Last Tuesday, one News Diggers! reader liked our front page so much that he decided to share it with his friends on social media. Five minutes after posting that front page in one of the high profile WhatsApp platforms that enjoys the membership of top government officials, a named Cabinet Minister left the group.
What we carried on that day was a lead headline, quoting former Attorney General Musa Mwenye who has demanded for a lifestyle audit of those who previously held or are currently holding public office. State Counsel Mwenye says it doesn’t make logical sense to have a society where public servants drive the most expensive cars on the roads and enjoy VVIP treatment at night clubs where they are renowned as big buyers, yet the rest of the population is struggling to eat three meals a day.
“All of us who have held or hold public office must be subjected to lifestyle audits. We should be asked what wealth we had before we were appointed to these public offices? What did we acquire during our time in public office and how did we acquire it? If we claim we earned the money or acquired the wealth legitimately through our businesses, then we must show the taxes we paid or tax returns we filed. This is because if you sell goods or provide services legitimately, you have to pay taxes and/or file tax returns,” demanded State Counsel Mwenye.
“It is immoral for public officials to live lavish lives when they should be serving poor people. It is extremely worrying when a lot of the luxury cars on the roads are driven by those in public office and when they are the biggest ‘buyers’ in most night clubs. Public service is service, not an avenue to become millionaires.”
One serving minister felt he was, not only unwilling to take on the challenge, but also couldn’t stand the debate around this topic. So, he exited the WhatsApp group where our headline was shared, leaving other members chocking with laughter, as that move implied a sense of guilt on the part of the runaway Minister.
But this challenge was not targeted at any specific Cabinet Minister or government official. It was a general call to people to justify their wealth because it is a crime to simply possess unexplained wealth. That’s what the law says; if you own a car or house without any paper trail regarding the source of income used to purchase the property, then it can only be proceeds of crime.
State Counsel Mwenye is saying if you work in government, or previously held public office, and you possess such property that can be believed to be proceeds of crime, then it can only be assumed that you stole from public coffers or you abused your authority of office to get kickbacks from government deals.
No Cabinet Minister or government official who lives an exemplary and transparent lifestyle would be scared of a lifestyle audit; those who have nothing to hide cannot run away from this challenge. In fact, the former Attorney General has volunteered to lead the way, should that lifestyle audit commission be set up. He says we can examine what he owned before being appointed into government and then look at what he now owns after leaving public office. When we are done with him, we must move to the next person, all the way to the President.
How many of those who hold, or previously held public office would be willing to undergo this scrutiny? Let’s be honest, Honourable Chi… (Oops we almost revealed who ran away). Our point is that, whichever Minister left the WhatsApp group where this topic was introduced is not alone. There are many others who cannot explain the amount of wealth they have amassed while serving in public office.
Let’s look at the public office holders in the current government administration, for example. How can someone justify owning a fleet of top of the range cars? When you see their yard at home, it looks like a Jan Japan or Range Rover showroom – packed with SUVs of various shapes and sizes! You wouldn’t believe this is a house for a Minister or State House official.
We recall that in March, President Edgar Lungu said: “It is not satanism or a crime to become rich because bonse tukabila ukulya bwino.” But we insist that it is a crime to get rich by making your country poor. If you get into public office driven by the desire for ukulya bwino then you don’t deserve the respect of the people; you are nothing more than a greedy human being who is only looking for opportunities to steal and get rich!
So, we urge all those who previously held public office, starting with those who are still serving in government, to not only accept the lifestyle audit challenge, but to spearhead it as well because patriotic leaders should be on the forefront in the fight against corruption. We didn’t want to wait for the President to appoint a lifestyle audit task force, because doing so would be like asking a chicken to escort you to a funeral house – one of you is not expected to return.
Therefore, we took up the initiative and called up some government officials to ask them if they could take up the lifestyle audit challenge; but so far, we have received very angry responses which only suggest one thing – niba pompwe!