WHILE President Hakainde Hichilema’s administration is making inexorable strides to rid Zambia of corruption, such efforts are being hampered by some evil civil servants who are deeply engaged in the vice. The case in point is the endemic corruption at the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources, which some dishonest civil servants have turned into a ‘den of the corrupt’ at various hierarchical stages. It is at this ministry where some workers’ primary goal is to demarcate huge tracts of land to themselves, or acquire land dubiously and cheaply sell it at exorbitantly high prices to ordinary citizens who are desperate to own land. At the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources, some surveyors allocate themselves massive pieces of land and put them on title using names of their wives or relatives, housekeepers, or even their former maids. In 2007, President Levy Mwanawasa ordered law enforcement agencies to seal the Ministry of Lands headquarters at Mulungushi House in Lusaka and thorough searches were conducted for about three days in all offices. Following the searches, many officers, including senior ones, were suspended and others were later relieved of their duties. One would think the 2007 crackdown on thieving civil servants marked the end of a corruption era at the Ministry of Lands. Alas! The illegality has continued to manifest its ugly face as divulged by Minister of Lands and Natural Resources Elijah Muchima yesterday. Going by Mr Muchima’s revelation, some office assistants in the ministry have allegedly been hiding files for clients and demanding money for their files to be found. This has disenchanted the minister, especially that this illegality at the ministry has been going on for many years.
Mr Muchima now wants members of the public to report officers who demand payment from them to have their files retrieved. Investigations into corrupt practices among some civil servants at the ministry have been going on for some time and certain names of the culprits have popped up and disciplinary measures will be taken against such erring officers. “The public should be aware and should not be accepting to pay those office orderlies and other staff to be helped to locate their files. We have employed officers who are supposed to do their job. “They take advantage of you. When you are looking for a file, they will deliberately put it away, they hide it and tell you ‘it is not here, give me something so that I go and look for it’,” the minister stated. This is corruption at its worst and it is rampant in the ministry’s registry where some workers’ interest is not to serve the public but to enrich themselves by stealing from desperate people. It is against the ministry’s mandate of administering and managing the country’s land and natural resources in a transparent and sustainable manner. The Ministry of Lands is important to the country as it is responsible for land administration, land surveys and mapping, as well as registration of title deeds. This is vital because land plays a critical role in uplifting the socio-economic status of Zambia. We, therefore, urge officers investigating the corruption rot at the ministry to leave no stone unturned so that civil servants who steal from the public are made to account for their deceitful conduct.