Reflections from Zambia – strengthened capacities of oversight actors in the health sector
Compiled by Partnership for Social Accountability Alliance (PSAA) partners: SAfAIDS Zambia, Action Aid Zambia and Public Service Accountability Monitor (PSAM)
The recent political shift of power in Zambia, brought about by the 2021 election, has resulted in a notable influx of new Members of Parliament. Regrettably, this has also led to a disconcertingly high turnover rate, which has raised concerns about the knowledge base of these newly elected officials. Unlike their more experienced counterparts, many of these parliamentarians are unaware of their fundamental duties extending beyond mere representation. The brief Parliament orientation program that spans a meagre one to two weeks fails to delve into the intricate and multifaceted roles and responsibilities that come with being a Member of Parliament specifically those of providing accountability. As such, many of these newly elected officials lack a comprehensive understanding of their roles and responsibilities, which poses a significant challenge to the effective functioning of Parliament as an institution of governance and oversight of public resources. The PSAA project, having identified these capacity deficiencies, has been using its project strategy to remedy them, in collaboration with the Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO).
“Some of these capacities gaps can be a challenge for a new MP and if we did not have a Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO); it could have been a greater challenge. As such, various CSOs such as yourselves from the PSAA have come in to fill the gap.”
Hon. Dr. Christopher Kalilia (Chairperson – Health Committee)
A significant impact
The PSAA project has proved to be an invaluable asset on several fronts in its contribution to oversight, particularly in reinforcing oversight mechanisms. For parliamentarians, the PSAA project has brought an acute awareness of the critical role that effective oversight plays in upholding the principles of social accountability and democracy. What has set the PSAA program apart is its unparalleled ability to delve deeper into the intricacies of public resource management, going beyond the surface-level tenets of accountability and transparency. This project through its trainings offers an advanced tracking mechanism that has empowered policy makers to monitor the judicious utilization of public resources, thereby ensuring that they are put to optimal use for the greater good. Through the PSAA project, MPs are being well equipped to enforce rigorous oversight, flagging any discrepancies or misappropriations of public resources, thereby upholding the public trust reposed in them as elected representatives. In this sense, the PSAA project has emerged as a potent tool added to their arsenal, enabling them to discharge their duties effectively and in the best interests of their constituents.
In the specific context of SRH services, one of the noteworthy achievements of the PSAA project is its contribution to the development of the SRHR Advocacy and Communication Strategy, which was crafted through the Caucus of MPs. A multitude of factors coalesced to bring about this pivotal strategy, initially stemming from the passionate drive of individuals and like-minded members of parliament who had been closely involved in the HIV/AIDS fight and gender mainstreaming in the health sector within Zambia and the wider SADC region.
Gender mainstreaming is one of the PSAA project’s vital approaches, and it was one of the fundamental components that encouraged an emphasis on SRHR as well as the necessity for this strategy among lawmakers. An acute awareness emerged of the dire need to empower women to amplify their voices on SRHR, as they represent the very face of this issue and bear the brunt of its negative consequences. A plethora of complex and pressing SRH issues necessitated the involvement of women, such as the marginalization of certain groups, the need to safeguard maternal SRH rights, promoting gender parity, addressing the issue of Zambian teenage pregnancies, and preventing school dropouts, to name but a few. Of paramount importance was the incorporation of SRH as a national health priority, ensuring that access to information on SRH was substantially enhanced. Innumerable cultural connotations and a surfeit of misinformation surrounding Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) further underscored the need for this urgent intervention.
¨There was a need to include SRH as a National health priority and enhance the access to information on SRH. There are many cultural connotations and a lot of misinformation around Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) amongst others. Therefore, the Members of Parliament involved in the fight against HIV/AIDS felt they were not communicating well in countering those opposed to SRH interventions and programs like CSE. That is how the group was formalized through a caucus and was supported by the likes of UNESCO, Generation Alive and SafAIDS (PSAA).
Hon. Dr. Christopher Kalilia (Chairperson – Health Committee)
The establishment of this caucus marks a significant milestone in the fight for SRH rights, and it has proven to be an instrumental force in advocating for policies that prioritize women’s health and rights. As such, it serves as a testament to the power of collective action in advancing the public good, and it is a source of inspiration to those seeking to bring about meaningful change in the domain of oversight of public health.
Areas for learning
Clearly, the interventions from the PSAA Project have been an appreciated agenda and this has been echoed by member of parliament beneficiaries in the corridors of Parliament and the PBO. They (MPs) have furthered some ways in which the program can be more effective and far reaching in due course.
Firstly, the current situation necessitates that the Research department of Parliament and the Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO) collaborate closely, with the support of the project, to develop a tool or checklist that can effectively analyse the budget and its performance. Such a tool would serve as a valuable resource, providing insights into the efficacy of budget allocations and the overall performance of the budget. By periodically assessing the budget’s performance, such a tool can enable stakeholders to identify any areas that require attention or intervention, thereby promoting transparency and accountability in the management of public resources. The project can play an instrumental role in supporting this process, providing the necessary resources and expertise to facilitate the development and deployment of the tool.
Ultimately, by leveraging the power of data and analysis, the MPs can better understand the impact of the budget on the lives of their constituents, identify opportunities for improvement, and make evidence-based decisions that promote the public good.
Secondly, integrating teaching and coaching around their oversight roles into the regular orientation trainings by Parliament would be a significant step towards enhancing their effectiveness as parliamentarians. Indeed, it is proposed that it would be highly beneficial for MPs to receive this formal training on an annual basis, as it would enable them to stay abreast of the latest developments and best practices in the domain of public resource management.
The training should ideally include a comprehensive overview of the main tools for public resource management, with a particular focus on the budget. MPs need to be well versed in utilizing these tools to represent the people more effectively, ensuring that public resources are put to optimal use and allocated to programs and initiatives that serve the public good. They believe and trust that by improving their knowledge of their oversight functions and providing them with the tools they need, they will be able to better fulfil their obligations as elected representatives, hence maintaining public faith in them. In this way, they can promote transparency, accountability, and good governance, thereby strengthening Zambia’s democracy and contributing to the well-being of their respective constituents.