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Tuesday, 4 January 2011

At The Mercy of Big Business

While I was on break, an interesting statement was made by the Republican President His Excellency President Rupiah Bwezani Banda :
“Don’t underestimate our opponents, don’t think you are the only ones with resources because you don’t know where the opposition get their resources from. We have to work hard at being in good terms with the business community. Listen to them, understand their problems and do something about it..."
Now if this is not a good reason for reforming "campaign finance" then I don't know what is. We have the country's most powerful man admitting that he panders to larger and more powerful forces.

I do not want to say too much on this at present because I would like to come back  to this as part of the ongoing series on the proposed Constitution of Zambia (Amendment) Bill 2010.  It may also be a subject of our Leading Voices project.  But there are three immediate observations I would like to make on this important issue.

First, there are currently no rules that regulate campaign finance in Zambia. Each man does as he pleases. We all remember the controversy of the 2006 campaign when it was reported that Mr Sata, who had criticized Chinese investors, was being bankrolled by Taiwanese business interests. There was no public mechanism to confirm or refute the allegations, and the episode served to shed light on the need for better accounting of campaign revenues and expenditures. The lack of campaign finance regulation presents economically powerful actors with an opportunity to exert undue influence on our politics. But let us be cautious, there was little direct evidence that any such actors have done so in recent elections, until the above admission by the Republican President.  

Secondly, political lobbying can take the form in which it becomes corruption. A key determinant of successful electioneering is campaign finance which is usually sourced from multinational companies (in Zambia these are mining companies mainly) that lobby policy changes. In its purest form lobbying is perfectly legal as it simply seeks to influence legislators to see the merit of a given policy proposal. To some extent we all lobby politicians all the time. The problem is the specific form of lobbying which allows people with particular interests who represent a minority to gain special access to government, and through monetary contributions and favors, develop controversial relationships with government. This constitutes a form of back door corruption, which unfortunately in Zambia is very prevalent. This point is what makes this issue very vital for public debate.

Finally, the real problem is lack of campaign finance regulation and not, as others have often indicated, lack of public finance. Political parties are just like any other investment. If your brand is correct and offers a good return, people are more than willing to invest their money and time to make it work. If your brand is poor, no money will be forth coming. People and organisations are waiting to queue to fund political parties and this will continue as Zambia becomes an attractive place to invest and political competition improves. The key is to ensure a level playing field through a stronger constitution which encourages fair play  and political competition. Greater political competition should encourage investment in political parties. Those parties that cannot attract funding may need to consider whether their "political brand" is as attractive as it ought to be. Crucially, they should dedicate their energy to pushing for a level playing field through a stronger constitution.

I hope this wets your appetite for a future more lengthy post.


  1. "...whets your appetite..."

  2. "Now, if this is not a good reason for reforming 'campaign finance' then I don't know what is. We have the country's most powerful man admitting that (he panders to larger and more powerful forces.?????)


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