolutionary change in the manner government business will be conducted through immediate decentralization to bring power closer to the rightful owners; the people.

    ii. A reduction in size of the central government

    iii. A clear and defined separation of powers between the three arms of government to pave way for transparency to root out the culture of corruption

    iv. A massive and deliberate political and economic investment into our people.

    The strength of the CDP Manifesto lies in the practicality of its implementation. We hope that, you, our citizenry will find the document easy to understand, and your general feed back is important to us as we work towards the launch of the party.

    It is the intention of the CDP that the Manifesto will be a creation of the people by the people and for the people.

    CDP>> Putting People First.

    I would say that this is not very far off what most of us have been saying - decentralisation (whether to local or provincial government), not merely deconcentration.

    And by the way the CDP suggests reducing the number of ministries from 22 to 18 - I would say bring it back to 10-12, and either abolish or join the provincial ministries with the provincial authorities.

    I like their Zambian Centric view of the economy. We have had too much of chasing after foreign investors so they can rape Zambia's resources without paying taxes or sharing profits. The only beneficiaries of this seem to be the politicians who take bribes for allowing this daylight robbery of their own people and country.

    On taxation, I have a few problems with their platform, because how can anyone explain expanding the tax base to the informal sector, when we refuse to tax the mines? It is as if someone is saying that Zambians have too much money, therefore they should pay more taxes. First, tax the mines, and reduce inefficiency in government, then we can talk about the informal sector. And the formalisation of the informal sector should be to enable them to make more money (loans, credit), not so a bloated government can take more, and ministers can waste more money in conspicuous consumption.

    The guiding principle in the development of the nation should be raising incomes and standards of living. And keeping small businesses and consumers from being taxed is a good place to start. We need to tax the mines and foreign corporations first.

    The CDP's interim spokesperson is Bill Kaping'a, who can be contacted here.

    We should really get together, form a united diasporan front, and get behind the party that has the highest chance of winning the 2011 election. We can get our platforms to flash out their existing platform, and even sponsor candidates in constituencies where they have not candidate running, to improve their national electoral chances.

    What do you say?

  12. MrK-
    Thank you addressing the main point of my comments, I have noticed whether by default or design that the debate MO of some on this blog is find a point that they may deem weak among someone's comments, then use it or exploit to discredit the larger points being made.
    This is what gives rise to compartmentalization of debate, it's like picking straw in a stack of hay.
    I would much rather if some disagrees they address every point of disagreement rather than mount a slash and burn approach to some weak point in a follow up comment.
    Since I have to practice what I preach, I will answer Cho's question

    "Can you refer me to an index that provides a cross country ranking of 'legislative representation' per head?"

    The USA is a very good example of "legislative representation per head" congressional voting districts are drawn out using census data, in fact the Obama administration is paying particular attention to ensure that every household is counted in the next census to precisely ensure legislative representation per head.

    You will also note the even our NCC in Zambia has attempted what they are calling Proportionate Representation to avoid marginalizing women, the disabled and the youth.
    I hope this attempts to answer your very valid request for clarification.

    Presenting an amalgamated party of properly educated leaders of course is no way meant to suggest liming choice or distinctive ideologies, i submit it is possible to represent diverse ideals under one umbrella. Here in the US a population of more than 300 Million is represented by two major parties, while in Zambia a population of less than 12 Million has more than 20 parties, the US government has by the way also fewer governments department as they are called here than the many Government Ministries as they are called in Zambia.


  13. Anon 1, USA

    Thank you for your specific response.

    Not sure whether you are the same 'Anonymous' who supposedly thought I was talking about GDP per capita' measures.

    Coming back to your answer.

    It is helpful but it's NOT what I was getting at.

    I wanted to check whether someone has created an index measure and applied it to different nations. Such a measure would have something like this :

    For Zambia x amount of average people are represented by 1 law maker.

    For the USA, UK etc etc.

    I then went on to point out that this universal index may be difficult because of different legislative systems and variation in power.

    The other index would be based on country sizes, etc etc...

    Zambia has a smaller population but distance may necessitate more represenation...

    I hope this clarifies where I am coming from.

  14. Cho-

    No am not the 'Anonymous' who supposedly thought I was talking about GDP per capita' measures.

    Here is how it work in the US please bear in mind the US has a very larger geographical footprint also stretching over 5 different time zones-
    The U.S. Census Bureau is required to take a census of population every ten years, during the year ending with zero. According to the Constitution of the United States, this decennial census has one fundamental purpose: to ensure that number of seats each State has in the U.S. House of Representatives reflects the relative size of the State's population as compared with other States. Currently there are 435 representatives divided among the 50 States. Each of these representatives is elected by the voters of a congressional district, defined as an area established by law for the election of representatives to the U.S. Congress. Each congressional district is to be as equal in population to all other congressional districts in the State as practicable, based on the decennial census counts. The number of congressional districts in each State may change after a decennial census. After the number of seats assigned to the individual States is determined (apportionment), the task of drawing the new congressional districts (redistricting) is generally given to each State legislature. Congressional district boundaries may be changed more than once during a decade.

