Re-establish public service as engine for development

Alexander Chikwanda -

TWO years of Patriotic Front (PF) rule and the need to review challenges, difficulties and other impediments which the Government has faced is at hand.
It is wise from time to time for an organisation – even a household to examine its situation and progress.
By the nature of its existence certain levels of offices are not required to make comment in ‘public’ in the press or public platform except with express permission from the relevant authorities.
This is more so in cases of public policy, emergencies or elaborating on issues which may have been confused by not being properly clarified.
If we go back to compare Zambia at two years, i.e. October 1966, the country had passed the ‘freedom phase’ and was totally enmeshed in the UDI, Portuguese, Rhodesian territorial and the South African troubles were just bubbling up.
What is now called Congo DR got up in the infighting between various factions, the British Government-imposed Federation was dead and buried, and Kamuzu Banda next door had declared his country’s total disinterest in freedom fighters.
Apart from the small connection on the map, Botswana was tenaciously holding on to the support for freedom fighters, surrounded as she was by Rhodesia, South Africa and SW Africa.
Being so newly independent in the southern African region, Zambia became the light to which all moths flew to seek help and to provide support to the millions still under the colonial yoke.
The public service, public utilities, Local Government and the big Government controlled enterprises – railways, electricity, telecommunications, aviation services and road transport were virtually run by (British) expatriates with small or tiny components of Zambians coming up.
The country was a multi-party system consisting of UNIP, ANC, the National Progress Party, the rump of the old Federals and one or two independents in the National Assembly.
It is true that there were occasional faction fights between those “inside” and those who thought they had a right to be where they were and to be consulted as a matter of routine.
In the immediate aftermath of the election and installation of a true African government it was seen that although there might be some disagreements in the National Assembly, there was not any occasion when the foreign managers (even of banks) tried to use their influence to obtain more advantages in their living conditions.
In short, the need to get our country above the problems which we had inherited was all understood and accepted.
It was not until 1973 when the one-party era was ushered in, that one began to see selfishness and signs of loss of national goals.
From 1975 when the one-party State became the dominant theme, the national objective appeared to have been lost.
This was to last until MMD came to power but the issue was very early on abandoned resulting in some of the glaring public cases which are still going on.
The above is a reference to the same problems the PF faced in 2011 after defeating the MMD bosses.
Let us point out some of these – which were apparent even before the untimely death of President Levy Mwanawasa – whose various versions of his leadership have been chronicled by many authorities.
Even as he (Mwanawasa) took office in 2002, he knew he had a job to do because of the poor state of the public services starting with those in leadership.
We know about the constitutional and related issues, but it is the public service which dragged him down.
We do not need to spend much of our time on how he appeared lost in the management of the country (politics) and the social well-being of the nation.
We can pause again and ask, surely by 2001 this country must have produced numbers of well-educated, talented and experienced Zambians who ought to have stepped forward and turned the events round.
Even today, the daily press is still regurgitating the same messages of ill-informed criticism, most of it repetitive but with no indication that many of the people in the driving seat have not looked at the concept of being the brothers’ keeper!
We can only pick on a few:
(a)   The Public Order Act and the pronouncement that as the United Party for National Development (UPND) considers the implementation by the Police is not according to what is right, the party will now proceed without regard to notifying the Police of the intention to process and march regardless.
Everyone knows that if this step (of ignoring the law) was taken up by party cadres (vigilantes) there would be running battles, and people will be injured and property damaged. But who will benefit from the fracas?
(b)  Last Sunday’s edition of the Post carried a headline of GBM’s supporters beating up PF officials and then the same supporters disrupted a PF meeting and destroyed school property.
(c)   There are certain activities in MMD which the party leadership has failed to deal with and nip them in the bud, as the saying goes.
(d)  President Michael Sata has experienced frustrating moments when his dedication to ‘work’, by accepting to take part in ‘ground-breaking’ exercises, have been reduced to total time wasting outings.
(e)   The old practice where Cabinet Office called in erring, or failing civil servants to explain to them what was expected by the country has fallen into disuse.
There are too many examples of what has not been done by those expected to perform but who do nothing to reassure the nation.
Action is being taken to remedy the situation. From FAZ, RTSA, ERB to FRA, the nation now gets surprised if ‘good news’ comes from these important bodies.
It seems that the dictum not to reinvent the wheel has not yet penetrated the minds of those who are in charge of these activities. Just two sample cases will illustrate the issue of reinventing the wheel:
Way back in the late 1960’s and 1970’s it was proved that the country could grow cotton on a large scale, mostly by the so-called emerging or peasant farmer.
With this scheme, the programme succeeded and two modern textile factories, Kafue and Kabwe became leaders in the trade.
The farmers were paid in time with good prices without reference to Liverpool.
The companies were able to produce excellent chitenge material some of which was exported, along with yarn and unbleached cloth.
Kapiri Glass was a leading performer in glass products. It went down, the new (Zambian) owners decided to pay for the near derelict technology after more than ten years and they are now talking about a feasibility study and starting production maybe by next year!
The latest worry is the report attributed to the Minister of Finance: “Government technocrats letting Sata down” says Chikwanda.
In the Post newspaper report, dated September 1, 2013, the Hon Minister is reported as saying “there will be no progress in the country until people paid by the Government begin to think.”
Hon Chikwanda is a very senior minister with wide and deep experience. When he visited the Batoka Milk Collection Project, he could not believe that there were people there content to deliver five litres of milk per cow per day.
Hon Chikwanda has been a minister of Agriculture before. He blamed the technocrats for the failures: “People and communities sacrificed for you and got those degrees so that you can come and make a contribution to the country moving forward and you are not doing it. I am not prepared myself to come and see this stagnation. It is anguish!”
The report did not indicate whether there were higher level technocrats present at the time. But it is definite that they should have been there including no doubt provincial, district and line ministry officials. But was there anyone from Cabinet office?
We end this article by referring to this concept of reinventing the wheel. From Colonial times, it was a requirement that all government funded projects were properly recorded, handing over notes written and signed for.
Every month the district and provincial offices noted their reports and sent them to the provincial officers who in turn made any additional material or observations before dispatch to Lusaka. There, somebody READ the reports and summarised them to the minister, Cabinet and the President.
All these procedures got set aside because the new dispensation needed quick action! Who by?
We now know that if Cabinet Office cannot wake up to the need to re-establish the public service as the engine to develop the country (or at least resume the development process) we shall sink to the lowest ranks of human development as compiled by the International Bank of Reconstruction and Development or the World Bank.
This body is not known to advise how to prevent getting into a quagmire, but it will send a life jacket as soon as we are about to drown!