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Faces of Open Government: Rueben Lifuka

Rueben Lifuka|

Meet Rueben Lifuka, an environmental and development consultant and Chartered Environmentalist. He is the Chairperson of the International Anti-Corruption Conference (IACC), the Zambia Country Lead for the Chandler Foundation, and a board member for the Construction Sector Transparency Initiative (CoST). Rueben is the immediate past Vice Chair of the Board of Transparency International, a position he held from 2017-2023. Rueben has extensive experience conducting environmental and social impact assessments, covering mining, urban development, tourism, and municipal waste management. He also served on a technical committee appointed by the president of Zambia to draft a new national constitution and led Transparency International Zambia from 2007 to 2021. 

In this month’s Faces of Open Government, Rueben shares his experience as an environmental expert, anti-corruption advocate, and champion of open government in Zambia.


What inspired you to work on environmental issues in Zambia?

I studied Architecture at Copperbelt University in Zambia, graduating in 1994, because of my fascination with the built environment. I was particularly interested in sustainable Afrocentric architecture and design that fits with the natural environment. Later on, I completed a Master of Science in Integrated Environmental Management at the University of Bath, alongside a Master of Development Policy and Practice from the University of Cape Town in South Africa —this is partly because I wanted to deal with policy and governance issues related to the biophysical environment. Africa is a resource-rich continent, but we need to carefully conserve our resources and prudently use them to ensure intergenerational equity. As Africans or Zambians, we often take for granted our forests, water bodies, land, and good weather. However, with climate change exacerbated by human actions, these resources are not guaranteed.


Tell us more about the links between environmental protections and anti-corruption initiatives. How can they reinforce each other?

Environmental crimes are perpetuated by unscrupulous individuals and organizations who exploit weak governance and corruption in a country to facilitate illegal activities such as illegal wildlife trade, illegal unreported and unregulated fishing, illegal logging, mining, and waste trafficking. These environmental criminals often launder the profits of their illicit activities using the financial industry. Corruption is the main enabler of most of these crimes, and as UNODC aptly puts it, “Corruption can be described as the oil that lubricates the engines of these illegal activities, making it easier and more profitable for perpetrators to commit these crimes.”


This year’s IACC is taking place later this month. How do you think reformers in government and civil society can leverage it to fight corruption in their countries?

The IACC is a crucible of knowledge and expertise from around the world. It is a premier gathering of reformers who are willing and ready to share knowledge and experience. It is an occasion for deep dives on topical issues as well as sharing innovative ways of addressing corruption in different parts of the world. Reformers coming to the IACC should come with open minds and generous hearts to share, innovate, and learn from one another. There will be moments for collective reflections on the world we live in and hopefully collective determination and action to move us to the world we all desire, where corruption is not normalized and justified. We should all leave Vilnius rejuvenated and fired up to return home and be the drivers of change in the way governments are run or private business is conducted.


You’ve been a longtime advocate for OGP in Zambia. How can platforms like OGP help advance the anti-corruption agenda in the country?

OGP presents a unique opportunity for uniting reformers from both government and non-state actors, allowing for a constructive and non-confrontational approach to addressing governance issues. Having been involved in anti-corruption work in Zambia for over 20 years, I’ve seen—that government and civil society organizations (CSOs) have not always been on the same side in tackling corruption. Government often takes a defensive approach to allegations of corruption, while CSOs often aggressively highlight the government’s efforts to combat corruption. OGP provides a win-win strategy where such gridlock is dispensed with, common and mutual interests are discussed, and a National Action Plan is developed. I believe that Zambia joining OGP will greatly enhance governance and anti-corruption reforms. OGP’s Independent Reporting Mechanism will give Zambia the impetus to remain on track, showcasing its commitment to being a leading reformer in the anti-corruption space.


What open government areas of reform do you think Zambia should prioritize if it joins the Open Government Partnership?

Zambia celebrates 60 years of independence this year and nearly 33 years since we returned to multi-party democracy. This is an occasion to take stock of our democratic journey and clearly, many areas require improvements. Therefore through OGP, I would propose that Zambia prioritizes anti-corruption and integrity—there is still a lot of work to be done. Other areas include extractive governance, particularly in the context of the global energy transition debate the increasing demand for critical and strategic mineral resources, and open parliament.— Our parliament is beholden to observing rules and is simply not fit for purpose nor nimble enough for the technology and knowledge era we live in. I would also include the protection of civic space—I fear for the future of civil society in Zambia and elsewhere. There is a growing reduction in investments in civil society, leading to serious capacity erosion and inevitable mission drift in many of these organizations. We need a strong, impactful civil society, which should act as the mirror of society.


What is your hope for the future of open government in Zambia?

Open government is inevitable for Zambia as long as we remain a democratic state. Over the years, Zambia has undertaken several reforms in public procurement and in the public service, aligning well with the principles of open government. However, there are still some grey areas in our governance system. Adopting an open government approach can bring new energies and opportunities for constructive collaboration. It fosters unity among stakeholders, encouraging them to identify challenges and work together on solutions. Open government smoothens the rough edges of self-serving politics that blight many countries, providing a sense of purpose beyond partisan lines and allowing ordinary citizens the permission to dream big for their country. My hope for Zambia is—that our democracy and government, anchored in open government principles, will strengthen the state’s capacity to deliver impactful solutions to common development challenges in collaboration with non-state actors.


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