The office of the district commissioner in Zambia does not add value to the governance and democratic dispensation of the country.
It still has colonial vestiges; functions to perpetuate the stay in power of the colonial master who in this case is the ruling party. To compound the problem of the DC’s office, many of the office bearers do not understand their job description. Some senior government officials in the past acknowledged that the office of the DC was not adding value to the governance and development of this country.
For instance, on 3rd October 2014, in Kitwe, at Moba Hotel, the then secretary to Cabinet Roland Msiska, during the orientation of DCs, acknowledged that inadequate understanding of district commissioners’ roles and responsibilities had led to failure in the implementation of some of government policies and programmes.
A district commissioner is the senior most civil servant at district level. He/she reports directly to the President of the Republic of Zambia. The DC’s role is to supervise and monitor all government projects; supervises all civil servants at district level. Being a top civil servant, the DC should be well-qualified, well vested in the areas of development and governance.
The sad story in Zambia is that many of our DCs do not know their job description; they just shoot in the dark. This is why a DC in Mpika can go to a private radio station and direct it not to host an opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema (HH). One wonders why a DC can meddle in the operations of a private or community radio station if he /she knew the responsibility of his/her office.
In some cases, DCs have been reported to have directed the Zambia Police Service to cancel a permit given to an opposition party for holding a political meeting. Further, DCs during elections in districts have been found to be ferrying campaign materials and campaigning for the Patriotic Front (PF) party using government vehicles; they also mobilise for the ruling party. Are these some of the functions of the DC? No, the office of the DC is highly politicised and it has become a disgrace to many Zambians. The DC’s office now serves the interests of the ruling party, the PF, and not the public. It is now an extension of the PF secretariat.
I have also observed that many DCs in our country, especially those from Muchinga Province, are outstandingly unqualified; they are egregiously ill-qualified. Some have form one (I) and two (II) qualifications, while others could be grade seven (7) dropouts. When you listen to the audio recording involving the DC for Mpika, Moses Katebe, you can quickly conclude that the man is dull; poorly informed. He cannot even articulate issues. What would you expect from such a DC? Such a DC cannot promote democracy; he cannot help develop the district.
What we can see and receive from such a DC is violence; inciting the ruling PF cadres to attack anyone in the opposition and media. It is shameful to have people like Mr Katebe and his counterpart for Shiwang’andu as top civil servants in our districts who know nothing, except barring other political leaders from visiting and talking to our people.
This office of DC in Zambia has been abused; it is held by cadres. In its current form, the appointment to this office is based on political activeness of an individual. Many people appointed to DC’s office are empty tins; those who speak the loudest during political campaigns. Qualifications and skills are thrown through the window; sacrificed under the altar of political expediency.
It is clear that Zambians pay DCs to serve the interests of the PF, to ensure that opposition parties do not mobilise; to ensure that only meetings and radio programmes that prolong the PF’s stay in power are allowed in our districts. In this regard, I propose that the office of DC be funded by the PF, not using taxpayers’ money.
The DC’s office is also not needed in the implementation of decentralisation. If Zambia has to embrace meaningful decentralisation, the DC’s office should be abolished. The DC interferes in the operations of the mayor or council chairperson who is dully elected to preside over the affairs of the people at district level. The DC in this case acts as a prefect representing the interests of the President and the ruling party. In most cases, the DC’s office and the office of mayor or chairperson collide, thus delaying development in our districts.
In a democracy like Zambia, we do not need a political office such as DC at grassroots level. This subtracts from our democratic credentials. Let us allow elected representatives such as council chairpersons and mayors to govern at local tiers of government. I know that the PF government cannot scrap off this office because it benefits them. However, a government that will come after PF should scrap off the DC’s office because it is a cost and wrong office in the devolution of power from the centre to local tiers of government.
The author is a lecturer at the University of Zambia, department of Library and Information Science. Send your comment to: email@example.com