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When a DC honours Youngson Kalobo: Towards a constitutional clarity

ON Youth Day, it was reported that the Government of the Republic of Zambia (GRZ) had post-humously honoured a Mr Youngson Kalobo, leader of the notorious Jerabos groups in Kitwe, Zambia. The honour was apparently carried out by Mr Binwell Mpundu, a youthful and vibrant district commissioner of Kitwe. The pushback was swift. Many sections of the Zambian population felt that the honour was undeserved, and to put it in another way, bizarre.

To this, presidential spokesperson Amos Chanda responded quite emphatically, that GRZ had not dispensed any such honour. He did not however, elaborate on what led Mr Mpundu to do what he did. I am hoping that GRZ has chided Mr Mpundu privately as he does not have the power to commit the government of Zambia to such honours.

There is a deeper problem in the constitutional and administrative framework governing the district commissioners. They do not seem to understand their constitutional, political and administrative limits. DCs are going overboard and GRZ must act quickly to ensure that DCs are curtailed and their roles clarified. In order to understand the roles of the DC and their constitutional limits, we must first understand Zambia’s constitutional, administrative and political make-up.

In Zambia, like much of the Commonwealth countries, the powers of the state are deposited in politicians by the people. All the activities that have to do with the state should be carried out by politicians. Zambia is a political Republic. People elect politicians and the politicians govern the state on behalf of the people. It is the political systems of the Republic that churn out policies, be they economical, health, or developmental. Politicians are also supervisors of all institutions of the state, including the military, with some exception of the judicial branch. Regarding the military, our constitutional theory is that no matter how many guns and bombs the military has, those guns cannot crack without supervision and approval from the politicians. It is the civilian head of the Republic who is commander-in-chief of all the guns in Zambia. This is our system.

After politicians, Zambia has a professional civil service. The civil servants are not representatives of the Zambian people. The civil servants are the operatives of the policies that they obtain from the politicians. Using the same logic, I have used above regarding the military, the civil service in Zambia is supervised by the people’s representatives – the politicians. Zambia as a political Republic is not led by the bureaucrats or the technocrats. This comes as a huge surprise to those who promote merging our politicians with the bureaucrats. No, we cannot and we should not. The Zambian state is led by the politicians who supervise the bureaucrats and the technocrats. This reminds me of the unusual, completely unheard of scenario after the death of president Michael Sata. The official death announcement was haphazardly done by the Secretary to Cabinet, an office that has nothing to do with such important announcements. I do understand from reading Dr Guy Scott’s book, (every Zambian must read it) that there was so much bickering in Cabinet that it had to take a civil servant to announce the passing of a head of state. What a tragedy!

The role of district commissioner seems to have been created as a great incongruity in that it appears to somewhat combine and confuse both the civil service and political aspects of the theory I have outlined above. This is an anomaly and must be corrected quickly for our sanity. The DCs are not political representatives of the Zambian state and, therefore, cannot claim powers reserved for exercise by the people’s representatives. DCs are supposed to be civil servants, serving under the supervision of politicians. DCs are wrong to assume that they are the political heads of their respective districts. They are not. I do assume that it was this fundamental misunderstanding of his role that may have led Mr Mpundu to think that he could carry out the honouring function reserved for Zambian politicians by “honouring” the so-called leader of the Jerabos. Mr Amos Chanda was therefore right to pushback against Mr Mpundu.

Going forward, GRZ could restore sanity by first taking all the DCs for a workshop in Milenge or some other place so that they can learn the structure of our Republic. DCs need some civics so that they can know the limits of the exercise of their powers. Second, GRZ must be emphatic and tell the DCs clearly that they are not political heads of their respective districts. They are not mayors and they are not ministers of Kitwe or ministers of Chiwempala, as the case may be. Third, the civil service in the districts must stop treating DCs as if they are political representatives. DCs are civil servants at the rank of deputy permanent secretary and should be treated as such. A few years ago, I saw pictures of a DC (a friend of mine) getting the official salute from the military hierarchy in his district at an official event he was “officiating”. I thought that was completely strange. He had been hoisted on a platform as the marchers passed by. Fourth, Mr Amos Chanda should privately and openly chide overzealous DCs like Mr Mpundu so that they leave political roles to politicians. But then, Mr Chanda himself has on several occasions breached his own limits as a civil servant. He acts as if he is the elected representative of the people. On many occasions, Mr Chanda even appears in official pictures that should be reserved for the political hierarchy of our republic. To make this distinction even more defiled, Mr Chanda appears with Cabinet members giving updates on how a Cabinet meeting went. Many former press assistants to the head of state find this inexplicable. But may be the indiscipline in the DCs can be traced right back to a State House that has difficulties distinguishing limits and delimits of Zambia’s constitutional and administrative structure.

Munshya wa Munshya can be reached at elias@munshyalaw.com/SM

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