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Sunday, 24 April 2011

A Corrupted Civil Service

We have never shirked from criticising the current deficiencies at the Post (e.g. here). But this recent editorial is absolutely spot on. One can't help but nod to every sentence. The issues it exposes are vital and in line with our recent post Cadre Diplomats. The Post assessment rightly goes beyond our limited post and characterises the cadre mentality of our so called foreign service as a general corruption of the government. We have to all intents and purpose a corrupt culture at which the civil service is only a tip of the iceberg. Our Leading Voices essay for May will focus on expanding our understanding of corruption. It is good to be reminded that our challenges are huge. It will take a root and branch reform (and renewal of national consciousness) to change the status quo. 

The efficient, effective and orderly functioning of our civil service would require creating a thick line marking a distinction between the government and the ruling MMD. Lack of this distinction between the ruling party and the government creates a climate of political patronage, leading to the lack of independence in the decisions and actions of civil servants. We are increasingly seeing civil servants and other public officers identifying themselves with the ruling MMD. This is leading to confusion in the conduct of the affairs of government.

Ours is not a one-party state where there is no meaningful separation between the ruling party and the government. Ours is a multi-party political dispensation where the affairs of government are conducted by civil servants and public officers and not by party cadres. And no political party has the right to usurp the functions of government.

It is therefore shocking to hear Rupiah Banda disclose publicly that Zambia’s ambassadors and high commissioners were contributors to the funding that enabled the ruling MMD to hold its convention the other week. It was equally shocking to hear Rupiah openly solicit for campaign funds from these diplomats, these civil servants.

Our diplomats are civil servants reporting to the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Why should civil servants be asked by the President of the Republic to contribute to his election campaign and that of his party? Today it’s diplomats being asked to do that, tomorrow it will be officers in the Zambia Army, Zambia Air Force, Zambia National Service, Zambia Security and Intelligence Services, Zambia Police Service and so on and so forth. Will it be right for these civil servants to be made to contribute funds to Rupiah’s campaign?

We know that it is Rupiah who appoints and promotes all the top or key civil servants and other public workers. But these appointments and promotions are not personal favours to these officers from Rupiah for which they should be made to show eternal gratitude to him. Promotions in the civil and public service should be based on merit and not on patronage, nepotism or some other personal favours for which they should pay back.

What Rupiah is doing amounts to corruption on his part and to corrupting these civil servants. And we know that corruption of civil servants and other public officers undermines the legitimacy of the state and its institutions, weakens trust in merit and the rule of law and can have a detrimental effect on the politics and administration of the country.

It is thus crucial that Rupiah and our civil servants and public officers act in an ethical manner. It is unethical for civil servants to take a partisan line and be contributors to the campaign funds of one candidate, that is, the sitting president, and one party – the ruling party.

We wonder what would happen to these civil servants if next month they somehow contribute funds to the holding of the opposition PF’s congress and Michael Sata publicly acknowledges their contributions and thanks them for that. And he further asks them to contribute funds to his presidential election campaign and that of the PF. How would Rupiah take it? Would these diplomats keep their jobs after such revelations?

Rupiah knows very well that what he is doing is wrong. That’s not the way our civil servants and public officers should be pushed to conduct themselves. But Rupiah doesn’t care about ethics. Yet we know very well that political leaders, especially those occupying very high public offices like Rupiah, are expected to maintain high ethical standards. They are expected to have joined politics out of conviction and commitment to the public good rather than for personal power and private profit.Yet what we see from Rupiah every day tells us a different story.

Rupiah’s failure to achieve high ethical standards has a detrimental effect on the governance of our country and the administration of public affairs. Lack of ethical standards leads to corruption, and indeed it is corruption in itself.

Where human and material resources are diverted from their most profitable use and where institutions are run in a less than efficient way, costs are created that affect not only the state and its economy but also the welfare and morale of its citizens.

We all know the salaries of our ambassadors and high commissioners. Our diplomats are not highly paid for them to be making contributions to the MMD convention and to Rupiah and his party’s election campaigns. Asking them to make such contributions is a recipe for corruption, for abuse of public office and funds. And moreover, such practices undermine the trustworthiness of our diplomats and of Rupiah himself. And a state whose institutions have lost their legitimacy and whose key officers are not deemed trustworthy by its population cannot run efficiently.

Experience suggests that where the behaviour of superiors like the president is perceived to be incorrect, the respect of subordinates for ethical standards, common laws and practices wears off as well.

Anyway, civil servants and public officers work the way they were appointed. Those who are appointed on merit do everything possible to ensure that their stay in those jobs is based on merit. Those whose appointments are a product of nepotism and corruption know that they will only survive in those jobs through buttressing the nepotism and corruption of the appointing authority. If patronage was the basis for appointment or promotion, it will also be the basis for holding on to those jobs and indeed for further promotion.

There is no genuine commitment to ethical behaviour on Rupiah’s part. Rupiah is not ashamed to talk about his abuse of civil servants because that’s what he had appointed them to do or to be – his personal servants and not servants of the people. Rupiah appoints people to the civil and public service on the basis of nepotism and patronage. And as such, he expects them to conduct themselves towards him on that basis. They have to pay back the favours he has extended to them; they owe their jobs to him. This is not the way to run a country, especially one which is constitutionally a multi-party state.

We appreciate Rupiah’s one-party state background. But things, times change and people are expected to change with things, times. But this behaviour is not only confined to our diplomats. We see the same behaviour every day from those working in many other public institutions. Look at the conduct of the managers of state-owned and government-controlled media institutions! They are all in the service of Rupiah and the MMD. Look at the operations of the police!

The key officers in the police have rendered themselves personal servants of Rupiah and not of the people. They do everything and anything Rupiah wants them to do even if it is wrong for them to do so.

Look at the operations of the intelligence services in this country! They are not ashamed to work for Rupiah and the MMD. They operate as if they were an extension of Rupiah and his MMD. They look at the interests of the MMD as the interests of the state and do a lot of political work for Rupiah and the MMD.

This is not correct in a multi-party political dispensation.

There is need for them to know that there is a distinction between the government and the ruling party. There has to be ethical standards because these are a key instrument against arbitrary political power. Good behaviour is difficult to enforce, but it can be encouraged through preventative and corrective arrangements like clear codes of conduct for civil servants and other public officers, including those holding political office.

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