Donations and capture of the presidency

Since the UPND fundraising dinner held in Lusaka last Saturday, there has been a hullabaloo about the auctioning of Hakainde Hichilema’s jacket for K2.5 million. This is the jacket that he wore during his four-month detention in 2017 over a tramped-up charge of treason. And the main concern has been that the amount is too huge – that it could result in the buyer and other donors capturing the presidency.

But Kalomo UPND member of parliament Harry Kamboni says it is not possible for the UPND-led government to be captured by those that bought President Hakainde Hichilema’s personal items that were auctioned at the party’s fundraising dinner.

He adds that the party is full of principled people.

“It is not possible for UPND-led government to be captured by those that bought President Hakainde Hichilema’s personal items that were auctioned at the party’s fundraising dinner because it’s comprised of principled people. President HH is not a person who can be bought by K2.5 million. How, when even me I cannot be captured by K2.5 million. What is K2.5 million to be captured for? That’s the money the PF were trying to offer us to vote for Bill 10 but we refused. So, if K2.5 million is a lot of money which can fail to woo an MP to vote for Bill 10 then what’s that?” asks Kamboni. “PF was offering K8 million and a new V8 [Land Cruiser] but we refused that. Those that think we can be captured by well-wishers that bought auctioned items at the fundraising dinner must know that we are principled and it’s not a bad idea to fundraise for the party because that money is for the party. We are renting buildings where we have to pay. There are some party officials we have to pay. So that’s how we raise money through such activities… As a President surely, how can you be captured by K2.5 million? What I see now is that the same clique of people who were stealing government money have crowded Facebook to criticise government because they still have sacks of money and they are going all over trying to justify corruption. Those complaining are just envious and jealous. We have to fundraise for the party. Let them also go and fundraise. No one is stopping them. We have no access to government money as a party and if you saw at the last by-election, we were troubled just like the same old opposition UPND which asked for money here and there. We put together money to go to campaign. That’s the same thing we did now which PF never used to do. They used to move with sacks of money, they will do a social cash transfer on behalf of the party using government money.”

It is said, “He who merely knows right principles is not equal to him who loves them. The principles we live by, in business and in social life, are the most important part of happiness. We need to be careful, upon achieving happiness, not to lose the virtues which have produced it.”

After Edgar Lungu succeeded Michael Sata in 2015, the PF organised a fundraising party where Edgar’s hat was auctioned for K25,000. This is a hat that Edgar wore prior to the purported PF convention in Kabwe in November 2014, and after he was purportedly nominated as the party’s presidential candidate for the election that followed Sata’s death. There was very little criticism of that.

However, that is not the subject matter for today – it is water under the bridge.

Indeed, donations to ruling parties have resulted in State capture in some countries, including ours.

And state capture comes in many ways including investment pledges or middlemen in the supply of goods and services. We saw how characters of all shades and hues attended PF fundraisers and splashed money. PF had all the money and other resources without limit. They could buy anything except the August 12 polls, of course.

And the nation witnessed how certain characters that dinned or sat at the high table with Edgar found themselves on the wrong side of the law!

It could be from this background that the first fundraiser for the UPND in power has raised alarms. After all it is said that trust is like the silence of the night once you lose it you can’t get it back!

Hence the need for due diligence and having strong State institutions for oversight on top of principled leadership.

We all read or followed concerns about the capture of the ANC in South Africa under Jacob Zuma, and probably during the PF’s reign under Edgar.

It is true that political parties need financial resources in order to operate effectively. And one of the most common ways of raising these resources is through donations from well-wishers and other fundraising activities such as dinners and sports tournaments. These are transparent and public activities that are also legally acceptable worldwide.

And, just as Kamboni is asking, how else can a political party raise resources if not through these public functions? Are the PF members admitting that in fact all those corporate entities and individuals who donated to them had in fact captured Edgar’s presidency? Could it be that the same institutions have now switched to the UPND because PF has lost power, hence seeking to capture the new ruling party? These and many other questions deserve answers from critics of that fundraising dinner.

We are in a nation where the State does not fund political parties despite changing our Constitution in 2016 to allow for that. Article 60 of the Constitution, sub-Article 4(a) says, “The following shall be prescribed with regard to political

parties: (a) the establishment and management of a Political Parties’ Fund to provide financial support to political parties with seats in the National Assembly…’” (b) Ordinarily, every political party with representation in our National Assembly should be funded from public resources. However, this has never happened since 2016. And since it doesn’t happen, political parties have to depend on well-wishers and other initiatives to raise funds, which include fundraising dinners.

South African chief justice Mogoeng Mogoeng however cautions thus, “The reality is that private funders do not just thoughtlessly throw their resources around. They do so for a reason and quite strategically. Some pour in their resources because the policies of a particular party or independent candidate resonate[s] with their world outlook or ideology. Others do so hoping to influence the policy direction of those they support to advance personal or sectional interests.”

Politics has become expensive in modern day society such that most political parties have failed to sustain themselves. We have reached a stage where almost everything in our politics anchors on financial resources. Worse still, if a political party has no convincing message for the masses, it will remain what Sata used to call a nashala neka party.

Speaking of the expense in politics, Will Rogers observed that, “Politics has become so expensive that it takes a lot of money even to be defeated.”

So, the transparency being exhibited by the UPND in their quest to raise resources should not be condemned but encouraged, just as their resolve not to touch public resources in their party activities. The cost of items they auction should not be an issue because prices are determined by the buyers of such items. Otherwise, there is a lot we can do in terms of keeping the UPND on their toes, other than just blowing hot air. But considering that the UPND is in power, checks and balances on its financing and otherwise must be heightened for obvious reasons. And it must be done devoid of malice.

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