    We know how many doctors, teachers, nurses etc for every 1000 Zambians
    that info is available in data bases of the organizations I cited earlier, how difficult would it be to tell how many lawmakers represent x amount of Zambians?

    There are currently 150 MP's from 72 districts, if the census dept in Zambia know the population in each of those districts, well I guess "X" would be easily determined.

    In the US states like California have more representatives than say Nevada because of lower population density.
    I believe you will find in Zambia also ( not that the two examples are apples to apples comparisons) that Western province has less MP's from than Copperbelt Province in Zambia.
    As a side point the US federal Governments also uses state population data when appropriating national budget quotas for states, so states like California receive more federal dollars.

    Getting back to substance, the main point, am putting forward is that the size of the Zambian Parliament and government must show an effective correlation to the small size of the nation's population and GDP.
    Right now, the size of the Zambian government specifically constitutes an over grown tumor that is consuming too much of the nations budget relative to, it's benefit to the Zambian people.


  15. Anon 1, USA

    "Getting back to substance, the main point, am putting forward is that the size of the Zambian Parliament and government must show an effective correlation to the small size of the nation's population and GDP."

    That was also what I was trying to get at. My point is that the "correlation" is best informed informed by getting data on other countries as well. In short what I would do, if I thought it was useful, is to two things :

    First, under take a statistical comparison that checks where Zambia currently lies with in terms of representation relative to other nations. I did a small comparison with the UK. Population 60m, MPs 650. Zambia : 11m, MPs 158. Already Zambia has a higher level of representation than the UK i.e. few people covered by 1 MP.

    Secondly, explore a cross econometric regression :
    GDP per capita as a function of different "control" variables, and of course includes that index as well, as captures some "population density" across regions.

    As I said, its probably interesting but the NCC are not interested in determining the "optimal size" of representation.

  16. I do think the NCC have erred in revising the number of MPs in the absence of very recent census data. A 60% increase is quite substantial and requires a lot of explaining.

  17. Cho,

    First, under take a statistical comparison that checks where Zambia currently lies with in terms of representation relative to other nations. I did a small comparison with the UK. Population 60m, MPs 650. Zambia : 11m, MPs 158. Already Zambia has a higher level of representation than the UK i.e. few people covered by 1 MP.

    I was thinking of this - what if local councillors were elected by local people; MPs were only elected from the ranks of elected councillors; and the President can elect his cabinet from elected MPs.

    This would guarantee that all MPs have a strong familiarity with local politics and local issues. Because of this increased expertise, there might actually be a need for fewer MPs, because they would have greater connections to the community, could use remaining councillors for information. Also, with a greater role for local government, and a restriction of MPs duties to lawmaking, it would further reduce the need for this large a number of MPs.

    It would also reverse the political process from a top-down system (with a national party imposing MPs and policies on localities) to a bottom-up system, where local politics and issues would drive policy, and no matter which party is in power, they cannot impose and MP on a constituency. And all MPs would have extensive local knowledge, even if they spend much of their time in the capital/parliament.

  18. The negative impact resulting from the spiraling effect of the social ills emanating from rural-urban migration is grossly underestimated and hardly appreciated by economists. There seems to be a clear void between various stakeholders engaged to address the problems associated with rural/urban migration. The effect of the imbalance resulting from this phenomenon creates a circle of multiplier effects that tie government into ever addressing secondary effects other than primary ills which ultimately translates into economic stagnation. The economist will hardly be able to quantify in real terms.

