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Full text Dabengwa's speech: International Conference on Zimbabwe

by ZAPU President Dr. Dumiso Dabengwa
13 May 2014 at 07:04hrs | Views
International Conference on Zimbabwe: Consolidating the Democratization Process and Reinforcing Re-Engagement with the Global Community

5-6 May 2014

Rainbow Towers, Harare

(SAPES Trust & National Endowment for Democracy)

Presentation notes. ZAPU President Dr. Dumiso Dabengwa

Session II: Strengthening National Institutions



Your Excellencies the Ambassadors

Honorable Ministers, MPs and Senators

Distinguished Participants

 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

All protocols observed!

Good morning!

1. The theme of this session needs interrogating and refining

I find it interesting that this session on institutions refers to "strengthening" rather than "re-orienting" national institutions. It seems we are starting from the assumption or taking it for granted that one of the major problems in today's Zimbabwe is weakness in institutions rather than a sense of direction in these institutions. However, we may wish to consider that:

a) Strength is not synonymous with clarity of purpose and commitment to a democratic agenda.

b) Some of the most repressive regimes have very strong institutions that are committed to the status-quo. The Nazis and the Apartheid state in South Africa survived and thrived on efficient organs of oppression.

c) While strong institutions are important, what are even more important are the values that they seek to protect and promote.

2. Identifying the national institutions that we need to "strengthen".

In this session we have been given a free hand to decide what national institutions require strengthening in order to consolidate the democratization process in Zimbabwe and to reinforce re-engagement with the global community. It is not explicitly stated that democratization will lead to re-engagement and how, but it will be interesting in the course of discussion to explore if there is any automatic link between the two processes. 

a)    This year, 2014, when we think about strengthening national institutions many people in the country will quickly focus on parastatal institutions. This is because of the rot that reminds us of our politically-charged Willowvale car assembly plant saga soon after independence which got associated with the Watergate scandal in the United States, hence the "Salary-gate" tag. It will be recalled that in our "Salary-gate" scandal, huge salaries paid to the top bosses were revealed while workers were receiving little or no pay. The salaries paid to the heads of these public institutions were in many instances above those of comparators in the private sector. Furthermore, the services provided by some of the affected institutions had declined tremendously to the detriment of beneficiaries, customers and the general public.

b)    The new Constitution of Zimbabwe that came into force in 2013 has addressed the range of public institutions that are essential for good governance. These include themes such as administration of justice, public administration, free and fair elections, human rights, corruption prevention, gender equity and equality, freedom and access to information, conflict resolution through peace and reconciliation, and development processes including productive use and control of natural resources such as land and minerals. In other words, there is ample scope already for professional management and public participation in the running of key areas of national life. Furthermore, the constitution also spells out in Chapter 9 the principles of public administration and leadership, but even practice that prevailed before is in line with these principles.

3. What needs to be done, why and how, to strengthen national institutions?

The answers to this question have been partly answered in the process of pointing at the range of institutions that underpin the democratic process and individual freedom. A combination of developments and the state of the country's economy are also at the heart of timing for a session like this one.

a)     In 2014 the manifestation of institutional decay in Zimbabwe has been the scandal associated with stupendous salaries paid to heads of government-owned enterprises, "Salary-gate" mentioned above. The first thing the public voiced concerns about was the need to terminate the exorbitant salaries, if not to recover as well what was viewed as stolen money. While there was general appreciation for the exposure by the press, there was cynicism on how much corrective punishment would be administered.

b)     Public cynicism on the inability or unwillingness in the majority of the cases to bring to book the beneficiaries of "Salary-gate" has largely been borne out. The underlying reason why the scandalous salaries were awarded in the first place is the erosion of political oversight running from the ministries to cabinet that should have scrutinized the award of salaries and benefits by respective boards. In this case therefore the "strengthening" of the affected institutions is simply the restoration of political oversight and accountability. Parliamentary and Executive censure should have been the minimum, followed by drastic "rolling" of all heads responsible at all levels if any contracts were not properly vetted.

c)    Now that the dust is settling down following the 2013 harmonized elections, there is need for a coordinated internal review of the workings of government institutions. This is because four years of the three-legged Government of National Unity (GNU) of ZANU-PF and the two MDC's worsened problems of weak accountability. A startling example is that the Treasury was broke when the country was producing and selling diamonds. That points to unproductive competition between and among political parties that prevailed in the management of portfolios and that politicized government operations.

