Secrets are a luxury we can no longer afford
The other day, Chishimba Kambwili was advised, or rather told, to stop revealing state secrets after leaving government.
What state secrets has Kambwili revealed since leaving government?
Does exposing corruption in government amount to revealing state secrets? Since when did corruption in government become a state secret to be protected?
This reminds us of what Levy Mwanawasa told The Post over exposing the corruption perpetrated using the intelligence’s bank account in the London branch of Zanaco. When The Post was given the intelligence bank account – the Zamtrop account – under a court order in its efforts to defend itself on criminal charges for calling Fredrick Chiluba a thief, it sought Levy’s advice over publishing the contents of the account. It was felt that there might have been some legitimate security considerations which the state needed to keep secret. Levy’s response was: “There are no state secrets over corruption. Go ahead and use the bank accounts to the full in your defence.”
This is nothing but a desperate attempt to stop Kambwili from exposing the corruption of Edgar Lungu’s regime. We shouldn’t forget that there is not a crime, there is not a dodge, there is not a trick, there is not a swindle, there is not a vice which does not live by secrecy. It doesn’t make sense to try and hide things from hardcore thinkers. They get more aggravated, more provoked by confusion than the most painful truths.
If you have to keep a secret, it’s because you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.
And Plato wrote, “You should not honor men more than truth.” They should not be afraid to entrust the Zambian people with unpleasant facts. For a political leadership that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is one that is afraid of its people.
It has always seemed that a fear of judgment is the mark of guilt and the burden of insecurity. Dissimulation, secretiveness, appear a necessity to the melancholic. These feelings of inadequacy, of baffled feeling, of not being able to get what one wants, or even name it properly or consistently to oneself — these can be, it is felt they ought to be, masked by the most scrupulous manipulation.
But let us knot silence around our throats. For they would surely kill us.
We have no doubt that this country has suffered more from undue secrecy than from undue disclosure. The government takes good care of itself.
Allowing ourselves to become a nation of silent, secretive, timid citizens is likely to result in a system of democracy and justice that is neither very democratic nor very just.
As opposition leader, Stephen Harper, wrote in the Montreal Gazette in the year before he came to power: “Information is the lifeblood of a democracy. Without adequate access to key information about government policies and programs, citizens and parliamentarians cannot make informed decisions and incompetent or corrupt governments can be hidden under a cloak of secrecy.” When he became prime minister, his attitude appeared to undergo a shift of considerable proportions.
A culture of secrecy is like the bad stench created by cat pee – it is very difficult to get rid of.
They are afraid. They would, today, keep secret a thousand things that, yesterday, they would have told one another freely. Freedom. Where is it now? We are driving it into limbo – their kind. To limbo.
Darkness always tries to hide the truth! In order to escape accountability for their crimes, the perpetrators do everything in their powers to promote secrecy, forgetting. Secrecy and silence are the perpetrators’ first line of defense. If secrecy fails, the perpetrators attack the credibility of their victim. If they cannot silence him or her absolutely, they try to make sure that no one listens. To this end, they marshal an impressive array of arguments, from the most blatant denial to the most sophisticated and elegant rationalisation like we are today hearing about state secrets. After every abuse, one can expect to hear the same predictable denial: it never happened; it’s a lie; they are exaggerating things. The more powerful the perpetrator, the greater is his prerogative to name and define reality, and the more completely his arguments prevail.
Deception and privileged secrets are common facets of our politics. If you expose what they are doing, if you inform your fellow citizens about all the things that they are doing in the dark, they will destroy you. This is what their spate of persecution of whistleblowers have been about. It’s to create a climate of fear, so that nobody will bring accountability to them.
It’s not going to work. We think it’s starting to backfire, because it shows their true character and exactly why they can’t be trusted to operate with power in secret. And certainly people like Kambwili are not going to be deterred by it in any way. It is hard to imagine having a government more secretive than this of Edgar. Virtually everything that Edgar’s government does, of any significance, is conducted behind an extreme wall of secrecy. The very few leaks that we’ve had over the last few months are basically the only ways that we’ve had to learn what our government is doing. Shame hates it when we reach out and tell our story. It hates having words wrapped around it – it can’t survive being shared. Shame loves secrecy. When we bury our story, the shame metastasizes.
Julian Assange said, “The only way to keep a secret is to never have one.”
State House may carry on the most wicked and pernicious of schemes under the dark veil of secrecy. The liberties of the Zambian people never were, nor ever will be, secure, when the transactions of their rulers are concealed from them.
Secrets are a luxury we can no longer afford.
The basic purpose of Zambians’ unending calls for more access to government information is to ensure an informed citizenry, vital to the functioning of a democratic society, needed to check against corruption and to hold the President, his ministers and other appointees accountable to the Zambian people.
Everything secret degenerates, even the administration of justice; nothing is safe that does not show how it can bear discussion and publicity.
Our politicians often tell us that the government belongs to us, the people. If this is truly so, inherent in this is the idea that we, the people, have the right to know what our government and government officials are doing on our behalf and to hold them accountable for their actions. Nothing so diminishes democracy as secrecy.
Our liberties, as a people, will never be secure when the transactions of our rulers are concealed from us. Assurances mean little without accurate information and accountability. The principle that government information belongs to the people is more than a quaint idea. The Russians say trust but verify.
Things weren’t designed to make the job of rulers easy so that they can easily and corruptly award each other government supply contracts. It was designed to keep their actions clean and legal.
Thomas Jefferson said, “The same prudence, which, in private life, would forbid our paying our money for unexplained projects, forbids it in the disposition of public moneys…Information is the currency of democracy…Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their government, for whenever things go so far wrong as to attract their notice, they can be relied on to set things right.”
And Abraham Lincoln said, “Let the people know the facts, and the country will be safe.”
A government by secrecy benefits no one. It injures the people it seeks to serve; it damages its own integrity and operation. It breeds distrust, dampens the fervour of its citizens and mocks their loyalty.
James Madison said, “A popular government without popular information or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own governors, must arm themselves with the power knowledge gives.”
It is said that when information which properly belongs to the public is systematically withheld by those in power, the people soon become ignorant of their own affairs, distrustful of those who manage them, and — eventually — incapable of determining their own destinies. A government that is open and honest will always withstand the light of day. A country whose population has been trained to accept the government’s word, and to shun those who question it, is a country without liberty in its future. They say power corrupts, and there is nothing more corrupting than power exercised in secret. Transparency is the worst enemy of a corrupt regime.