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Thursday, 7 January 2010

Respecting the dead..

We always try and cover as many policy areas as possible, especially those that rarely command attention in the press. I was therefore delighted to read this "out of this world" Parliamentary assessment on burial grounds. We bury the dead too often in our nation and all of us must be appalled by the state of burial grounds and the disrespect it shows to the dead. In recent years we have seen bizarre sites from people being forced to use "closed grave yards" to burial grounds giving way to mining activities. The Parliamentary assessment is a good starting point for understanding the key constraints and possible direction for future policy :

The establishment and management of cemeteries in Zambia, Parliamentary Committee on Local Governance Housing and Chiefs Affairs, National Assembly, Report Extract :

Among social services local authorities are mandated to execute in Zambia is the provision of cemetery services. However, in major cities and, particularly Lusaka, several challenges have emerged including the shortage of land for burial sites and lack of facilities at existing cemeteries. Further, the country has seen the emergency of private cemeteries which need to be adequately regulated and supervised.

Concerned with this situation, your Committee resolved to undertake a study to examine the adequacy of the policy and legal framework governing the establishment and management of cemeteries in Zambia. Your Committee also wished to find out what challenges the local authorities and stakeholders are facing in the management of cemeteries in Zambia.

Consolidated summary of submissions by stakeholders

Analysis of the policy and legal framework

The legal framework regarding the establishment and management of cemeteries in Zambia is provided for under the Public Health Act Cap 295 and the Local Government Act Cap 281 of the Laws of Zambia.

The Public Health Act provides under Section 91 (1) that the Minister of Health shall select and appoint within Zambia and notify in the Gazette sufficient and proper places to be sites of, and to be used as, cemeteries. It also provides under the same section that it shall be obligatory, where such cemeteries exist, to bury the dead in such cemeteries. Under Section 91(2) of the Act, it is unlawful for any person to export any corpses from Zambia or to cremate within Zambia, without the express permission in writing by the Minister of Health and obtained subject to conditions as the Minister may impose or by regulation prescribe. The powers of the Minister under the Public Health Act have been delegated to the Provincial Medical Officer of Health by Statutory Instrument No. 36 of 1964.

The Local Government Act, on the other hand, under Part VII, Section 61 of the Act, mandates all local authorities to establish and maintain cemeteries. The Second Schedule sets out the functions of Councils in accordance with Section 61 of the Act and paragraph 41 provides that it is the function of all local authorities in their areas of jurisdiction: “To establish and maintain cemeteries, crematoria and mortuaries and otherwise to provide for and control the burial of the dead and destitute persons who die in the area of the council.”

All stakeholders that appeared before your Committee were in agreement that the legal framework governing the provision of cemeteries in Zambia is inadequate. They pointed out that the two pieces of legislation do not give stakeholders enough detail on the specific functions to be performed by stakeholders. Secondly, the law does not provide adequate guidelines to new players from the private sector who have started offering cemetery services.

As regards the policy framework, your Committee learnt that all local authorities were mandated to establish cemeteries and maintain them in the manner that they may prescribe. There were no prescribed guidelines in form of a national policy that outlined the manner the cemeteries were to be managed and therefore, every local authority was at liberty to prescribe their own rules and guidelines in running the cemeteries under their jurisdiction. There was no guidance on what minimum standards of service were expected of the stakeholders.

This had resulted in fragmentation in the nature of service rendered to the public. Your Committee learnt, for example that, as a result of the weak policy framework, there were about ten burials per day at illegal cemeteries in Lusaka. Further, there were also illegal burials with regards to depth, spacing and soil mound in both legal and illegal cemeteries. Other inadequacies included poor record keeping and management in government cemeteries and poor security resulting in appalling thefts.

Major challenges

As regards the major challenges in the management of cemeteries, your Committee were informed that, in addition to the inadequate legal framework and the absence of a national policy on cemeteries, other challenges were as set out below.

Lack of land: In most cities and towns, the land that was originally earmarked for cemetery sites had slowly been taken up and a need to identify new sites for establishing cemeteries had arisen. The problem was compounded by the fact that most of the land that could otherwise be identified for establishing cemeteries was under traditional tenure.

Lack of financial resources: There were a number of support services which Councils were expected to provide at the cemeteries including grave digging; mourners’ shelters; access roads; kiosks; security services, record keeping and general maintenance of cemeteries. However, most councils were not in position to undertake these functions adequately due to lack of funds.

Increase demand: The increase in population in most cities and towns had brought a lot of pressure on the available burial spaces in the existing cemeteries. Most of the existing cemeteries in these towns were designed for populations far below the current population levels in these towns. Further, the advent of HIV/AIDS pandemic had increased the rate of deaths in cities and towns than would normally have been the case. HIV/AIDS had contributed to the depletion of burial spaces in most of the cemeteries in the cities and towns.

Inadequate community involvement: General negative attitude of families to the preservation of grave sites. Most families in Zambia do not feel obliged to maintain the grave sites once they have buried their beloved ones. Further, most were also reluctant to share costs with the local authorities so as to improve service provision.

Stakeholders’ views on the way forward

On the way forward stakeholders suggested that the Government should as a matter of urgency undertake or facilitate the following: conduct a base line study to establish current position vis-à-vis cemeteries; review all cemetery laws; formulate a comprehensive national policy; design a national cemetery manual; create a national cemetery and burial services inspectorate to maintain minimum standards; encourage public/private sector partnerships; develop community initiatives and awareness programmes; and encourage bereavement care and community burial savings schemes.

Observations and recommendations of the Committee

Cemeteries exist because every life is worth loving and remembering once it has passed on. Cemeteries provide an environment for communities and family members to accord respect for the departed. Your Committee are, however, saddened to note that the management of cemeteries in Zambia is one of the most neglected areas of service provision. Most cemeteries have been a subject of neglect and vandalism compounded with thefts. Firstly, the legal framework as contained in the Public Health Act Cap 295 and the Local Government Act Cap 281 of the Laws of Zambia, is too weak and fragmented to provide guidance to the stakeholders. Secondly, there is no national policy in place, leaving individual local authorities to prescribe what level of service to offer. Thirdly, there is widespread shortage of land for burial purposes which if not urgently handled would drift into a crisis. This has resulted because of poor planning and lack of prioritisation of the service by local authorities. Further, due to the general poor financial position of most councils, burial services have been neglected as most local authorities do not see them as a priority amid competing needs. As a result basic services such as grave digging; mourners’ shelters; access roads; kiosks; security services; record keeping; and general maintenance of cemeteries are almost non existent.

Your Committee, therefore, recommend as follows:

1). the Government should review the laws pertaining to cemeteries with a view to coming up with a comprehensive and updated law to meet the current challenges in cemetery management, especially given the entry of private players in the service; such a law would address many cemetery management issues which are not adequately covered by the current laws to ensure smooth operation of a cemetery.

2). the Government should consider establishing a national inspectorate on the management of cemeteries that will ensure stakeholders, both public and private service providers, to approved minimum standards;

3). the Government should work closely with local authorities to secure land for burial purposes. This could be either from traditional or state land. Further, local authorities that have adequate land are urged to be futurist by reserving land cemetery purposes.

4). the Government should devise a grant to assist local authorities in providing support services at cemeteries; and

5). the local communities should be encouraged to use part of the Constituency Development Fund to provide relevant infrastructure such as mourners’ shelters; access roads; and general maintenance of cemeteries.

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