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Friday, 20 November 2009

Tackling Crime (Guest Blog)

Current reports by some news sources around the world concerning the unprecedented incidence of crime and xenophobic sentiments in South Africa have got me pondering whether there is anything we can do in Zambia to save ourselves from experiencing a similar situation.

At present, government leaders in Zambia seem to be oblivious to the spate of criminal activities in the country, probably because their families are relatively safe since they are provided with security at public expense. But as the unemployment situation worsens, and as we continue to spill nearly half of the children who enroll in Grades 7 and 9 onto the streets every year, crime is very likely to get out of control and make it difficult for anyone to live, work and/or shop in a safe environment.

Moreover, violence and threats of violence by MMD riff-ruffs against individuals within and outside the MMD party who are perceived to be enemies of President Rupiah Banda and other government leaders have become a serious threat to safety and security in the nation.

So, failure to contain the widespread unemployment, the increasing number of street kids and violence by MMD hooligans and other political thugs is a good reason why it would not be wrong to conclude that the MMD government has failed to address the escalation in crime in the country. Every family and business in Zambia today has been directly or indirectly affected by robberies, burglaries, vandalism, and other senseless crimes—but there seems to be little effort by the Ministry of Home Affairs to address the situation.

Let me suggest a few initiatives for addressing the current crime wave in Zambia.

Firstly, we need to create a National Crime-Prevention Board and charge it with the responsibility of formulating an effective and efficient national crime-prevention strategy. The Board should be made up of police, prisons and paramilitary commanding officers, as well as representatives of chambers of commerce and industry, private legal practitioners, and civil rights organizations .

Secondly, we need to seriously consider the prospect of transferring the superintendence over the civil police to provincial governments after creating semi-autonomous provinces to be administered by elected provincial governors and district mayors—in which case the Ministry of Home Affairs would have to be abolished. Close superintendence over police functions by local governments is more likely to make it possible for police officers to discharge the following duties more effectively: (a) protection of life and property; (b) preservation of peace and prevention of crime; (c) detection and apprehension of law breakers; (d) enforcement of laws and ordinances; (e) safeguarding the rights and freedoms of members of society; and (f) developing sound police-community relations.

The national government should then work with provincial governments through the Ministry for Local Government, for example, by allocating adequate financial and material resources to police units in order to enhance their capabilities in terms of communications, transportation, crime-fighting gadgets and equipment, and security cameras for installation in town centers and on major roads and streets.

Thirdly, there is a need to continue with the concept of a Police and Prisons Public Complaints Authority at the district level in order to provide an effective mechanism through which members of the public can be afforded the opportunity to keep the operations and conduct of police and prisons officers in check.

Fourthly, it is important to address the factors that induce criminal activity. Although habitual criminals cannot easily be reformed, creation of adequate jobs by stimulating supply and demand through lower taxes and interest rates can greatly reduce the number of citizens who are likely to engage in criminal activities for the purpose of obtaining financial and/or material resources to meet their basic needs.

We also need to provide for free education, and abolish elimination examinations in Grades 7 and 9. Besides, there is a need for pieces of legislation designed to provide for long jail terms and/or heavy fines for gun-totting.

Fifthly, it would be a good idea to make the training of prisons, corrections, and civil police officers the responsibility of the Defence and Security ministry. If such an arrangement can be deemed to be viable, the Lilayi training school could be converted into a Police and Prisons Academy designed to provide centralized, state-of-the-art training for prisons, corrections and civil police officers. Training costs could be met by the central government, while stipends and room and board for trainees could be financed by provincial governments.

The Academy should also be open for enrolment of trainees spon sored by local security companies, and governments and security companies in the African Union (AU). Private and foreign government sponsors should meet the full cost of training for their sponsored trainees.

The Academy should also provide for driving lessons to all trainees who would need such training. Selected trainees should be provided with training designed to equip them with skills in operating security helicopters. Eventually, the central government would need to purchase at least 10 helicopters—1 for training purposes at the Academy, and the remaining 9 to be shared among provincial governments for security operations by the civil police. A maintenance facility for the helicopters could be established in Kabwe district.

It is high time we started pursuing radical, comprehensive and realistic policies designed to make it possible for our people to reap the benefits of independence, democracy and economic liberalization within a short period of time. This may sound highly ambitious, but I believe very strongly that we can uplift the majority of our fellow citizens who are currently wallowing in abject poverty through simple, practical and commonsense solutions to the socio-economic problems facing our beloved country.

Funding for these kinds of endeavors can come from savings which can be realized from reducing the number of Cabinet portfolios by merging and/or abolishing some government ministries and agencies, abolishing the positions of Deputy Minister and District Commissioner, reducing the number of foreign missions by having single embassies to cover clusters of countries, and initiating many other cost-cutting measures.

Government revenue would also be enhanced through income taxes on holders of jobs created through lower interest rates and taxes, and the value-added taxes they would pay through purchases of products.

These are some of the issues MMD leaders should be contemplating instead of their current obsession with discrediting the UPND-PF pact and enacting legislation designed to regulate NGOs and the private media.

Henry Kyambalesa
(Guest Blogger)

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