guest column:Nathan Chikara

PRESIDENT Edgar Lungu’s shock decision to dismiss the governor of the Bank of Zambia, Denny Kalyalya, and replace him with his bosom-buddy, Christopher Mphanza Mvunga in August, demonstrated how easily personal agendas can supersede national interests, hence the need to have strong national institutions and professional bodies that can provide the necessary checks and balances.

In the wake of Kalyalya’s sacking – notwithstanding his stellar performance under extremely difficult circumstances – Zambia’s currency (Kwacha) plunged and so did Eurobonds. In other words, every Zambian is paying a heavy price for Lungu’s error in judgment.

Among those who were outraged by Lungu’s self-serving antics was none other than South Africa’s outspoken Finance minister Tito Mboweni, who savaged the Zambian leader so much that Pretoria had to issue an apology while also slapping the former governor of the Reserve Bank of South Africa on the wrist for crossing the line of diplomatic etiquette.

“This is not some fiefdoms of yours! Your personal property?! No!!…That governor (Kalyalya) was a good fella…Why do we do these things as Africans. The president of Zambia must give us the reasons why he dismissed the governor or else hell is on his way. I will mobilize!” Mboweni tweeted.

While South African President Cyril Ramaphosa was forced to restrain his Finance Minister to avoid a diplomatic storm with Lusaka, Mboweni had made his point by taking a stand against political interference in the operation of national institutions such as central banks whose financial integrity needs safeguarding.

The corrosive behaviour of politicians on national institutions is not confined to Zambia alone. It is actually a global pandemic, probably worse than Covid-19, which is destroying economies. Not even countries in the first world are vaccinated against the scourge. We have even seen the United States of America suddenly realising that swashbuckling politicians such as the eccentric Donald Trump can easily overwhelm a system built over many years, hence the need to continuously immunise institutions so that they can withstand the overbearing tendencies of politicians.

The African continent arguably ranks high up in bastardizing national institutions and placing them at the beck and call of the political elite who use these to reward their cronies by appointing them into positions of authority before conniving to plunder them through acts of corruption. The advent of a new administration in Zimbabwe is thus seen presenting an opportunity for the southern African State, described by former Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere as “the jewel of Africa” to reverse the damage suffered under the autocratic leadership of former strongman, Robert Mugabe.

Nearly every national institution in Zimbabwe, among them the National Railways of Zimbabwe, the Cold Storage Company, Air Zimbabwe, the National Oil Company and the Zimbabwe Iron and Steel Company, have deep scars inflicted through political interference which resulted in them failing to perform their functions. As such, President Emmerson Mnangagwa has his work cut out to protect not just the integrity of the central bank, but other institutions as well that can easily become the fodder of political hawks in his ruling Zanu PF party.

Professional institutions/bodies also have a role to play in ensuring that their members who are at the helm of these institutions/bodies perform in line with expectations.

A cursory observation on the state of our infrastructure, particularly roads, however, brings to the fore not just the role of the country’s leadership in their collapse but that of professional associations that seem to have gone to sleep or have become complicit in their destruction.

It is not uncommon to see newly constructed roads developing potholes within a period of five years. Whilst other roads may not have potholes, the surfaces will be uneven and even bumpy — showing some underlying deficiencies in the construction process.

The intersection of Harare Drive and Pringle Road in Mandara, Harare, is just but one example showing defective engineering work. Similarly, the intersection of Lytton Road and the Paisely Road as you drive towards Mufakose in Harare is another example of poor quality workmanship, which has become the hallmark of our engineering professionals in public institutions.

The quality of Simon Mazorodze Road in Harare also leaves a lot to be desired and yet it is one of the major roads for visitors driving into our capital city. Generally, it is a nightmare driving across most intersections as the roads are bumpy and cause discomfort.

Another observation relates to the quality of paint used for road markings. The markings disappear within three months, raising questions on whether the appropriate paint is being used.

It has become normal to get roads re-surfaced and no road markings are put in place, leaving motorists to guess on whether they are driving in their lanes or otherwise.

Mediocrity has been normalised and the sense to achieve perfection, even in the absence of adequate resources, is no longer an issue. The multi-million-dollar question is: how are these projects being signed off? Aren’t there quality standards and other requirements that should be met and approved by project engineers and leaders of the various bodies steering these projects?

It is also not uncommon to find trenches dug across roads left open or badly covered for long periods. This was the case along Herbert Chitepo Avenue – between 5th and 7th streets – where the patching of the tarmac was badly done; leaving questions as to why the work is signed off. The trenches are increasing in residential areas as more people connect to internet as well as water connections.

One might as well argue that the failure by engineers’ associations to monitor their professions has become a huge burden on society and is aiding corruption in the economy. Generally, all professional associations have a responsibility to ensure that taxpayers are not short-changed through imposing punitive measures on their members that sign off shoddy work and bring the name of their profession into disrepute.

Such accountability would expose corrupt officials in both government and councils, among others. When one looks at professions such as the legal and real estate, one notes that the Law Society of Zimbabwe and the Real Estate Institute of Zimbabwe always imposes punitive measures on errant lawyers and estate agents who bring the profession into disrepute.

Therefore, even as we are calling on national leaders to build stronger institutions, professional bodies must play a part in supporting the process by holding their members to account for their actions.

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