After the Ombudsman’s report, the big story in the New Times seems to be the high turnover of local elected officials. The New Times is to be commended for setting up a system which allows this kind of grown up and purposeful exchange between readers.
I must say that the quality of interventions is excellent and a testimony to the brilliance of The New Times team.
As far as I understand and am concerned, this question of high turnover of elected local leaders should be seen in two contexts. One and the most important is that of democratic accountability and the second is that of “the war against corruption”.
Rwanda I believe is doing what no other African country has done before: Holding elected leaders to high standard. If you can’t handle the heat get out of the kitchen.
I do not understand why people seem to be worried about turnover.
When an elected official is marred into corruption, they simply stand down to allow the police and judiciary to do their job.
Remember these are elected officials meaning that they have been hired by the people who elected them. The relationship between elected officials and their constituents is based on trust. It is that trust which we have seen being broken all over Africa with total impunity.
Let other countries especially those in the Great Lakes Region learn, let all those who think they are untouchable know that a precedent is being set in Rwanda; and that one day their constituents are going to
demand that their officials be held to the same kind of standard that Rwandan officials are being held to.
For those who worry about high turnover, it is worth mentioning to them that the worry is understandable but misplaced. Understandable because high turnover is not good for any institution let alone public institutions.
Stability is an important ingredient for growth. So, when employees are being sacked every so often companies do not grow, countries do no grow economically and the losers are the people.
Misplaced because elected official are not or at least should not be the backbone of administration, whether local or national.
The backbone of administration and therefore the driving force behind real public growth are and should be the public servants who usual are in no position to take bribes as they hold no real decision-making power.
They are usually the brains behind the scenes, they are the people who work out the details in the decision making process. These do not usually change from one administration to another.
This is at least how all stable and democratic societies operate.
So, rather than worrying about turnover we should maybe asking, “is the public service stable and strong enough? If the answer to that is yes, then high turnover is a non-issue.
Now, let’s deal with the second context of “war on corruption”. First of all, the expression “war on corruption” I borrowed from the now infamous “war on terror”.
I use this expression because corruption in Africa is the second most hideous crime after mass killings and genocides. Resources are scarce as it is.
Now, when one man/woman swindles what could easily be more than 50% of the annual budget of a province, city or any other local municipality, they are in fact condemning the sick to death, preventing children from going to school and delaying the next road from being built.
In short, they are committing a crime with wide ranging complications. So it is within this context that I think we should worry little about turnover and start thinking in terms of what is being done to the people, who never seem to be seen as victims of this kind of crime.
I would go even further and suggest that corruption should receive a more severe punishment in Africa than it does in the West, because the consequences are not the same.
The West has choices, Africa hasn’t. It is worth noting that a major part of most African countries’ budgets is from the money we beg from the West.
So, these elected officials beg in our name and steal the begged money and want to get away with it!!
Borrowing another expression from Margaret Thatcher who famously told off her opposition who were accusing her of doing a “U turn” by telling them that “U turn if you want to” I say to those who worry about turnover that we shouldn’t worry about turning over those who want to be turned over.
Either they behave themselves or they go. To the prison that is! So lead on Rwanda, show everyone in Africa what real accountability is and let the rest of Africa be shamed by the fact that accountability has been made a demagogic slogan.