By Henry Kyambalesa
While there is a noticeable scarcity of material and financial resources in the hands of the majority of citizens in Zambia, there is no shortage of pervasive and overwhelming socioeconomic problems one can write about. In this article, I have chosen to write about the scourge of corruption.
As chronicled by Transparency International (TI), a reputable global institution that monitors and reports on matters relating to the specter of corruption worldwide, corruption in Zambia has been increasing consistently during the years the Patriotic Front (PF) has been in power.
In the year 2015, for example, the country was ranked 76th in a scheme where countries ranked 1st represent the least corrupt countries in the world. In years that followed, its consistently worsening ranking was as follows:
(a) It was ranked 87th in the year 2016;
(b) It was ranked 96th in the year 2017;
(c) It was ranked 105th in the year 2018;
(d) It was ranked 113th in the year 2019; and
(e) It was ranked 117th in the year 2020.
There are many good reasons why we need to rally against the worsening incidence of corruption in our beloved country in spite of our different political affiliations.
Without delving into a discussion of the causes and prevention of corruption, which we can reserve for another day, we need to show government officials who are suspected of engaging in corrupt practices the exit door on August 12, 2021 through the ballot box, because such practices have negative impacts on our country’s economic growth, economic units, public expenditure, taxation policy, human rights record, public morals, and its overall image.
In May 1999, the Council of Europe’s Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) cited some of the socioeconomic ills associated with the ubiquitous phenomenon of corruption in Resolution (99) 5 as follows:
“[Corruption] … represents a major threat to the rule of law, democracy, human rights, [and] fairness and social justice; hinders economic development; [and] endangers the stability of democratic institutions and the moral foundations of society.”
Peter Eigen—the founder of Transparency International (TI)—has also provided an assessment of the pervasive impact of corruption on a country’s socioeconomic system:
“Corruption in large-scale public projects is a daunting obstacle to sustainable development, and results in a major loss of public funds needed for education, healthcare and poverty reduction, both in developed and developing countries.”
Kingsley Y. Amoako, too, has offered the following useful and general explanation of how corruption can negatively affect various spheres and facets of a country and its people:
“By reducing the amount of public resources for development, it limits economic growth, discourages private investment and savings, and impedes the efficient use of government revenues and development assistance.”
Effects on Economic Growth:
In Paolo Mauro’s contention, a high level of corruption in public institutions in a country like Zambia can lead to the following potential effects on the country and its people:
(a) It can lower the incentive to invest by both local and foreign investors, because it has the same effect as a tax and, in fact, it operates as a tax;
(b) It can distort the dispensation of public services in a country in favor of individuals who have the wherewithal to bribe public officials and/or civil servants;
(c) It can induce public officials and civil servants to engage in self-remunerating activities rather than engage in productive activities designed to serve members of society;
(d) It can lower the quality of public infrastructure due to the awarding of construction and maintenance projects to less-competent, bribe-giving bidders; and
(e) It can divert public resources to less-important tasks, projects and/or programs simply because of the potential for such tasks, projects and/or programs to facilitate the extraction of high-value or hard-to-detect bribes.
Effects on Economic Units:
With respect to business and non-business entities, USAID and the Institute of International Economics have pinpointed the unsavory effects of the specter of corruption on their internal management practices, and the risks and systemic effects associated with the specter. The following is a brief description of the risks and effects involved in this regard:
(a) Deferring to corruption can shape the mode of internal management. Jeremy Pope of Transparency International has summed up the effect of a business or non-business entity’s involvement in corruption on its internal modus operandi in the following words:
“Corruption boomerangs on the practitioner because once you establish a methodology in which your sales [personnel] … are trained in off-the-books accounts, non-accountable funds, and breaking the laws of countries with impunity, you create a situation where you have unaccounted-for money. You import an ethic of corruption into your own organization.”
(b) In countries where laws are clearly defined and strictly enforced, unscrupulous business and non-business practices can expose an organization to civil damages, criminal sanctions, legal fees, and/or impaired reputation.
(c) The scourge of corruption can consume a significant amount of a business or non-business entity’s time and resources which could otherwise be devoted to innovation and quality improvement in its commercial and/or industrial pursuits and endeavors. As such, it can adversely affect a business or non-business entity’s ability to compete efficiently and effectively in local and/or global settings in which its operations are undertaken. And
(d) According to Daniel Kaufmann of the World Bank Institute, corruption creates “an environment of uncertainty, inflates the operating costs of economic units and [also] reduces their profit margins, and takes a toll in terms of time.”
