What are the main specific policy proposals?
There six core PF proposals related to governance and public service reform :
Civil Service – There are specific commitments to re-introduce civil service examinations and in-service training as part of an effort to introduce a more meritorious system. NIPA is seen as particularly instrumental in this. Permanent Secretaries will continue to be appointed by the President but on recommendation of the Public Service Commission and subject to Parliamentary ratification. Finally, PF plans to establish “a disciplinary tribunal for constitutional office holders and commissioners in order to provide security of tenure”.
Auditor General (AG) – The PF plans to enact new legislation to ensure that the AG becomes “officer of Parliament” in an effort to ensure her independence and safeguard tenure security. A cardinal development is the establishment of the Audit Service Commission (ASC) which shall be response for staff related matters. The AG’s budget will be set by ASC and approved directly by Parliament. The AG’s mandate will now include undertaking performance, forensic and value for money audits.
Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) – Members of ACC supervisory board would be ratified by Parliament. There’s also the important commitment to “re-instate the abuse of office provision in the ACC Act” which was recently scrapped. Finally, there’s a commitment to “introduce stiff penalties for corruption offences”.
Drug Enforcement Commission (DEC) – The PF promises to establish an independent supervisory body over the DEC. The Commissioner’s appointment would be ratified by Parliament. The PF are also committed to enhance the capacity of watchdog institutions to prosecute white collar crime by establishing a specialized wing. This will be in both ACC and DEC.
Investigate General (IG) - Introduce programmes to sensitize public service workers on the responsibilities and duties of the office as well as the rights of the workers; Publicize the responsibilities and duties of the Investigator General to the workers and the general public; Increase budgetary allocation to the office of the Investigator General; Ensure security of tenure of the Investigator General and the Commissioners; Create liaison between the office of the Investigator General and the Human Rights Commission; Enhance capacity of the office of the Investigator General; Introduce appropriate legislation to strengthen the office of the Investigator General.
Human Rights Commission - Establish the positions of Chairperson and deputy Chairperson to full time; Empower the HRC to grant quasi-judicial remedies and orders which are binding on the State; Create liaison between the HRC and the office of the Investigator- General; Enhance the capacity of the HRC; Increase budgetary allocation to the HRC;
What is the rationale?
Civil Service: Under the MMD government the public service has been under-performing largely as a result of a de-motivated workforce arising from heavily politicized appointments. Currently many of the Permanent Secretaries and District Commissioners are political cadres of the ruling party. The public service has been rendered ineffective. Most public service workers are not conversant with the General Orders and Civil Service Regulations
Auditor General : The role of the Office of the Auditor General in the public sector is very critical in that it is responsible for ensuring accountability and transparency in the use of public funds sourced from taxes, the donors and international community. PF believes that under the MMD government the impact of the reports issued by the Auditor General has been felt marginally by the general public due to the failure by the executive to take necessary action to punish and correct wrong doings as the Auditor General is responsible to the President. The office is also not able to adequately audit the whole country in a sustainable manner. The intended independence and autonomy of the Auditor General have been compromised due to lack of an enabling Act of Parliament to provide for the said autonomy and independence. This has been compounded by factors such as poor budgetary allocation, inadequate human resources and skills, limited mandate of audit which deals only with appropriation and financial statements but excludes performance and forensic audits.
Anti-Corruption Commission : Corruption is a cancer which retards the social and economic development of a country by diverting the scarce national resources from intended areas of investment and thereby leading to increased levels of poverty, social injustice, distortions in the cost of goods and services, poor quality education and health services, high levels of unemployment, reduced life expectancy, increased cost of doing business, erosion of confidence by foreign investors and cooperating partners. Under the MMD government the crusade against corruption has received lukewarm attention and support. The Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) which was established to fight corruption has been characterized by selective prosecution of suspects which has eroded public confidence in the institution due to lack of independence and autonomy.
Drug Enforcement Commission - Currently the Drug Enforcement Commission (DEC) is a department in the Ministry of Home Affairs responsible to the Minister of Home Affairs. This arrangement has compromised the role and effectiveness of DEC.
Office of the Investigator General - The office of the Investigator General is intended to enhance and promote the smooth administration of the public service. Currently the Investigator General’s office is underutilized by the intended stakeholders. This has led to numerous and costly litigation by public officers which in turn has overburdened the conventional judicial system.
Human Rights Commission - The main objective of the Human Rights Commission (HRC) was to address the concerns and complaints relating to human rights violations and abuses by the State against individual citizens. Currently the mandate of the HRC is limited in scope in that it does not provide remedies for human rights violations and abuses except for recommendations which are not binding on the State.
What is our main assessment?
PF has put forward a coherent package of proposals in this area. The proposal to increase capacity in civil service and introduce a more competitive arrangement is welcome. Equally welcome is the appointment of Permanent Secretaries upon ratification by the Public Service Commission (PSC). However, it remains to be seen how the PSC operates.
The proposals on AG are interesting. Improving her budgetary independence will further underline her independence. These are timely especially given the recent revelations that there have been steps in some quarters of the current government to remove the sitting AG. Similarly, one can only applaud the proposals to further increase capacity at DEC and ACC and make them more independent.
Perhaps the most eye catching is the commitment to “empower the HRC to grant quasi-judicial remedies and orders which are binding on the State”. Though this is stated somewhat vaguely it does appear to be an attempt to compel the state to operate in certain way with respect to human rights. For example, it may be possible for HRC to enforce penalties against certain agencies of government. As part of this it may also, along the AG, have some “prosecutorial rights”. However, how this works in practice would be the real test of the pudding! In the past attempts to give prosecutorial powers to other offices (e.g. Auditor General) have raised concerns about the potential to undermine the Attorney General, as well as the costs associated with such activities. An area Zambia could explore is greater use of monetary penalties within an expanded tribunal system.
An area where it would have been certainly good to see much clearer proposals is the issue of funding particularly for ACC, DEC and HRC. One of the most perverse features of public organisations is the problem of “broke institutions”. To a large extend the problem with many of the Watchdog institutions is not so much the lack of powers, but insufficient funding. It has long been the practice of seating government to encourage formation of such bodies only to deliberate limit their effectiveness without access to funding. To some extent PF attempts to do this by promising greater financial cover for the AG, but what about other groups? Are they less important? And how do we ensure that such funding is in place?
Equally, the role of competition should be given a more central place than currently stated. As we have noted in the context of the judiciary, tenure security is suicide in the absence of an entry system that is competitive because it leads to lower calibre people occupying positions that they are ill equipped for. Competition in job hiring is vital if Zambian governance institutions are to be pro-poor and untainted by corruption.
Despite these points, the PF proposals presents a good start on governance and public service reforms, though more would need to be done, if and when, they form government.
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Zambian Economist is currently reviewing manifestos of leading political parties in Zambia. All posts in this ongoing review can be found at Manifesto Analysis.