Zambia’s fight against corruption


Feature Photo Credit: Rebecca Mulengwa

Fighting corruption isn’t an easy battle, but seven passionate Australian Awards alumni working in government are true soldiers of democracy, confident their collective efforts will make real change in Zambia.

Two such alumni, Leo Mwila and Rebecca Mulengwa, both Senior Community Education Officers working in the Anti-Corruption Commission, are fighting corruption through a suite of projects.

“The prevalence of corruption in Zambia is real and negatively affects citizen access to public services,” says Leo Mwila, who completed a Master of Public Policy and Management, Murdoch University (2016).

In 2019, Zambia ranked 113 out of 180 countries on the Transparency International Corruptions Perceptions Index, giving the country a score of 34 out of 100.  Other evidence comes from the 2019 Zambia Bribe Payers Index Survey, which reports a 10.9 per cent probability of the public paying a bribe or inducement at a public service institution.

In the fight against corruption, educating and enlisting community and civil society organisation (CSO) is key. The Commission has already conducted anti-corruption training for CSOs country wide and funded 99 CSOs to roll out anti-corruption education to about 3.8 million members.

Through a multi-layered approach, Leo and Rebecca supervise community education officers, produce and distribute information on corruption, and implement community education programs, including through media and partner organisations. Other key work includes input into policies, conducting surveys for the bribe payers index and representing the Anti-Corruption Commission with external organisations.

“We also develop supplementary reading material on corruption and governance for students and anti-corruption content for teacher training curricular for colleges and universities,” says Rebecca, who completed her Master of Governance and Public Policy, University of Queensland, in 2012.

The battle against corruption is not without challenges. “We don’t have enough resources to effectively fight in all provinces,” says Rebecca. “We struggle to fast track matters in anti-corruption courts and face general moral decay and cultural practices constraining public support.”

One highly abused practice is paying homage to traditional leaders at their palaces to acquire large areas of land in exchange for money or a valuable gift. When land is given, those living on it are displaced. Another example is when traditional leaders discourage subjects from reporting criminal offences involving corruption by suggesting that doing so will embarrass forefathers, tribemates and traditional spirits.

Despite the challenges, Rebecca and Leo are seeing progress.

Sensitisation programs focusing on “Saying NO to corruption” are beginning to have an impact. On the legislation front, the Anti-Corruption Act is being revised so that a percentage of the forfeited properties can be retained by the Commission to improve its effectiveness, efficiency and reach. The Commission can take over or sell these properties to generate more funds for operations.

All alumni fighting corruption in Zambia credit their studies in Australia for equipping them with skills needed for their work. This includes skills to conduct extensive research, write proposals, formulate policies, negotiate, manage stakeholder engagement, influence mindsets, develop effective presentations and maximise networking opportunities.

On a personal front, Leo has published expert articles on corruption and ethics and written his first book—”Combating Corruption through selected Themes and Poems”—which he hopes to publish soon.

Leo has also used the skills developed through his “Ethical: Challenges in Contemporary Studies” course to input into the Anti-Corruption Commission’s 2017–2021 Strategic Plan, which supports Zambia’s Seventh National Development Plan. “Under the strategic plan, we’ve already trained 120 traditional leaders in five provinces in anti-corruption, identifying traditional values and beliefs that constrain the fight,” says Leo.”

Rebecca has used her skills to present submissions for the revision of the Anti-Corruption Act and develop voter education material with the Electoral Commission.

Positive results are steady. The 2019 Zambia Bribe Payers’ Index, for example, reported that the percentage of respondents who now understand that corruption includes abuse of authority (not just bribes) increased by 16 per cent from 2016 to 2019. Country-wide education programs have led to an increase in the number of corruption reports the Commission receives.

Other results include striking more stakeholder partnerships, including with 30 institutions in the lead-up to the United Nations International Anti-Corruption Day and forming 100 anti-corruption clubs in schools and communities.

While measuring the exact number and type of people affected by the work of this dedicated group of alumni, one thing is for certain—when corruption is significantly reduced, every citizen in Zambia benefits from easier access to public services and economic development.

The other alumni actively involved in Zambia’s fight against corruption are: Timothy Moono, Census Shapwaya, Milton Mavwali, Glenda Mungalaba, Bernedatte Phiri Munthali, Penelope Mwape, Dainess Chilufya Chisanga Phiri, Alpha Ponde and Miyoba Mukuba Sikazwe.

Photo Credit: Leo Mwila

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