Effect on Public Expenditure:
As Vito Tanzi has maintained, corruption can reduce public revenue and inflate public spending in a country; as such, it can contribute to a build-up of a country’s budget deficits as well as create the need for the country’s government to borrow heavily from local and foreign creditors in order to obtain funding intended for use in sustaining the day-to-day operations of its various agencies, departments and any other branches or organs of government.
Effect on Taxation Policy:
Corruption can make it difficult for a country’s government to generate a fiscal or taxation policy that is consistent with its revenue objectives and a policy that is also fair to all tax payers due to what is referred to as “state capture”—that is, a situation that occurs when business and/or non-business organizations make illicit and non-transparent private payments to public officials in a country in order to influence the generation of laws, rules and regulations, the ultimate purpose of which is to make the laws, rules and regulations more generous and benign to the business and/or non-business organizations.
Violation of Human Rights:
There are many ways in which corrupt practices can lead to violations of some societal members’ rights and freedoms, such as the following:
(a) By diverting necessities of life—such as food, clean water, healthcare, and education and training—from the poor and making them available to the rich on the basis of individuals’ ability to pay; and
(b) By denying individual members of society the right to free and fair participation in the political process through vote-buying, sponsorship of ruffians to harass members of opposition political parties, and the use of any other undemocratic means or measures.
Effect on Public Morals:
One cannot rule out the potential for male civil servants in a corruption-ridden country like Zambia to seek to cohabit with female clients as an inducement for the civil servants to provide requested services—a situation which can contribute to the erosion of public morals, as well as exacerbate the spread of infectious sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
An example of blackmail by a male government employee in the United States of America will perhaps underscore the possibility of such a state of affairs that, apart from being corrupt, can culminate into the spread of STDs and the erosion of public morals.
The example involves an adjudicator in a New York office of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Isaac R. Baichu, who is alleged to have committed a felony and a misdemeanor by allegedly coercing a young woman from Colombia to perform oral sex, and of promising to help her secure immigration papers in exchange for further sexual favors.
According to Nina Bernstein, “the case [cited above] echoes other instances of sexual coercion that have surfaced in recent years [in the United States], including agents criminally charged in Atlanta, Miami and Santa Ana.”
Tarnished National Image:
Being perceived or ranked as a country with a high level of corruption can adversely affect a country’s ability to develop sound bilateral and multilateral relations with other countries. It can, for example, have negative consequences on diplomatic and economic relations which a country may seek to pursue with other sovereign nations.
For a country like Zambia that is in dire need of foreign aid, debt relief and/or technical assistance, a high level of corruption can prompt donor and creditor nations to be less forthcoming. Besides, the country’s citizens are likely to encounter problems in obtaining travel visas, and/or securing jobs or business contracts abroad.
In this regard, as Transparency International has noted, “extensive research shows that foreign investment is lower in countries perceived to be corrupt” as a consequence of such countries’ corruption-tainted image.
Firstly, we should have unquestionable faith in the Anti-Corruption Commission’s statutory duty to handle cases of corruption nationwide and, accordingly, refrain from accusing other members of society as being corrupt or as having engaged in corrupt practices.
If anyone is suspected of engaging or having engaged in corrupt practices, he or she should be reported to the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) for investigation. Meanwhile, the person must be regarded as being innocent until a court of law establishes that he or she is guilty of having committed the alleged offence.
Secondly, we need to seriously consider the prospect of hiring new leaders to tackle the scourge of corruption in our beloved country mainly because the PF administration has lamentably failed to address the problem.
If we make the mistake of granting the Patriotic Front another term of office, the incidence of petty corruption, grand corruption, fraud, embezzlement, extortion, blackmail, favoritism, and nepotism will certainly skyrocket due to the uncertainty which government officials and civil servants hired by the ruling political party will face since the party will not field its current president in 2026.
In other words, civil servants and government officials will seek unscrupulous and self-remunerating ways and means of gaining access to public resources over the next 5 years due to the uncertain status of their employment in government.
Unfortunately, we still have some of our fellow citizens whose loyalty is to the PF and its leaders regardless of their failure to address the specter of corruption, and in spite of the fact that some of the leaders have actually plundered public resources. To such brothers and sisters, the party and its leaders come first, while the interests of our country, the common people and their own families are secondary.
Thirdly, I wish to conclude this article with the following quote excerpted and adapted from the now-defunct The Post Newspaper dated August 11, 2005: “[African leaders] … have not effectively, efficiently and honestly used their positions … to fight with heart and soul against the scourge of corruption … [partly because some of them get elected through vote-buying, vote-rigging, and other unscrupulous means].”
If I have succeeded in provoking a protracted and constructive debate on the theme at hand, I will go to sleep tonight a very happy man indeed.