By Kabulo Chongo
The Zambian business environment and development is largely hindered by corruption and very weak institutions. According to the business anti-corruption portal, companies encounter a lot of regulation and bribery in all business operation, this includes registration, obtaining construction permits, setting up utilities and paying taxes. Because of the inefficient and the corrupt justice system, properties owned by foreign investors are also not protected. International trade is also affected by the widespread and pervasive corruption at the Zambian customs.
Reports show that companies very often pay kickback and bribes in the tendering process for government constructs. Even though Corruption, extortion, bribery of a foreign public official, and money laundering are against the law and carries with them hefty penalties if you caught. The legislation does not address or regulate the facilitation payments and the maximum allowable value of gits or hospitality, so it hard to tell whether it is a gift or a bribe. On top of that, the anti-corruption commission rarely enforces the many laws that are on the books, even if the people are caught.
Reasons corruption is hard to prosecute
Firstly, the corrupt judicial system, in any democratic society, we have the judiciary, the executive branch and the legislature. Well-functioning democratic societies have separations of powers, the separation of powers is what gives the government checks and balances, but increasingly in Zambia politics, we have a lot of cheques and no balances. According to reports, a third of Zambians believe that judges are corrupt, the judiciary does not have independence and is subject to outside interference, especially in the local courts. In 2014 then acting chief justice Lombe Chibesakunda said “ The local court has been a source of concern. The local courts are to most litigants the face of the judiciary. Litigants in the local courts appear in person, so they are more prone to abuse. They are more likely to fall prey to unscrupulous court officials and unfortunately, but true, even to adjudicators seeking bribes to secure a more favourable outcome or judgment,” She further went on to the say the corruption in the judiciary is so widespread that some local court judges have impersonated her because people do not know the sex of the chief justice.
Secondly, corrupt police, according to a survey done in 2015, half Zambians believe that the police and especially traffic police are corrupt. A quarter of people that come into contact with the police in the last twelve months paid a bribe on top of that; businesses do not have confidence in the police’s ability to enforce the law especially when it comes to contracts. In Zambia, the police frequently extort money, goods and services from bus drivers at roadblocks. Corruption in the police service may be due to low wages, underfunding and lack of oversight from the Zambian central government. This could be why most private businesses hire private security to protect their premises. What is even alarming is that even when the corruption is obvious, it is rarely prosecuted.
Also misplaced priorities in the police, for example, the Zambia police recently released a statement stating that they will start arresting anyone that is found with sex dolls. Now aside what you think of sex dolls, is this a proper use of government resources. Moreover, the police have no business making laws; laws should be made by parliament. Is this an appropriate use of government resources? What business does the police have in policing what people do in their private lives? Considering the current state of our prison system? Where are they going to put people that have been arrested? That money should be better spent fighting corruption that goes on in the police force.
Finally, corruption in the Zambian revenue authority is also widespread and the collection of taxes by the revenue authority is abysmal to the least. Irregular payment and bribes are standard practice among most police officers; it is estimated that one in ten companies expect to offer gifts in meeting with Zambian Tax officials. In 2017, according to QFM, the ZRA fired eight employees for allegedly engaging corrupt practices. In 2014, according to the Times, several senior officials at the ZRA had their contracts terminated for corruption. And In 2017 the president of United Progressive People party logged in a complaint against the ZRA. The complaint alleges that the ZRA inflated the cost of a contract from ZMK 84million to ZMK 140 million in a corruption scheme involving embezzlement and misappropriation of funds.
What can we do reduce corruption
According to Transparency International, these are the recommendation they have given to reduce corruption in government.
- End Impunity |Zambia should make sure that corrupt officials are punished to break the cycle of freedom from punishment or impunity. Law enforcement should also be supported by strong legal structures.
- Reform public administration and finance management | Transparency international also recommends establishing auditing agencies which have shown to be more effective than structural reform. Also, Zambia needs to make the budget expenditure public; this would reduce waste and misappropriation of funds. To add on to this point, countries that have been successful at curbing corruption have a long tradition of openness and freedom of the press.
- Empower Citizens| This involves educating citizens and empowering them to hold government accountable for every action they take. For example, community monitoring initiatives have in some cases helped in the detection of corruption.