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Monday, 30 May 2011


A word we need to get acquainted with. The British House of Common's defines it as follow :
The period of time from when an election is announced until after the election is held has been known as ‘purdah’ but is now more often referred to as the pre-election period. Guidance has been issued to civil servants before general and local elections, and to local authorities on their activities during the period before local elections.

The general election guidance advises that decisions on matters of policy on which a new Government might be expected to want the opportunity to take a different view from the present Government should be postponed until after the election, provided that such postponement would not be detrimental to the national interest or wasteful of public money. For local elections, separate guidance advises that particular care should be taken over official support, and the use of public resources, including publicity, for Ministerial announcements which could have a bearing on matters relevant to the devolved or local elections. In some cases it may be better to defer an announcement until after the elections but this would need to be balanced carefully against any implication that deferral could itself influence the political outcome
The basic principle of Purdah is that government should not use the pre-election period to gain political mileage by touting "development projects" late in the day. This is important not only in terms of ensuring political fair play but it can also have a detrimental effect on the economy. For example, the government could announce something that no incoming government would support. It could also announce something that has no economic value whatsoever, but merely to gain votes. To prevent such gross misjudgement the British have a "purdah" period from "when an election is announced until after the election".

I would argue that given the poverty of political systems Zambia too needs an enhanced period of purdah. Not just one that begins when the elections are announced, but at-least two months before official campaigns begins. As FODEP's Alex Ng'oma has rightly observed, the intensification of developmental projects by government as the country heads to the polls should be discouraged. Such projects are not well thought out and places a huge burden on the incoming government to stick to them. Yes development must continue but how those projects are taken forward is vital. In particular, there should be appropriate consultation with Opposition and ideally there should be complete cessation of political announcements.

I recently asked a civil servant at the Ministry of Finance whether there was high level cooperation with the Opposition with regards to the 2012 Budget (slated later this year). He seemed rather puzzled and even arrogant in his response. The idea of engaging the Opposition with regarding national affairs when they have a high chance of winning was an alien idea to him.  Such is the cave mentality we are dealing with and is in need of absolute change.  We need non-political civil servants that will act and behave in a way that facilitates proper functioning of our democracy. I fear many are mere cadres of the ruling party. We can start towards a new renewal by having a proper purdah period that starts in good time before elections are announced. 

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