UPND Economics and Finance Committee Chairperson Situmbeko Musokotwane has challenged the PF to explain why spending money on by election is a higher priority for the Government than paying the salaries of district councilors and council Staff.
Dr Musokotwane has said that an interaction between UPND MPs and their Councilors on the causes of resignations, it has been established that the resignations are happening at the request of the Patriotic Front.
The Former Finance Minister said the District Commissioners and PF officials have been going round UPND strong holds to entice councilors to resign from their positions.
Dr Musokotwane said very recently, PF teams have been busy in the Western, Southern and North Western Provinces enticing councilors to resign with some having resigned meaning that more bye elections are on way.
Below is a full statement…
Explain why spending Money on Deliberately Caused Bye Election is a Higher Priority for the Government than Paying the Salaries of District Councilors and Council Staff
Since the Patriotic Front (PF) come into office in 2011, Zambia has had an unprecedented number of bye elections, especially for local government councilors. Statistics indicate that on average, there has been a bye election in the country after every two months. The Western Province has been hit hardest with bye elections, followed by the North Western, Southern and Lusaka Provinces. There has never been any time in the history of the country when so many bye elections have been held.
According to the Zambian Constitution, if a vacancy arises in the office of a councilor a bye election must be held within three months to fill it. A few vacancies have arisen because of death of the incumbent. The vast majority of vacancies have however been caused by councilors who have resigned. Most of the councilors that have resigned are from the opposition United Party for National Development (UPND).
With most of the councilors resigning being UPND, the party has had to take interest in the matter. UPND Members of Parliament (MPs) have spoken to their councilors to know the reasons for the resignations. According to the information received, the resignations are happening at the behest of the party in government, the PF. District Commissioners and PF party officials have been going around UPND strong holds to entice councilors to resign from their positions. Very recently, PF teams have been busy in the Western, Southern and North Western Provinces enticing councilors to resign. Some have indeed resigned, meaning that more bye elections are on way. Some resigned but soon reversed their decisions while others have angrily rejected appeals to make them resign.
Councilors resign because of promises of rewards extended to them in exchange for resigning. Typically, there is a lump some cash offer to compensate the councilor for the loss of salary from that point up to the time when councils are dissolved ahead of the next general election. In addition, there is the promise to be employed in some of the public services like the Police or in the teaching service. The councilor targeted to resign will be told that there is no guaranteed future in politics because there is no assurance of being adopted to be a candidate or to be successful at all in the election. Instead, a job in the public service secures one’s future career wise.
In this era of high unemployment, the promise of a permanent job for a councilor can be very tempting. This is more so that the majority of councilors are young people many of whom would have completed their secondary schools within the last five years and thereafter had no opportunity for further training or being employed. Even with these tempting promises from the PF however, the majority of councilors have stood their ground and have rejected the offers. These are the unsung heroes of our democracy.
For the PF, the bye elections are an opportunity to try and make a point that they are gaining political popularity in the provinces where they miserably failed in the 2016 general elections. In 2016 PF failed to win any parliamentary seats in Western, Southern and North-Western provinces. In addition, they lost all or most of the rural constituencies in Lusaka, Copperbelt and the southern parts of Central Province. These are the areas the PF are now working hard to entice councilors to resign.
The PF are aware that their fortunes in the provinces where they did well in 2016 have declined sharply since then because of the harsh economic environment that has occurred all around the country. The urban areas, which were the PF strongholds, have not been spared from the economic meltdown. And, of course, PF knows very well that urban voters shift political alignments swiftly. PF can no longer with certainty depend on urban voters to be their strong supporters. This is why they are now trying hard to gain political mileage in the rural provinces that rejected them in 2016. The frequent bye elections in rural areas is a tool to further this goal.
For the local PF officials in the provinces prone to bye-elections, the electoral campaigns are a time for making money, eating good food every day and, of course, lots of drink. Such facilities are usually well funded by the PF. Therefore, local party officials have all the incentives to create bye elections because they benefit from them.
Once a bye election has been declared, PF moves in with lots of resources to entice the voters. With total disregard of the electoral laws and rules PF distributes money, food and drinks to voters in large quantities. During bye elections, there has also been unprecedented levels of political violence in which the opposition parties are often the victims. The Police rarely offer any protection and in certain instances, such as the Sesheke bye election, they actually attack innocent voters themselves. The Electoral Commission of Zambia has long given up on any attempt to reign in the PF. The combination of material gifts to poor rural voters and the deployment of intimidating state Police usually works to the great advantage of the ruling PF. The more bye elections they win through whatever means, the more the PF get convinced that their popularity is extending to the areas they lost in 2016.
Bye elections are costly. On average, the Electoral Commission of Zambia will spend about K2 million per ward bye election. This does not include the funds that the political parties spend for the purposes of campaigning. Yet the PF and their government find it fit to go around the country inciting poor councilors to resign from their positions to create bye-election that are costly.
Here is what is disturbing and puzzling about these bye elections. The dire financial state that Zambia finds herself in is now clear to everyone. Even before the corona virus (covid19) came on the scene, the country was already struggling. Many public projects like schools and roads have been abandoned in the middle of works due to lack of funds. Emoluments for some public sector employees can’t be paid. The Constituency Development Fund, a very useful resource for financing development projects in remote local areas has been released no more than three times since the PF came to power in 2011 even though the provisions for it have appeared each year in the national budget. But money for deliberately created bye elections is always available!
Lets now relate this to the district councils themselves where the councilors belong. The national budget has provisions for the central Treasury to provide “Equalisation Funds” to councils to finance local development projects like infrastructure. This funding is in months of arrears. Further, salaries of both local council staff and the councilors themselves have not been paid in the last five months because there has been no usual support from the central Treasury. But the government finds it desirable to create unnecessary bye elections, make sure there is money for them (bye elections) and also therefore make sure that there is NO money to pay salaries for councilors and council staff! Why are deliberately caused by elections considered a higher priority to paying the salaries of councilors and council staff?
The issue of the bye elections is one example out of many where lack of priorities in spending public funds is working to the disadvantage of the country. These unnecessary bye elections can be ended at the stroke of the pen by the government itself if it wished. This would go a long way in saving resources for the country which are needed for more serious priorities especially now when covid19 has added to the economic problems of the country.
It is no secret that most of Zambia’s activities to respond to the covid19 pandemic are funded by donors, most of whom are hit more than us by the same covid19. Despite their own woes, they have sacrificed their resources to assist us while our own money is being employed for trivial priorities like deliberately created and endless bye elections. Bye elections that encourage people to gather together contrary to the instructions from the same government as it fights covid19. Surely it is better to do the correct things before we are lectured by donors on how to use our money prudently.
UNITED PARTY FOR NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT (UPND)
Economics and Finance Committee
Situmbeko Musokotwane, Chairman