By Henry Kyambalesa
Last month, I suggested that President Rupiah Banda and Vice President George Kunda should seriously consider the prospect of creating a statutory and autonomous agency to be accountable to the Parliamentary Committee on Health, Community Development and Social Welfare, and which should assume the functions of the Disaster Management and Mitigation Unit (DMMU) and those of the Public Welfare Assistance Scheme (PWAS).
I made the suggestion in response to the donation of various relief items worth US$100,000 to DMMU by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in December 2009. The donation included blankets, tents, shovels, wheelbarrows, water containers, sanitary towels, and other essential items.
The main reason for the suggestion was to forestall the potential for DMMU and PWAS to be abused by the Movement for Multi-party Democracy (MMD) or future ruling political parties to achieve partisan objectives.
Less than a month from the day I made the suggestion, there are already rumors and suspicions that the recent donation of “baby blankets” by President Banda to Lamba chiefs that is reported in The Post newspaper of January 4, 2010 in an article entitled “Lamba Chiefs Reject Banda’s ‘Baby Blankets’” consisted of blankets donated to DMMU earlier by USAID.
Such rumors and suspicions may, of course, be unfounded, but there is still a need for the authorities to create an autonomous agency which should assume the functions of DMMU (which is vested in the Office of the Vice-President) and PWAS (which is administered through the Ministry of Community Development and Social Services, and which includes the Social Cash Transfer Scheme). The creation of such an agency is actually in the best interest of MMD leaders as it will save them from rumors and suspicions that their donations to chiefs and needy members of Zambian society are public resources and/or relief supplies donated by foreign countries or humanitarian organizations.
Since Vice President Kunda has already announced the beginning of the MMD campaigns for the 2011 general elections, any monetary or material donation that will henceforth be made by the government to any community through DMMU or PWAS is likely to be conceived of as an attempt to “buy” votes. The need for President Banda and Vice president Kunda to promptly create the suggested agency cannot, therefore, be overemphasized.
Donor countries and humanitarian organizations also need to be aware of the potential for selective distribution of donated relief supplies to chiefs and needy local communities by the ruling political party with the intention of gaining political leverage. They need to encourage the government to create a statutory and autonomous government agency that would distribute donated relief supplies without any political meddling or manipulation by government officials.