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Monday, 19 April 2010

Is active citizenship the answer?

Pete Henriot appears to think so.  In a latest post he suggests three steps ordinary Zambians should take to hold Government to account vis-a-vis the Auditor General's Report :

So what should Zambian citizens, civil society organisations, churches, international donors and others concerned with good governance issues do with this AG’s Report?

First of all, read it! The printed volume is on sale; the on-line version is not yet available on the website of the Office of the Auditor General (why not??) but can be found through a simple Google search.

Second, discuss it in public forums, private conversations, talk shows, personal questions to government officials, letters to the editors of newspapers and magazines, etc., etc.

And third, make clear demands that the ordinary path of non-compliance with strong recommendations and non-response to clear calls for criminal actions to be taken against the thieves not be once again repeated. Let’s have fewer “regrets” expressed (pious affirmations that acknowledge wrong-doings but don’t commit to specific actions for right-doings!), and more “arrests” effected (clear punishments by way of dismissals, prosecutions and punishments!).
The first step is simple - every reader of this website has seen it. The second is challenging because those who have seen it (10k plus in February) have not commented or written any letters to the Government! The third presumably relates to the clarity of demands.  If you ever write to the Government make sure it is clear.

Henriot's piece is useful but it is worryingly incomplete. Simply arguing for Zambians to  “speak out” against
these corrupt vices wont deliver change.  I am a proponent of active citizenship, but I have never been deluded that simply calling on Zambians to shout will necessarily work. One of the many reasons why people find it difficult to signal effectively their discontent is that “good governance” is a non-excludable (public) good. We all want to have a good government but we are simply not willing to sacrifice all to see it happen. This problem applies not just to corruption but fixing local drainage systems!

The reason people don't get together and take forward positive local changes we desire is due to "coordination" problems coupled with the "genovese effect" (we all know poor drainage is costly to our communities in the long term, but we would rather someone else took the pain of sorting it out, rather than bear the cross for the entire community). That’s why governments exist to eliminate these "market failures". Unfortunately Zambia’s problem is one of too many "government failures"! So we are back to square one. What we need are solutions to these collective action problems - that calls for credible thinkers . These are made more challenging due to another problem - the Zambian poor are in rich Zambians' palm.


  1. This is a very interesting article. However like you have mentioned I too find it worryingly incomplete and more of a personal attack to un named individuals to say the least.

    I will endevour to google the full AG report and thoroughly read it before I start passing any un informed comments on the subject.

    The title captured my attention because it's the question I have been deliberating on for months now, 'Is active Citizenship the answer?' and if so how does one become an active citizen?

    There seems to be way too many articles critisizing and not necessarily providing a solution to the plight of Zambia.

    And I totally agree with you. ...What we need are solutions to these collective action problems - that calls for credible thinkers .

    I look forward to seeing more credible thinkers to comment on this.

    I am still an amateur on the political scene, so until I feel comfortable enough to reveal my identity I'll call myself 'Mweru'

  2. Mweru,

    As I note in the article above, the AG report is found on this website. Its the only website where you will find the AG

  3. Is a demand for ‘credible thinkers’ likely to achieve any more than Peter Henriot’s suggestion that people call for action on the Auditor General’s reports? It is not easy to act effectively in any matter where one is not directly involved. Even then, almost all Zambians tend to treat ‘civil servants’ as masters.

    But there is one area where there is some hope of success. It concerns governmental institutions which have published charters containing specific commitments. We must latch onto these commitments and demand performance. And if our first attempt fails, we must refuse to take ‘No’ for an answer. This, surely, is an opportunity for 'active citizens' to seize with both hands

  4. Murray,

    I am not demanding credible thinkers. I am merely noting that it is prerequisite to solving the coordination problems. No development or economic renewal has ever occurred without home grown thinkers.

    How you get those home grown thinkers is another history shows that it is complex and gradual process.

    In short, I am sceptical of magical bullets.

  5. Cho,

    If active citizenship is the answer, how do we get there? Unfortunately, I do not believe that Zambia has an environment/culture that promotes dialogue that is not centred on politicking and pettiness. At the very basic level, Zambians are not taught or challenged to think critically about issues in our country.

