By Charles Ngoma
The 2021 budget was unveiled by the minister of finance Hon Dr Ng’andu. President Lungu’s government wishes to spend 7.3% of the budget on defence and security, that amounts to K8.722 billion. It has been reported that the minister of home affairs was delighted with this news. In June this year, the US was rocked with demonstrations and riots in the wake of the murder of George Floyd. One of the police reforms that people have put forward is dubbed ‘Defunding the police.’ The idea has frightened some privileged people not because it is bad but simply because they deliberately do not want to understand what this means. There is a social theory that suggests that crime goes hand in hand with social deprivation, poverty and other community and social ills. While this is not completely true, there is some evidence that supports it. There must be a balance between arming the police to the teeth and improving the social conditions in which people live. It is clear that suburbs with improved street lighting have less street crimes than those without. Prevention is better than cure. So, prevention of crime is better than dealing with it after it has happened.
The Zambia police paraded its recently acquired arsenal in readiness for expected criminal activity among the Zambian people. Millions of Kwacha were spent on militarising the Zambia police to deal with potential riots in the streets which could happen after elections in 2021. Zambia has never had post election rioting although someone hinted that they stopped their followers from doing so after they lost elections. In reality, it has never happened. Zambians have always taken their quarrels with election results to the courts of law and left the result in the hands of the judiciary. It is difficult to understand why the present government is expecting that the Zambian people will act differently in 2021 and so they have to prime the police to kill citizens in 2021.
I am baffled by this. Zambians experience crime every day. The police have none of the wherewithal to deal with burglaries, thefts, murders, cyber crimes etc that plague Zambians on a daily basis. Is it wise to fund the police for a theoretical one off event in a year, when they do not have enough resources to deal with day to day crimes? When I was a child, it was common place to meet a police officer walking the beat in the streets of Zambia, armed only with a button, a whistle, handcuffs and a lanyard. Today, police officers are only found at road blocks and financial institutions. If you do find them elsewhere, they are bunched in a police van going to God knows where.
Our people need decent housing. The budget committed only K2.2 billion to housing and community amenities of which less than K50 million is not for water and sanitation. Inadequate housing is a very big problem in Zambia. This defines poverty more than anything else. People who live in mayadi may not have a tarred road, but no one would call them poor. People who live in komboni may have a tarred road by their shack but they are still poor. This government has spent an average of K2.7 million ($136,000) per house for members of the security wings. This is definitely excessive. The majority of police houses can be built for K400,000. Why has the contract to build these houses been given to AVIC International and not the Zambia National Service, Zambia Army Engineering Corp or National Housing Authority? This wastage has produced only 2,350 police houses (Ref: Zambia police website (). If this government was prudent, this money would have built more than 10,000 housing units for the Zambian people. The members of the security wing will live in these houses during their terms in service and will not pay rent. When they retire, they will have nothing but a pension with which they will not be able to afford to buy their own houses. If the houses were built outside camps, they could be sold on mortgage to the occupants and the treasury could in the long run recoup the investment.
I may be wrong, but I think that improving the lives of people in the community, with decent housing, water, sanitation and electricity is better than tarring roads at fighting crime and preventing insecurity. Furthermore, housing is an investment that eventually pays back if the people pay rent or buy outright. Instead of buying tanks for the police and spending so much more money on the military in peace times, perhaps we could improve living conditions first.