Zambian Boards and Authorities

I think Zambia’s policy of setting up Boards and Authorities to handle various specific areas of government responsibility is a sensible one. Not only does America do it with their FDA, FBI, CIA, NASA, EPA etc. but it makes sense to have a board that focuses on a specialist area of society – without burdening Parliament or Cabinet with these specialties, each with their own requirements of detailed knowledge.

Yet the Boards are simply not working.

I could end this article by simply pointing to the headquarters of the ERB in Lusaka – a building which looks as though it wanted to challenge the Kremlin as the most imposing government building on this planet. The RDA has also set its sights on a new headquarters and I am sure there are many others that will at least be thinking along similar lines. However, I am very much hoping that the discussions we are able to promote from the articles that are written on this site will actually lead to some very effective SOLUTIONS. Drawing the readership’s attention to the ERB headquarters would fail to do that.

I don’t believe I can argue that there are too many boards – although there are a huge number: ERB, NAPSA, NHA, PACRA, RDA, RTSA, TBZ, WARMA, Workmen’s Compensation, ZAWA (now back to Department of Wildlife) ZICTA, ZRA plus others to deal with Tourism, Medicine, the Environment and many other aspects of our lives. What I can do is argue that NOT ONE of these Boards has proved beneficial to our society. Not one. Again, if I just use the example of ERB, they have been trying to ‘commercialize’ ZESCO for at least 15 years yet ZESCO is still an incredibly inefficient organization; they still send vehicles out to remote areas at least twice, but often three times a month: firstly to read the meters (involving at LEAST a driver and a meter-reader) then to deliver the invoices (also involving two people) and often to collect payment (also involving two people). This could (and should) be done for no more than the cost of four e-mails. Remote consumers can easily read their own meters, and email that data to ZESCO (1); ZESCO computers can AUTOMATICALLY calculate the invoices and email them back to the consumer (2); the consumer can effect an on-line payment (3) and ZESCO computers can automatically e-mail a receipt. The saving would be huge.

In fact I have told my local branch of ZESCO that I will refuse to pay any bill that is delivered to me by vehicle, so, for about six months now, I only get one vehicle a month (to read the meter). ZESCO now prints the invoices and scans them to me (manually) and I do an on-line payment. I still have to go to their office periodically to collect the receipts as ZESCO is still so dysfunctional that they cannot give last month’s receipts to the meter reader to bring out when reading the meters for this month’s bills. Instead of appreciating the efficiency of such a system ZESCO only do it for me, and only because they are trying to humor a frustrated and outspoken customer. ERB has failed to install this system and they have failed to demand that ZESCO install it – so yes, ERB has failed. Readers could all point to many other examples of the ERB failure.

Two other signs of how these Boards are failing us is that their officials LOVE to drive around the country (generally in new model 4x4s) doing business that could also be done by e-mail. (I once had a visit by 15 WARMA officials, I think in 5 or 6 vehicles, just coming for an “Introductory Tour”. I hate to think how much that cost and I suspect that it wasn’t just the cost of the vehicles, but the per diem allowances for all these officials.) Some of the boards love to hold ‘sensitization’ meetings around the country with stakeholders. After a recent one in Choma I asked the Director General a number of questions – and have yet to receive a reply. I also asked him to mention ONE item of policy that WARMA has adopted as a result of contributions from ANY of these meetings. Again, no answer. These meetings leave me with the very strong suspicion that the motive behind them is again, the per diem allowances for the officials while they are travelling away from home. Perhaps my best example was a ZESCO sensitization meeting in Choma in about March of this year – called for 9am. I counted at least 15 ZESCO employees down from Lusaka, though there may well have been more as there were two ZESCO sedans plus a Rosa sized bus. I left at 9.30 because the meeting had not yet started (and I do not believe we should tolerate such tardiness from anyone) and I was told that, at about 09.45 this ZESCO delegation sat down to eat breakfast!

I suspect I am actually preaching to the converted here; that most readers will have had similar experiences with these government boards and share my opinion that they are NOT helping the sectors that they are responsible for but are, instead, a parasitic burden.

The question then becomes – what can we do about them?

As a very first step – which can be implemented quite quickly and cheaply – I propose that ALL such bodies are required, by law, to publish, over the Internet, their accounts. Their budget for the next 12 month period; their actual expenditure for the current period and their consolidated accounts for the previous financial year. Being required to reveal this data to the tax paying public ought to focus the minds of the senior staff in at least trying to run a tighter ship. For instance, of the taxes paid in this country we ought to know the percentage that is absorbed by the ZRA before the remainder is handed to the Ministry of Finance for disbursement to other departments.

I would go further and would like to propose that the government try an experiment with at least one or two of the boards to see whether they would be more effective if they were constituted differently. I believe that ZAWA/ the Wildlife Department would be one good place to start. (ANOTHER example of just how bad these boards can be: ZAWA Livingstone drove out to see a Game Rancher in Kalomo district to BEG some old tires for their vehicles as they had no money to buy new ones. A few weeks later they drive out again, to check his permits! He has been a Game Rancher for over 25 years, actively involved with Chilanga both in Anti-poaching operations and in setting up the legislation for Game Ranching in this country. If ZAWA was worried about a permit, they should have just given him a phone call.)
Another government board that I think is ripe (as in rotten over-ripe) for a change is the one for Tourism – it used to be called the ZNTB – but the one I am going to focus on in the rest of this article will be WARMA, mostly because it is the board that has failed me the most, and therefore about which I have given most thought.
WARMA were down in Choma recently for another one of their sensitization meetings where they revealed their proposed budget with an annual cost of about K14,000 per Water Permit. When I challenged this expense, several WARMA officials were quick to defend it yet, when it comes to taking action against a neighbour of mine who is pumping illegally from one of my dams, they do nothing. This neighbour started to pump with 2 small submersible pumps, which have now increased to 5, and still I cannot get WARMA to do anything about it.

What I propose is that (a) Government can identify those aspects of Society that it feels would be better served by a dedicated board, rather than by Parliament or Cabinet (b) they set up the legal framework in which that board will be recognized by the rest of Society and (c) they appoint a government observer, whose salary is paid for by the government. This observer may speak at board meetings, relaying government opinion, but would have no voting rights. The board itself, will be elected by the stakeholders and answerable to those stakeholders. In the case of WARMA, we would need at least a representative from the Mines, from Agriculture, from Urban consumers and from the Hydro-electric sector. From these four representatives, they would elect a chairperson. Voting rights would probably be allocated on the basis of fees paid (which should be a proxy for water consumed).
I believe such a board would (very quickly) opt for a regional structure whereby issues were resolved by a committee charged with responsibility for a particular catchment. If there is a clash of interest on some river in Mkushi, this would best be resolved by the community of Mkushi water users, rather than by a central board sitting in Lusaka. There would, through this regional structure, be an exchange of ideas, so that a technique (or principle) that was working very well on the Kafue River, could be adopted by other users, on other rivers. Similar regions could be established for underground water – a resource which is even more vulnerable to over exploitation and for which WARMA has not established any guiding principles.
I am again running out of space, but a book by Elinor Olstrom (I believe the only woman to have ever won a Nobel prize for Economics) called “Common Pool Resources” points out that these resources are NOT doomed to the Tragedy of the Commons. She points out that the two alternatives that are often proposed (government regulation and private ownership) are as prone to failure as are badly structured communal resources. Yet, with the correct application of about 8 principles, Common Pool Resources can be maintained extremely well. In the context of Water, I shall be discussing these principles in future articles,
Bruce Danckwerts