Sishuwa Sishuwa: Sata’s Humiliation of Sebastian Zulu

The article below appeared in today’s Post newspaper (17th April, 2012) under the headline ‘Sata’s humiliation of Sebastian Zulu,” appearing under the “Political Discourse” column Sishuwa Sishuwa. We are featuring an excerpt of the text here because the article has not been made available online – only in the print edition published today in Zambia.

THE relationship between President Michael Sata and his Cabinet ministers is raising serious concern among many people.

Last week, the Commission of Inquiry that was set up to investigate former communications and transport minister Dora Siliya’s cancellation of a contract to deliver airport surveillance radar equipment presented its findings to the President. In receiving the report, President Sata publicly condemned it as “useless” and wondered if the commission chairperson, Sebastian Zulu, who is also Minister of Justice, was trying to protect Siliya.

Later, the same week, Sata refused to receive another report from the Napsa Commission of Inquiry that was tasked to investigate possible irregularities in Napsa’s purchase of land from Meanwood Properties for US$98 million. The President’s justification was that the Commission’s chairman, Sebastian Zulu, was not present at State House to hand it over to him. Sata deferred the presentation of the report but only after making an off-the-cuff statement that it has ‘a lot of dust which has been swept under the carpet’. What do we make of all this? (…)

For instance, how did Sata know that the report on the radar cancellation was “useless” at its official receipt? Isn’t he usurping the role of Cabinet? What does the President mean when he says ‘a lot of dust has been swept under the carpet’? Does Sata know more than what has been found? If so, why did he not appear and present his evidence before it?

Is the government in order to continue wasting taxpayers’ money on commissions of inquiry whose findings they have no intentions of respecting, implementing and are discredited at the official receipt? The President’s statements that the Commissions were protecting Siliya and covering a lot of dust suggests that he expected them to come up with conclusions that are favourable to him or that implicate those he perceives to have been behind the alleged anomalies. This gives credibility to widespread assumptions that the commissions of inquiry set up by his government are pre-determined. President Sata should inspire public confidence in his government and ministers through his statements, conduct and actions.

Second is that there is urgent need for President Sata to consider working on the tone of his sometimes discouraging, humiliating and frustrating language so as to encourage ministers’ energies to coalesce behind him for nation-building. His decision to disparage the Minister of Justice in the manner he did was unnecessary, frustrating and discouraging. It probably explains Zulu’s failure to appear before him and present the Napsa report for fear of being lambasted and publicly demeaned again.

Surely, the Napsa Commission had to present its findings on that day and someone had to deliver the report to the President, as per practice. The argument that it should have been presented by Zulu is simply unconvincing and belittles other members of the Commission. Were the Commission’s findings, which are more important than an individual, the work of one person? What if Zulu died or was unwell?

We are told that Zulu had travelled abroad at the time of the report presentation. If Zulu was attending to government business, what was wrong with him delegating the task of delivering the report to his deputy? Isn’t the purpose of delegation to ensure efficiency and effectiveness in the delivery of duties? Should government operations or business come to a halt simply because of the absence of one person, who has genuinely delegated his functions to his subordinates? Shouldn’t we actually promote this practice at all levels of government?

In any case, wasn’t he cleared by Cabinet office before departure? At what point did the President learn that Zulu was not available? If it was before the ceremony started, was there need to go ahead with the event in the first place? Or has Sata simply lost faith in Zulu and is just preparing ground for dismissing the Minister of Justice? If so, why not drop Zulu and have him replaced amicably instead of discrediting him publicly? Does Sata understand the demoralizing effects that his rebuking of Zulu has on other ministers?

It is high time Sata started demonstrating maturity and humility in the manner he engages with others. While the President has the right to express his disappointment with his colleagues in Cabinet, he should do so in a manner that engenders unity, respect, tolerance and consensus rather than fear and sycophancy. Sata should understand that humiliating Cabinet ministers in public degrades not only his colleagues but his government as well. How can the President expect the public to respect his ministers when the appointing authority does not respect them and lambasts them publicly? Will Sata complain if the public stops respecting his ministers?

The President should change his ways. The disrespect that he is today visiting on his ministers will tomorrow visit him. How would he feel if his former superiors had rebuked him publicly the way he rebuked Zulu? Would he have taken that type of treatment or humiliation from Frederick Chiluba? Hasn’t Sata been preaching the ‘do unto others as you would have then do unto you’ Biblical injunction? There is no need for President Sata to humiliate other people merely to signal who wields more power. If Zulu or indeed any minister is wrong, he or she should be reprimanded (privately and respectfully) or dropped completely. Cabinet ministers are not employees or children of Sata whom he can talk to in any manner that pleases him; they are public servants and mature human beings who deserve respect.

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