(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Anti-corruption drive misses the point

[Zambia] President Levy Mwanawasa being sworn in for second and final term. [Date picture taken: 10/03/2006]
Nebert Mulenga/IRIN

Zambia's anti-corruption drive is failing because the government has been concentrating its resources on investigating the corrupt practices of the previous regime, allowing present graft in the public service to flourish, a corruption watchdog said in its latest report.

Transparency International's Corruption Perception Indices [CPI] has consistently ranked Zambia as one of the most corrupt countries since 2001. Out of the 159 countries surveyed in the 2005 CPI, Zambia was included in the cluster cited as the 11th most corrupt countries: Belarus, Eritrea, Honduras, Kazakhstan, Nicaragua, Palestine, Ukraine, Vietnam and Zimbabwe.

In the 2005 Bribe Payers Index Zambia, Transparency International said public service departments were a breeding ground for corruption because people paid bribes for services or to reduce the service costs, to avoid prosecutions, and "to obtain contracts and facilitate payment for services rendered".

"A good number [44 percent] of those who paid bribes did so because the official directly demanded it. Others [28 percent] voluntarily paid the bribes, 16.5 percent paid the bribes because the official indirectly made it impossible to provide the service and [9.9 percent] paid a bribe based on their past experience ... The following public officials have been mentioned as having demanded or been paid the largest amounts of bribes: police officers, council officials, ZRA (Zambian Revenue Authority) officials, immigration officials, hospital officials [nurses] and teachers," the report said.

During his first term of office, President Levy Mwanawasa created a task force to investigate and prosecute corrupt practices committed during former President Frederick Chiluba's 10-year rule, but only one conviction has so far been secured: that of Chiluba's former aid, Richard Sakala. Chiluba has been in and out of court but as yet has not been found guilty of any corruption charges.

While western donor countries have generally praised Mwanawasa's anti-corruption campaign, Zambians perceive it as little more than punishing the "enemies" of the current Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) government. Mwanawasa was elected to a second and final term of office in late 2006 and indicated that he would continue to pursue government officials from the previous administration implicated in corruption.

"Over 70 percent of respondents feel that the government, while doing something about the anti-corruption fight, is not serious enough," said Mapanza Nkwilimba, a board member for Transparency International Zambia. "This is rather disturbing ... Fighting corruption requires everyone's involvement because corruption increases cases of poverty. Poverty is exacerbated while a few people gain unfair and immoral access not only to the resources they have no right over, but also public institutions that they start manipulating to torpedo justice and public decency."

About two-thirds of the country's roughly 10 million people live on a US$1 or less a day, but there are only around 400,000 formal jobs. Analysts say many public officials have resorted to illegal sources of income, like bribery, to prosper.

Despite Mwanawasa's drive to combat corruption, Crispin Matenga, head of development studies at the University of Zambia, said corruption was endemic and that so far the measures implemented had not had any positive impact on preventing it.

"Mwanawasa's efforts to fight the scourge (corruption) have failed to make a dent in the negative perception of the country, arising largely from Chiluba's legacy ... For how else can one explain Mwanawasa's calling back into government some individuals facing charges of economic plunder, and his support to some individuals to occupy key leadership positions in the MMD, who have been cited for economic plunder?" Matenga said.

"If key positions of the ruling MMD, such as national chairman and national secretary, are held by corrupt elements, where is the credibility of the fight against corruption? These events are indeed an indication that the Mwanawasa leadership has lost the moral authority to fight corruption," he said.

Earlier this month Mwanawasa acknowledged corruption in his government, saying, "I am not comfortable at the moment to say that we are zero-tolerant to corruption; we are not zero-tolerant on corruption until culprits ... are brought to book."

Lee Habasonda, executive director of the Southern African Centre for Constructive Resolution of Disputes, a regional good governance watchdog, said "Clearly, this fight against corruption will not take us anywhere in its current form because, so far, it has not yielded the desired results. The focus has just been on the grand corruption of the past government, while no efforts are being made to tackle petty corruption in the present government."

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