A fascinating Op'ed in the Times of Zambia takes aim at the civil service, suggesting that in its present state it represents a seriously huge millstone around the necks of poor Zambians :
Professional standards in all Technical fields are lacking in Zambia. Recently, after coming from London to work in Zambia as an Architect, I became convinced that sooner or later the rest of the world would re-colonise Africa, because it could not afford to do otherwise. The world would require that the resources and potential of Africa’s production be more efficiently exploited.
In other words, Africans have not used their land, their people, their resources or their potential wisely. Progress and technology are accelerating fast almost everywhere except in Africa, leaving this continent far behind, incapable of competing, and perhaps not even being able to survive.When UNIP came to power it had the financial resources to wisely invest in empowering their own people. We had good medical facilities, places of learning and jobs available. Infrastructure was all in good condition. And, when the money ran out, UNIP decided to nationalise all the best businesses in a bid to keep solvent and keep the momentum going.There were several reasons why the strategy failed, but major ones were, poor management, politicisation and corruption, which led to bankruptcy. Forty six years after independence, we must admit that we have a few very rich people, many with middle incomes and a mass of people suffering misery and poverty.Something has gone terribly wrong. With good management this would never have happened.There are two major issues that I would like to highlight that are destroying this nation.We now have a civil service that is corrupted from top to bottom, running private business whenever possible, abusing their offices, competing with the private sector and biting the hands that feed them (ie the taxpayer). Central and local government civil service in Zambia can justly be described as a parasite, sucking the lifeblood out of the nation. Despite all the good intentions and hard work of some elected and nominated leaders, the civil service intends to remain self- serving and will protect its own interests. Certainly for the past 25 years in Ndola, the city council has behaved and acted like a family run business, where it takes care of family members and little else.The civil service in its present state is a stumbling block to the nation, founded firmly on and protected by the legislation of Retirement and terminal Benefits, which have never been affordable (since the 1970’s) and have tied a huge millstone around the necks of the poor Zambian people. Millions of poor Zambians suffer death, disease and grinding poverty for the sake of 400,000 civil servants, who remain the beneficiaries of Terminal benefits, and who mostly do little more each day (working for the Government) than look after their own personal interests. The corruption of the past regimes is peanuts compared with the price being paid by Zambians to maintain a largely useless, expensive and highly bloated civil service.Clearly, poor Zambia cannot afford and does not need such a Government. Ninety-five per cent of all so called Government institutions, big in name, but empty of substance, bleed this country dry each month on the political pretence that some real service is being provided.It is all a make believe and a dangerous charade. Anyone from a well organised country, visiting Zambia’s Government hospitals, schools, universities, colleges, research centres, police and prison services (Government housing), the judiciary system (and its slow delivery) will politely turn away wondering how any Government can allow such chaos.It is not that there is no money to improve the situation, but there has been no vision, passion or desire to bring about change for the better. Of course politicians talk about these things sometimes, but nothing gets done, because nobody really cares or perhaps they think they cannot do anything about it.Since 1965 when I came to Zambia, my concern and love for Zambia (and Zambians of course) has only reinforced a growing conviction, that if Africa, south of the Sahara, had never been interfered with or visited by other peoples and cultures, Africans would still be living happily the way they were a 1000 years ago.If that is true, I’m not saying that I personally (if I were a Zambian) would have disdained such a life, or enjoyed life any less than I have.A young Zambian lady relative, 16 years old, who has lived in Ndola for the past two years cannot wait to go back to her father’s remote village and join him fishing on the Luapula River every day. She does not feel she needs schooling, and who are we to say that she is wrong?So, if you want to improve things - get rid of this largely useless civil service, and stop civil servants from abusing their offices and running private businesses.When I questioned my friend Dr Julius Sakala the other day, he assured me that Government regulations prohibit civil servants from running private business.Secondly, you can do something that will not cost any money but help a great deal; and that is, to introduce the highest levels of qualification possible for anyone wanting to enter politics, from councillor up to Member of Parliament.At the moment, we know that the weakness of democracy is that it guarantees mediocrity and corruption, especially where the majority of the electorate are un-educated and easily swayed by lies and promises. We must fight this. Zambia needs a system of electing and appointing leaders from among the best available. We need well qualified people doing hard work, inspiring the nation, as a good example to all. No-one should be appointed to high office as a reward for supporting a political party.I don’t care if that is the way the US or UK do things – it is corrupt practice, and no good for the country. It only encourages the corrupt and the criminals to pour money into political parties as a way of buying protection and favours.Mr President, I hope my letter is not already in the waste paper basket. Since the MMD came to power, there has been marked progress in important areas such as freeing up Government controls on currency, stabilising the Kwacha value, shedding off Government businesses, finding investors in some areas (too few) but poverty has deepened together with unemployment.There is so much more that obviously needs to be done to help Zambia move forward, which is neither difficult nor expensive, but requires vision, determination and hard work. We are now looking to PF to deliver us from corruption (in particular).A few people can make a great difference, provided they are backed up by people who value their reputations for expertise, hard work and honesty. There are a few of these people available who will truly back up the President on critical issues that will often not be popular or easy to deal with.I have thought and written much over the years on various related topics, which I have shared with Government and newspapers, but so far little has been achieved.The most important element is leadership. If the one at the top of any organisation is hardworking, accountable and efficient, the rest of the organisation will follow; but, if the one at the top is lazy and corrupt, those below will follow that example.Weeding out failed appointees quickly provides a good example to others to pull up their socks. Where necessary, punishment must follow where there has been abuse of the trust placed in them by the people of Zambia.Please do what you can about the two issues I have mentioned ie. standards of services rendered in GRZ institutions, and the corrupt civil service we are suffering from, which are two sides of the same coin.I would love to correspond with you further if I can be of any use, or with anyone else who is working to help Zambia recover the lost years of poor governance.