Although Article 70 (1) (d) of the amended Constitution stipulates Grade 12 or its equivalent as the minimum qualification for one to stand as a ward counselor or as a member of Parliament (MP) creates some challenges in some areas to find people with such qualifications; such a clause will not only improve on the caliber of political representatives and debates in the respective democratic institutions but will also promote will power to propel oneself to higher academic achievements which will also increase literacy levels, good reading culture and active and full participation of majority citizens in the governance of this country..
Some observers have noted that the stated minimum qualification is discriminatory to some citizens; adding that some Zambians are too poor to send their children to school to reach such qualifications.
Former education minister in the previous MMD government, Prof Geoffrey Lungwangwa observed that there are very few or no citizens in some rural areas with such qualifications as most citizens with such academic achievements migrate into towns and cities in search of jobs. Prof. Lungwangwa who is also Nalikwanda constituency’s MP in Western province added that most political parties might find it too difficult to find people with such qualifications to stand on their ticket.
And some citizens have argued that effective political leadership has nothing to do with academic qualifications. It has been argued that it’s just passion and servant leadership that facilitates community development processes; and not levels of academic achievements. Someone asked: ‘What academic qualifications did most UNIP leaders have for them to have facilitated many sustainable development projects in almost all parts of the country?’
But some observers have welcomed the clause on minimum qualifications for elected political leaders as a progressive clause on Zambia’s political representation; and in promoting real democracy.
For instance, Mkushi district resident, Francis J Kalipenta argues that with increase in population, the swelling of the number of men and women with academic certificates, diplomas and degrees up to doctorate and professorial levels; and with stiff competition to get a job on the labour market, even our lawmakers’ qualifications should be revised upwards.
This is because political positions are elective. Elections are a contest. And to be fair in any competition, it is better to set ground rules to show who is supposed to stand for such a contest. And the ground rules of any contest consider various factors related to what the winner of that competition will be subjected to or is supposed to do. This is why in job application for a certain vacant position, employers stipulate the minimum qualifications for potential candidates because they know the expectations from that worker; and the potential challenges that particular job holder is likely to face.
For elected political representatives such as ward councilors and MPs, all Zambians now know some of the socio-cultural, economic, political, legal, technological and environment challenges our country is facing; and the need for such political representatives to respond to and facilitate addressing such issues effectively and efficiently to the benefit of the electorate.
However, despite some co-operating partners and ministry of local government and housing conducting some orientation workshops for potential political candidates before and after elections respectively, little is seen as benefits from most of such political leaders. This is because most of such people who aspire for; and are elected into such positions have too low academic achievements to comprehend and apply what they are taught. Such a situation seriously disadvantages the democratic dispensation and the socio-economic advancement of communities concerned.
Political leaders are supposed to be mobilisers of both human and financial resources in their respective areas; and facilitate addressing community’s development needs.
Therefore, considering the current socio-economic challenges, the low quality of debates in our democratic institutions such as local authorities and National Assembly; coupled with low or no community development facilitations, one cannot hesitate to support such a piece of legislation.
Consequently, some people have argued that even Grade 12 qualification for political leaders is too low for the current socio-economic challenges our country faces!
In short, the law in question aims at reducing mediocrity in political representation; especially that the same ward councilors and the MPs are the ones who later aspire to be MPs and are appointed deputy and cabinet ministers respectively.
The purpose of the stated law is to improve on the quality of political representation where those who go into council chambers and National Assembly will have well articulated ideas with facts and figures from their respective areas; and debate on such issues in consonant with; and expectations of majority electorate in their respective wards and constituencies.
Such minimum qualifications for and expectations from political representatives are now more necessary than ever before because, firstly, the socio-economic challenges to be addressed are increasing at an accelerating rate; and secondly, the monthly salaries and other conditions of service for such political leaders have been improved tremendously in the current government. Monthly salaries and conditions of services are in consonant with expected outputs and qualifications of a job holder.
Therefore, the socio-cultural, legal, political, technological and environmental factors to be addressed; and monthly salaries and other conditions of service cannot change without revising the minimum qualifications of those who hold such positions to address such issues.
Not revising minimum qualifications for political leaders in such a dynamic socio-cultural, economic, legal, political and environmental situation might tantamount to wasting public funds on the so-called political representatives who might have little or nothing to contribute during heated debates on critical community and national issues.
Such a minimum qualification for political leaders will not only reduce the number of councilors and MPs dosing during debating sessions but will also increase the number of such representatives who will actively and fully participate in debates on community and national issues. Therefore, the purpose of such proposed minimum qualification for such political representatives is to make such elected leaders earn their monthly salaries and allowances than merely receiving such incomes like Manna from Heaven.
One can earn a salary from a certain position if such a worker has minimum qualifications in tandem with the job description and expectations from that position; and that one also works very hard to achieve the outputs of such a job on time. This is rarely the case in most current Zambia’s politicians!
Consequently, such minimum qualification for political representatives will also encourage parents and guardians to work hard to send their children to school for such off springs to qualify whenever they would want to be politicians at any level; including that of republican presidency. With such minimum qualification for political leaders, ambitious children and youths will also strive to reach grade 12 or its equivalent so that they qualify to be ward councilors, MPs or a republican president in future.
Therefore, such a law covertly promotes improvements on literacy levels in our society which, currently is reported to be at 62 per cent of Zambia’s population of about 14million people. Efforts to improve on one’s academic and professional levels might also improve on our reading culture which is now low with poor comprehension levels.
In short, the same piece of legislation will facilitate increasing academic and professional achievements among many Zambian citizens as it’s easier for one with a grade 12 or its equivalent qualification to enter most colleges and universities. Such a law entices many Zambians to acquire high academic and professional achievements which, when professionally applied, might transform this country into sustainable socio-economic national development processes.
While some people might be disadvantaged; and therefore discriminated against from such a law, doing something about it to improve on one’s qualification might be helpful. As a temporary measure; as is the case in some areas now, even those who live in towns have home areas; and can be identified to stand in their respective areas until such a time when such communities have people with such qualifications living in their vicinity who can aspire for such political positions.
Therefore, President Edgar Chagwa Lungu should be commended for assenting to such progressive clauses and standing firm to the clauses in the amended Constitution.