  19. The reason for the proposed increase in number of parliamentary seats is primarily due to the vastness of certain districts and the hurdles encountered by the respective MPs to implement developmental projects in such Districts. To suppose that personal benefit or political mileage on the part of the ruling party are the main motivators for such a proposal is not only to miss the point (by a huge margin) but seems to imply that the NCC is full of illiterates incapable of prudent assessment of critical issues. The fact that some people have decided not to participate in this NCC must not mean that those who are participating are dunderheads. The immediate legitimate concern is the increased financial burden to meet the extra numbers. But this must be juxtaposed against the absolute need to implement development projects in those districts. The disbursed development funds over the years have had to be returned to the treasury without ever being used, a cost accrued to the Tax payer. These moneys unless channeled through auditable arrangements (as through an area MP) will continue to be unused. Previous alternative solutions to tackle these same issues partly explain the volume of unexplained or unaccounted monies at district levels seen in the Auditor Generals reports. It has been proven, as more efficient and viable, to disburse funds through the area MP, who is directly held responsible through parliament not only for the monies but the actual developmental projects in those Districts. The increased numbers of MP’s must be looked at as a balance to resolve problems arising from these factors. Rural development is as urgent, if not the most urgent, goal for Zambia’s economic development. Unless rural areas are developed our country will continue to wallow in unnecessary poverty. We can’t ignore such an obvious fact. What other economically viable channels or alternative arrangement can government use to spearhead rural development other than through the area MP? The faster rural development projects are implemented, the better the chances of us coming out of this economic malaise we have been facing all these years. This is the heart of our economic problem. The migration of rural dwellers to urban centers and attended ills is the single most crucial problem that this nation faces. Perhaps to query matters relating to the quality and performance of the MPs will do as more good than downplaying the obvious need of capacity.

  20. Most comments border on political opinion rather than economics. To suggest that the increased number of MPs is detrimental is a polical opinion than anything else.

  21. The imbalance caused by this ‘artificial’ increase in population due to rural urban migration, we remain in a reel facing problems that we need not be facing. Through this rural urban migration, rural areas lose their most vibrant and productive populace whilst the same migrants worsen the problem of the already overburdened urban services and amenities. At a point when rural dwellers are motivated to stay and not migrate to towns, when entrepreneurs see opportunities in the rural areas, when the quality of health and educational services in rural areas is comparable to that of urban centers, when the rural farmer has equitable access for his goods to market in terms of transport and cost, only then can we begin to see real economic progress in our nation. But how do we begin to realize that vision or rather how do we accelerate this kind of development if we still think capacity building in rural areas is a costly thing to do?

  22. The suggestion to maintain the current numerical levels in terms of MPs inspite the lessons learnt could yet be another blunder which in essence militates squarely against national development. Indeed even basic economics regarding this situation correctly observes that to maximize production, labour levels must be increased to meet the demand. It is a foregone conclusion that such an increase in labour has the obvious implication of the unavoidable increase in labour wages. Now to suppose to motivate the current manpower (without increasing labour levels) to meet the demand is as revolutionary an idea as Adams theories. At least Adams theories seem to work, but an antithesis of his theories as the ones suggested by the forum have yet to be put to the test for their obvious and absolute flaws. Following in on this revolutionary concept, equipping the current MPS to meet the demand means: better remuneration, more rough terrain enduring 4x4’s (at least two for each MP), self contained fully equipped mobile homes, graders, satellite phones, pairs of binoculars and a standby boat for each affected MP. How about that! Surely this is more cynical that the status quo!

  23. On an related but somewhat relevant topic, I couldn't help but notice the increasing number of brilliant anonymous contributors.

    The very fact that so many people, with so many good ideas and contributions, are opting not to speak openly about issues that affect them, directly or otherwise, says a lot about the state of freedom of expression in Zambia. It is time to have real freedom not just on some piece of paper signed in 1964, but in reality too.

    Sometimes we ourselves are to blame, for when we see someone we don't quite agree with being persecuted, we keep quiet as if to silently suggest it served them right. Meanwhile, we're indirectly supporting and perpetuating something we may suffer from at some point.

  24. Zedian,

    I agree.

    I also hope Cho will remove the "Anonymous" choice for a contributor's identity so that those wishing to use their true or fake names can use the "Name/URL" choice.

    This will make it easier to refer to the "identity" of contributors when one finds it necessary to comment on their contributions.

  25. Zedian, Kyambalesa

    Its a bit tricky!

    There's merit to commenting "anonymously". It has allowed important information to be made available to us.

    But I'll investigate.

  26. Kyambalesa,

    I suppose we have to see the proposed increase within the context of existing constitutional provision.

    This year after all was supposed to be delimitation exercise, which would have actually allowed for more constituencies. The only reason that has not happened is because the Govt has opted for the NCC to make recommendations.

  27. Cho,

    I'm not in any way proposing a curb on anonymous posting on your blog. I'm merely observing that the increase in such posts on just normal topics of discussion, speaks volumes about freedom of expression in Zambia. Clearly the fears that the anonymous contributors have are not without merit. That's my concern, not the anonymous posting in itself.

    I previously spoke of people not speaking out against evil when it's on their opponents. Take for instance most former MMD members. While in MMD the Post newspaper is their arch enemy, but once ejected from the party their first stop is the Post!

    Freedom of expression is above partisan politics, therefore should be defended by ALL.

  28. Zedian,

    Thanks for the clarification.

    I agree.


All contributors should follow the basic principles of a productive dialogue: communicate their perspective, ask, comment, respond,and share information and knowledge, but do all this with a positive approach.

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