d)    Pressure must be put on elected representatives to take their roles seriously. There are signs that some Members of Parliament across the spectrum are prepared to take on the Executive arm of government on matters of public interest. This should be encouraged; and members of the public must engage their legislators to take up issues for action and redress. What is needed is for the legislators to go beyond raising issues and to pass the necessary motions.

 e)    Opposition and independent MPs have to play their role of putting up alternative policy choices, not just to score points but to indicate directions that contribute to national progress and a more viable future. Civil society, non-parliamentary parties, the media and faith communities all have a part to play in promoting a people-centered approach among legislators and the implementing organs of government. That does not have to wait for the 2018 elections and four years of rhetoric and defense of failing policies. Now that the ruling party has a commanding majority in parliament and full control of the executive, there are also fewer and fewer scapegoats for poor governance and for discord between ministerial portfolios.

f)    Recruitment is underway for the independent Commissions set up under the new Constitution. Nominations of suitable candidates must be encouraged from the public. These commissions must also be well-resourced for their functions. In the case of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), the 2013 chaos that attended the compiling and management of the Voters' Roll through the Registrar General's office should not be repeated.

g)    In the long term, there is unfinished business in implementation of the spirit of constitutional provisions such as the devolution of power to the provinces. The bar was set very low ("not less than five percent" of the national revenue) for the allocation of money for all operations of provincial and local government (Chapter 17). Far from the cautionary preamble of Chapter 14 that starts with "prevention of all forms of disunity and secessionism", such a centrist allocation of resources is a recipe for division and discontent because of regional imbalance, history of marginalization and underdevelopment of some areas. The essence of a recipe is that a small variation in ingredients can make a big difference, but an unchanged recipe is almost certain to produce the same product (in this case a time bomb of inequality that breeds migration of unemployed young men and young women to neighboring countries or hanging around without prospects for productive employment as firms grind to a halt and are picked by asset-strippers from Harare).

h)    We have made strides in constitutional reform. In ZAPU's view, country needs to address the issue of "winner takes all" in elections. The seats allocated to women on the basis of votes cast for parties and also the senatorial seats on the same basis, constitute important advances. However, this needs to be followed by a system of proportional representation in parliament so that significant opinion does not disappear from decision-making because of "minority" status. A tyranny of "majority" protectionism is what leads parts of countries to agitate for a situation where their interests and needs are not managed remotely. Zimbabwe needs to anticipate and avoid such a fate through some form of proportional representation and dilution of a monolithic center.

 4. What should be the outcome of strengthening institutions?

As I have tried to argue above, strengthening institutions should start from restoration of the values they are meant to protect and promote. In answering the question "What should Zimbabwe look like after institutions have been strengthened", I would say:

a)    The general public must regain respect for cleaned institutions, because they should be able to operate in the public interest without depending on political patronage.

b)    There must be predictability or consistency in decision-making. All clients or beneficiaries of public institutions must expect and receive the same treatment and services they are entitled to, regardless of ethnic, racial or other distinction'

c)    Enforcement of legal obligations and codes of professional conduct must become routine. Zimbabwe must be a reliable partner for those it seeks to do business with. In this respect, both local and foreign potential investors must be assured of a level playing field where there is no "greasing" of gate-keepers in awarding of contracts.

d)    Decision-makers must have sound professional and technical advice, given by individuals and units chosen on merit and criteria and due process.

e)    Zimbabwe has an incredible range of resources, qualified people and a good work ethic. The key for commensurate success is political commitment and restoration of the values of the liberation struggle, namely the supremacy of our people's collective interests over political formations and individual interests.

5. Ensuring that institutions do not degenerate after being "strengthened"

How do we ensure that institutions do not degenerate after being "strengthened"? Some of this has already been answered in other parts of this presentation. The most important thing is to enforce and observe provisions of the new Constitution and to interpret them progressively. Another thing is for incumbents of various offices to be committed to ethical standards and be proud of their record in office. Finally, vigilance is required from all sectors of the general public to ensure we can leave a country conducive to the survival of future generations.

I thank you.

 

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