    I think a good first step is community involvement. We need to stop waiting for someone else to a) identify our problems, and b) fix these problems. With the poor drainage issues in areas like Lusaka, why are we yet to see affected residents pooling resources and partnering with the local government?

    I understand that I've oversimplified the issue, but I did it to illustrate the lack of involvement. There are obviously other hurdles that exist such as low incomes, disenfranchisement, etc. But we have to start somewhere.

  6. Thank you very much for the link Cho.

    Thank God I am an accountant by profession, will enjoy reading Miss Chifungula's Report.(AG Report).

    Constructive feed back guaranteed!

  7. Report exposes misapplication of funds in PF-run councils
    By Times Reporter

    THE preliminary financial reports on the Patriotic Front-run councils have revealed massive misdirection of funds with Lusaka City Council using K42 billion on personal emoluments and administrative costs leaving only about K17.7 billion on service delivery in the financial year ending 2009.

    In the two-year period between 2008 and December 2009, the council raised a total of K124 billion but only K27 billion was used in providing services while the rest was used for personal emoluments and administrative expenses.

    This represents 15 per cent on service provision of the total amount while 85 per cent was used for personal emoluments and administrative costs in the two-year period.

    The council collected K14,278,819,000 from rates in 2008 and K14,055,171,000 in 2009 but the total income, including other services amounted to K64,400,503,000 in 2008 and K59,647,502,000 in 2009.

    The transition into percentages for the two years shows that 44 per cent of the funds were spent on personal emoluments while administrative costs gobbled 34 per cent, leaving only 22 per cent for service provision.

    Local Government and Housing Deputy Minister Moses Muteteka said a process had been started by a special team of experts to identify specific individuals who might have abused resources for onward reporting to the security wings.

    The report says the council faced the challenge of irregular payments from levies, and Government grants as well as unaccounted for grants.

    There was also reduced expenditure on service delivery instead of the 40 per cent of the total budget as directed by the Ministry of Local Government and Housing.

    Ndola City Council had a total income of K21,652,772,000 in 2008 in grants from the Government, land rates and levies while the figure went up to K29,725,246,177 in 2009.

    Of this amount, only 21 per cent was spent on service provision while a total of 77 per cent went to recurrent expenditure and only two per cent was used for infrastructure development.

    The report states that the council overspent by about K5,495,015,960 without preparing a supplementary expenditure. There was also non-availability of title deeds for council properties and non maintenance of ledgers.

    There was no preparation of certificate of completion for projects while the format for the receipts did not meet standards.

    Other irregularities included under-banking, irregular payments, failure to update stock ledgers and poor management of imprest apart from failure to remit withholding tax to the Zambia Revenue Authority.

    Kitwe City Council only spent K4,488 billion representing 13 per cent on service provision and infrastructure of the total K35.5 billion in 2009 while only 29 per cent of K62,630,000,000 which was income for the two years was spent on service provision.

    The council generally failed to maintain ledgers and also failed to manage imprest effectively.

    Chingola Municipal Council only spent two per cent on service provision in 2008 while 45 per cent of the total revenue was utilised as employee-related costs and also failed to prepare final books of accounts. About 53 per cent went to admin-istrative costs.

  8. The above post makes sad reading....The misapplication of funds even in the PF run councils is rampant so a change in government will not necessarily mean a change for the poor. The vast number of supporters of both parties should be made aware of this as it seems there is so much hope and expectations in the PF. But if this is a glimpse into the future - it is very sad......What to do? Until the avarage Zambian does not find anything wrong with politicians - including their area MP - driving very posh cars, while they wallow in poverty, I don't think much will change in our beloved Zambia! Zambians wake cannot expect just a bunch of people to come up in arms for the entire nation!!

  9. Very sad reading indeed. This must be a very low blow to PF so soon after the illigitimate children admission by Mr. Sata. Now even the catholic church has distanced iteslf away from PF and its activities.

    For me, i am a dissapointed voter because i voted for PF twice. In 2006 i wanted change because airing FTJ's dirty linen in public was not going to feed me or my family and in 2008 i thought RB was just out to hijack the MMD.

    I got it wrong both times. PF are not any better than MMD. If anything they are worse. The council accounts prove this without a doubt.

    Very very sad indeed.

  10. Cho, you need to do a separate post for the corruption in the PF led council. This is a hot topic back home.


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