By Julian Morris –
I came to Zambia three years ago with my Zambian wife and embarked on an entrepreneurial journey.
Unfortunately, being British did not help me, we in the UK, do not even know how to spell corruption. In the UK, if you offered any public servant a payment of any sort for services rendered or payment of a fine, you would be in prison very quickly.
As I am a sort of an expert in debt management and recovery, I tendered on seven contracts, and in my mind, my company had 37 years experience in debt recovery and had a new and unique service to offer, we had everything that a Zambian institution needed, and I should have won all seven tenders. But no, I had absolutely no idea of the system.
In every case, somewhere along the road I was openly asked for money, but not even a few Kwacha, In one case, I was asked for K10 million to just consider my tender, in another they wanted 20 per cent of the total income. I was told, in this particular case that I should increase my quote so that I would cover someone if I wanted the business. They required money up front just to consider my tender. but more dramatic, it just drove up the quoted rate so as to cover the bribes.
Like it or not, we Zambians are paying a premium on all our services and merchandise because of this sort of corruption and greed. Suppliers all simply inflate their quotes to cover it and thus in the end you as a user is paying out of your own pocket.
Needless to say that initially I refused to play the game and lost all seven tenders. I must add that the institutions concerned where both State owned as well as private companies.
We all accept that it is the “Zambian way”, but have we really thought it through? It is common knowledge that you could “Buy” an order from a large Parastatal, If you want a large contract, whether it is in construction industry or any other, a lot of people will want to cash in from it. Businessmen openly tell me that Zambia’s corruption is like having a second partner in the business and it simply drives the over-heads up and in the end, you, the end user suffers.
First you must understand that there are two distinct degrees of corruption. Firstly we have the supplementing of a salary. If someone will expedite up the process by cutting corners then he or she will expect a payment of some sort. It is wrong and it makes a total mockery of the system, but it happens and truthfully will always happen.
When I arrived here it came as a large shock that everything can be bought by a few kwacha.
It is wrong because those with money will get an advantage over the poor, its capitalism gone wrong. It is also wrong because by doing it, we are circumnavigating the system and the safety aspects, Getting a driving licence or road worthiness by paying someone happens, but it allows unqualified drivers and unroad-worthy cars on our roads.
I was horrified when I was told that K400 buys a road-worthy certificate and you never have to take the car to anyone to have it checked. This is why we have death traps on the roads, lorries without lights, cars with no brakes.
However, as wrong as it is, believe me, we in Zambia are not the world leaders in corruption of this sort, we in fact would not even be in the top 30 countries so we must not panic.
When I was in India last year, when I visited a government building I noticed that there were two lines, one very long one and a much shorter one, the longer line, with waiting times of hours, was for those who did not pay the door man. To get into the shorter line and get preferential access to the department, meant you having to contribute to the door-man a substantial amount of money.
I needed to get an international driving licence, the cost of which was $10, but I had to contribute another $20 to the door-man to expedite things and more scarily, it was all done totally in the open. Locals told me that being a door-man was one of the best jobs to have.
In the far-east, in India, South America, in parts of the Eastern Europe block, it happens to a far greater degree than with us here in Zambia.
I was on a car rally driving through Croatia three years ago, I was of course speeding and up popped a couple of policemen. After much loud talking and gesticulating, it became very apparent that in order to let me continue with my journey, like with our police here, a spot fine was needed, but in this case, they wanted more and both myself and my navigator had to give the police our Blue Levi-jeans we were wearing before we were allowed to continue, so we had to strip off at the side of the road and we continued the journey in our boxer shorts.
In South Africa, you don’t take a driving test, you buy one, in fact you buy anything you want, There the government process is an open market, everything from licences to passports are on offer, money is the key factor there.
In Albania, again on a world cup rally, I had an accident, I slid head on into a new Jeep Cherokee, it turned out that it was owned by the major or Chief of the town, not good for me, 6 hours later I was locked away in a jail then brought up in front of the judge. I was given no option, of course I was guilty, he was the chief and I was a tourist, but when found guilty and fined €500 I was amused to watch the Judge peel of €450 and pocket it and give me an official receipt for only €50.
Needless to say, I did not question it and got out of the court and country as quickly as I could. So Believe me, as a very well traveled man, Zambia is infact nearly perfect when compared with other countries.
We will never beat it, sorry your Excellency, I know you want to drive it out and I totally admire and respect you for this, but this sort of petty corruption which is here I am afraid is part of life in the less developed countries and the only way to beat it is to install a benefit system such as Singapore has done , but this costs huge sums of money.
However I stated that there were two sorts of corruption and the second one is the one that we all must try and help our Government stamp out.
This is what I call corporate corruption, that is abusing your position to enhance a third parties situation above others and to expect payment for it.
It is unfortunately prevalent in Zambia. I spend lots of my day consulting with overseas investors and large corporations wanting to come to Zambia to open companies, to employ local people and bring much needed money into our country.
But we in Zambia meet corruption every day and have learned to live with it, however investors from the UK and USA are not. I have lost Billions of investment money, money ready and willing to come to Zambia, because of this corruption problem.
We in Zambia, need lots of new employment situations, our youth need us to all do our bit to get them meaningful employment and skills, our SME sector need big business to come so that it increases the supplier and service opportunities.
But the selfish actions of a few are greatly contributing to the problems that Zambia is facing today
I have no idea how we tackle this situation here in Zambia and frankly I would not like to be in His Excellency’s position, but we need to look at the whole picture, not just at individuals. We need to install a culture that addresses the whole problem in Zambia.
I can not really see what we are presently doing about it and would love to have a meeting with the Anti-Corruption unit to see if I can help, but I and all the SME businessmen, all our youths and bigger businessmen plead with you to address the situation and try to minimise it.
I can tell you what causes corruption, apart from Greed, it is, in consulting, what we call “An Individual power point” This is when, in a business, organisation or Government, you allow one or a nest of people to have absolute total power, in that they, and only they can accept or reject, without recourse or audit.
A procurement officer can accept or reject a tender without consequence, department managers that can give out orders without upper authority, even government officers that can accept tenders without public transparency.
There are many individual power points in Zambia’s situation. I am certainly not saying all are corrupt, please believe me, but a lot are.
If you look at the UK and USA you will see that we use committees, we avoid totally any individual power points, at no time can one person accept or decline a tender or order without first having authority from their line manager.
All tenders and the tender process must be transparent, no one person should have the power to reject without question.The tender process should look at all tenders and have them all presented to the tender committee in person. We presently have a points system that allows the manager or power point to abuse their powers and create a corruption point. Ditch the points system, its archaic.
I lost two tenders because my company was only 1 -year-old in Zambia, no questions, no investigation, but had they asked, they would have seen that my company has been a major player in the relative business for over 30 years in the world wide market. Unfortunately, also had I presented my tender with a brown envelope containing money, they would have overlooked the lack of business time.
My advise, the more transparent authorisation process you have, the less corruption you will have. Its simple- Absolute Power is corruption. Dilute the absolute power and you begin to tackle corruption.
The author Julian Morris is CEO of Blakemore Morris and the Business Academy