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Saturday, September 28, 2013

ADVISING MWANAWASA ON DISTRICT COMMISSIONERS


STATE POWER AND THE COORDINATION OF DISTRICT DEVELOPMENT
KATELE KALUMBA

There are many who believe that despite increased efforts at the politicisation of citizens in many countries, the crisis of governance or of politics still remain because of at least five root causes: a clash between the culture of democracy and its forms; low citizens’ involvement, particularly low direct contact with politicians [ some Honourable members of Parliament in Zambia avoid too much contact because of the “tulyemo culture”] ; limited choice from among a very limited range of often vague and confusing party programmes; poor delivery by  largely ineffective governments that are good at promising but worse at implementing them, governments that are often powerless in the face of rapid changes in the global environment including foreign policy whether this be a new definition of post-September 11, 2001 terrorism or the new Western Governments’ good governance doctrines; and in the face of excruciating poverty, diminishing time for political work.

 If this was the case, it should not be surprising then that the output of the political system is often of low quality with high levels of waste, of disappointment and disillusion. And all these problems become most apparent in the case of our African leaders, who sometimes seem condemned to come to power on the waves of excitement and anticipation that then crash into sullen hostility, a half life of enthusiasm that now seems to last only about six months. 

It is my view that above many other reasons why people are losing faith in political leaders is not just their incompetence, failure to get the job done as promised; it is an increasing perception that something else is missing in political life: transformational leadership in political life.

The old definitions, sometimes even celebrated that politics is the art of lying, has come into a clash with a popular search for a truthful and strategic role in political leadership. There is a growing popular demand that our leaders be both good managers and “good preachers” who must be inspiring, tell us about good images of ourselves, give us hope, who are selfless, less cynical, honest and truthful. A soul or new thinking is being called for in what has generally come to be perceived as a mechanical nature of public life, defined by crafty moves that are designed to deceive because they lack an inner integrity

The issue then is not that people have chosen to abandon politics, as our Tripartite elections revealed to the contrary in 2001, but rather that they want more out of politics, not just robotically effective government but “responsible and effective” government. The question is then simply this: what kind of leadership can assemble the tools needed to lead under this situation of politico-moral turbulence?

President Mwanawasa has to tackle this deep crisis in our governance not by clever rhetoric but by genuinely addressing the questions that are on people’s minds every day. Questions like why are we so poor? How do we get nshima on our table to feed our families?

I do not think Mwanawasa’s Administration should pretend to have all the answers. Our people know that limit. But at least they expect him to raise the right questions? Because, in the end really, the answers lie in the collective common sense, the shared knowledge of all our people.

Each individual Zambian, who wakes up every morning, turns the handle on the door to walk out into the world. Turning that door handle can be a moment of adventure or joy. Of anticipation. Of purpose. Or a reminder of failure. Of emptiness. Of angry frustration. Of terrible anxiety. The mass of our people may be living a life filled by a temptation of despair, quiet desperation, afraid of tomorrow. 

Because we do not have all the answers to the challenges that face each one of us as we turn that door handle every morning, President Mwanawasa must address himself to and clarify one issue underlying his administration’s thinking about the New Deal government administration: effective management of state power. Despite the contention of the Constitutional Review Commission (CRC), I believe that he must take the challenge of how to restructure the system of political power in Zambia to the people themselves. First, it does appear self-evident that the country needs to disassemble state power from the Giant pyramids of technical responses of central government experts and powerful politicians to the common sense questions of the people.

President Mwanawasa must allow this question of State power and in particular the question of decentralization of power in a manner that is managerially possible, ethically accountable and politically implementable.

Zambians have tried many ideas since independence. I have studied closely what we have tried since 1964. We cannot say we have succeeded. If we had, we cannot be witnessing this reality where a country with such abundance and potential is inexorably mired in streaming squalor, misery, deprivation, and almost teetering on the verge of chaos. We cannot have a Zambia in 2004, in throes of a seemingly incurable crisis where eating has become a luxury for many of our people. I am not saying this is unique to Zambia. I am just rejecting the view that things are okay in the system of government we have given ourselves. Something more, of a form that touches upon the common sense understanding of everyday realities of governing may have escaped us.
A few years ago the MMD government, like its predecessor, UNIP, (You recall the Village registration ACT of 1971, Governors etc) started working on the policy of decentralization while about the same time it appointed a cadre of public officers called District Administrators. Controversy has surrounded this category of public servants. I understand where from this has risen. It is a perception in some of our social entities, that this category was created for specific partisan interests. I do not want to quarrel with that view. Yet, I wish to challenge ourselves with the question that has always eluded us since independence and only dishonesty and partisan ideology would refute the fact. This is: how are we to ensure that local community talents, characteristics and virtues qualitatively and quantitatively interface with central government capacities to answer the questions that confront each one of us as we turn the handle of the door each morning?
There are no clear-cut answers, but I have some ideas about the process that should help answer that question pragmatically. I do not think the answer lies in the elite held view that we just scrap the office of the District Administrator and the problem will disappear. Central-local relations have been problem issues not only here in Zambia but in developed countries. What I propose is that let the government revisit its pledge to Parliament in 2002 and re-subject  this issue without hindrance during the CRC  to a critical debate as part of the principles of democratic governance. During this exercise, let us define both the substantive and procedural issues about the authority structure of District administration. If we accept the fact, that from the long catalogue of District Commissioners, District Governors, to District Administrators, and back to District Commissioners, is ample evidence of the essentiality with which governments in Zambia, both colonial, and post-colonial have treated this question of who shall coordinate this level of government to give voice to the popular developmental aspirations of our people, I am certain that a clearer, more acceptable definition of official authority at the District level will emerge. Government must emerge at the District level that is able to deliver the goods and services that answer the challenges of every day living.
Central government cannot exist at this level simply as fragments of central bureaucracy that lacks immediate supervisory accountability except from the far removed offices of Provincial administrators. If we respect our people as thinking human beings with a wealth of shared knowledge about their experience of District administration, I am certain they will help us inform our decentralized structures not in the service of partisan interest but in the furtherance of the common good.