Editor's Comment

Two years, too long

THE participation of public service workers in politics has been very controversial in Zambia. The issue attracts heated debates at various platforms.
The general feeling across the board, and for good reason, is that public service workers should not participate in partisan politics because they have a noble task of service delivery to everyone.
Participation in politics could compromise their position and fail to execute their duties diligently.
The National Dialogue Forum (NDF) has added its weight to the debate by passing a resolution or recommendation setting the key condition for public service workers to participate in active politics.
Public service workers wishing to contest elections at various levels such as section, branch, ward, constituency or indeed parliamentary have to retire or resign two years ahead of time.
As it were, if this becomes law, those wishing to contest the 2021 elections have to quit now, needless to say, and hope their political parties of choice adopt them.
This NDF resolution has its pros and cons, but it seems to weigh against the public service workers. The assumption is that these workers can only be professional if they maintain their lane while leaving politicians to do their business.
The rationale, however, is that these workers should concentrate on their work and not have divided attention or even take undue advantage of them being in the civil service.
Some civil service workers have access to public facilities such as motor vehicles, telephones and stationery which they could use to plan for their political agenda. This would give them an undue advantage if they have these facilities two years or even one year before the poll.
To level the playing field, it would be best that they leave this formal employment which demands non-partisan service.
The two-year notice should help those with intentions of contesting the 2021 elections and subsequent polls to think deeply.
The recommendation is also expected to help de-politicise the public service and make it apolitical.
It will also close the space for public service workers who had intentions of contesting the upcoming elections.
However, much as the public service workers are not expected to participate in active politics, two years is too rigid.
Public service workers are citizens who also deserve to serve their country in other capacities other than the jobs they currently occupy.
Given their experience as technocrats, public service workers are best suited to serve as councillors, Members of Parliament, as well as in committees of the various political parties.
They have a democratic right to participate in the governance of the country through political parties of their choice.
There is need therefore to strike a balance so that the space for public service workers’ participation in politics is not closed out.
Two years is a very long time for any public service worker to resign because their adoption may not be guaranteed.
The mood in our politics keeps on changing and public service workers who leave Government two years prior to general elections may gamble wrongly.
We feel that the duration for somebody to resign before engaging in active politics should be reduced to at least six months.
As the resolution goes to Parliament for final debate, it is hoped that this matter will get a fresh look that will not in effect disadvantage public service workers.
It looks like, mostly, it is those that attain the retirement age that will be getting into politics. The young technocrats are unlikely to risk losing a job and losing an election.

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