When the MMD came to power under President Chiluba it pursued a rigorous policy of economic liberalisation defined as privatization. State-owned companies were auctioned off at prices below their book value. Corruption as a political vice first came to public attention when the third republican president Levy Mwanawasa slapped corruption allegations against former MMD president Fredrick Chiluba in 2002. It was alleged that Chiluba had swindled the government of millions of dollars through Access Financed Services and the Zamtrop state security account operated in the UK. The MMD government under Dr. Chiluba was afterward wound blamed for having instituted a culture of graft and impunity that stalled Zambian economic development.
Creating a capitalist class
The main task the MMD government set itself when it came to power was the social and economic empowerment of indigenous Zambians. The MMD went on to create what was a capitalist class dominated by economically empowered Zambian entrepreneurs. To quote from the late Dr. Chiluba speech when defining the new capitalist society:
'Ours is a capitalist society. It is therefore inevitable that in part and I repeat in part we must address the goal of privatization within the context of the people's relations characteristic of a capitalist economy. As part of the realization of our aim to eradicate poverty in our country, we must strive to create and strengthen a Zambian capitalist class – the new culture. Because we come from the disadvantaged many of us feel embarrassed to state their goal as nakedly as we should. All this frightens and embarrasses all of us who are Zambians and might be part of the rich. Accordingly, we walk as far and faster as we come from the nation that the struggle against poverty in our country must include the objective of creating a new Zambian bourgeois. As part of our continuing struggle to wipe out this legacy of poverty, we must work to ensure that there emerges a Zambian bourgeoisie whose presence within our economy and society will be part of the process of privatization of the economy and society. (quoted Daily Nation, 14 February).
The task of privatizing the economy proved to be a nefarious and blatantly corrupt affair which had a triple effect on the poor and marginalized working class. Unemployment trebled due to the abrupt liquidation of state-owned companies and the once economically vibrant Copperbelt mining towns of Kitwe, Chingola, Mufulira, Ndola, and Chililabonbwe became ghost towns. In most cases, workers retrenched from parastatal companies have until today not received their retrenchment packages. President Chiluba went on to surrender council houses to sitting tenants in a move designed to socially empower the Zambian citizens, a move that had dire social economic consequences upon local authorities. Privatization dubbed 'economic empowerment' gave rise to social squalor and urban poverty of a severe kind.
The idea that public property belongs to no one, in particular, is an entrenched feeling among ordinary Zambian, especially those who work in the civil service. It makes them solicit money from people seeking to obtain things like a visa, a passport or a driving licence. The police are the most corrupt civil servants in the sense that they set free criminals upon receiving money, It is very rare for a magistrate to convict a rich person in Zambia today. The vice of corruption has spread into Ministry of Education where examination leakages are the thing of the day. Under the new capitalist culture 'social and economic empowerment' is a political slogan that legalised street vending, prostitution and crime. The privatization of ZCCM led to the emergence of self-styled copper dealers called “jerabos” who steal copper cathodes and concentrates from the privately owned copper mines were security became lax after the dissolution of ZCCM mine police unit.
Thus corruption in Zambia has been a matter of accumulating wealth and social status in the sense that most of the Zambian capitalist class derived its wealth through outright corruption.
When Levy Mwanawasa passed away in 2008 he was succeeded by his vice-president, Rupiah Banda as acting president. In 2010 Banda had to squash the pending corrupt allegations against Chiluba because he was cognizant of the fact that corruption was a means to economic empowerment under the MMD government. Corruption was at its highest peak during the time Banda was head of state. It was president Banda, acting with his son Andrew, who milked millions of dollars from the Zambian government under a dubious contract to purchase oil from Nigeria in 2009. The task force created by President Mwanawasa proved toothless when it comes to arresting and convicting of politicians alleged to be corrupt.
'Anti-corruption' is used as a weapon of political victimization against political opponents and as such is not transparent. In his inaugural address when he was sworn in as president of Zambia in 2016 President Lungu promised the people of Zambia that he was going to continue the legacy of the late President Sata through creating more jobs and fighting corruption. President Lungu is not a domineering and abrasive leader when compared to the late Michael Sata-without rigidly and defined ideological convictions. Ascending to the leadership of the PF without a flamboyant political background Lungu has come to rely on the political goodwill of the masses and his closest stooges.
After the initial political blizzard of 2014, the PF government under Lungu has presided over the recovery of the Zambian economy. Favourable copper prices from demand in South East Asia (mostly China and Malaysia) boosted investor confidence in the mining sector. The release of the UNPD leader Hicilema helped to cast a positive image of political tolerance and the rule of law. In Africa and overseas Lungu seems to have won a lot of political and economic accolades. The European Bank, World Bank, Amnesty International have expressed satisfaction with his style of leadership.
But from within the stable political and economic outlook looms the ugly revelations day in and day out of corruption taking place high echelons of the PF government, fuelled by allegations from former Minister Chishimba Kambwili who was himself dismissed for corruption. The report of the auditor-general on the estimates of capital expenditure reveal gross irregularities in the procurement and implementation of government programmes. The erring ministries or public officers are not prosecuted.
Policing corruption (politicians), as with the recent forced resignation of President Zuma in South Africa, will not resolve the dilemma of social poverty and corruption. Corruption is just another face of capitalist society. It is just another problem that cannot be resolved unless money, government, and leaders are dispensed with.
The one-party state is a feature of state corruption in which a handful of individuals exploit the majority workers. Parliamentary democracy is made up of wealthy and ambitious politicians trying to reform capitalism. They hoodwink the working class to vote for them through promising them with a heaven on Earth. But once the politicians win elections and become leaders the workers remain mere spectators at the political changing and economic issues taking place in society. Socialist ideas need a revolutionary class behind them to become practical. The problems feeing capitalism requires conscious political action by socialists and the democratic capture of political power. Everything else is reformism and total disappointment.