LUSAKA Magistrate Nsunge Chanda has ruled that former Zambia Airforce commander Eric Chimese’s emoluments are not classified material.
This is in a matter in which Chimese is accused of abuse of authority of office and money laundering relating to properties in Ibex Hill and Lilayi.
Chimese is jointly charged with Chita Lodge director James Chungu.
Chimese’s lawyers had previously objected to a witness disclosing information relating to the accused’s earnings and conditions of service on grounds that the data was classified information.
This was after Colonel Bernard Chileshe, a director in charge of salaries and pensions at the Zambia Air Force, under the finance department testified before Magistrate Chanda that in May 2019, he was given an assignment to compute personal emoluments and benefits accrued to Chimese for the period he served as commander from 2011 to 2018.
He said this was after officers from the Drug Enforcement Commission (DEC) visited them.
Col Chileshe testified that to undertake the said task, he got the information from the pension fund relating to payments made to NAPSA, gratuity, leave days, three months salary notice and repatriation for Chimese.
He said on Chimese’s salaries, he got the information from the payroll for the period 2011 to 2018 when he retired.
Col Chileshe added that he also collected information relating to Chimese’s foreign travel allowances.
“I prepared the information and submitted to DEC,” the witness said.
However, as Col Chileshe tried reveal to the court the money accrued to Chimese, defence lawyer Kelvin Bwalya Fube told the court that information relating to Chimese’s salaries, pension benefits, allowances, among others, that he may receive as ZAF commander could not be presented before court without a waiver from President Edgar Lungu, who was the Commander in Chief of the armed forces.
“My instructions are to inform this court that a commander’s earnings and conditions of service are classified as confidential,” Bwalya said.
“We further submit that in the absence of such a letter from the commander in chief who is the President waiving such classified information to be released, the witness on the stand may find themselves in trouble. The witness is incompetent to go beyond what he has told this court without committing an offence.”
But in response, deputy Chief State Advocate Gamaliel Zimba submitted that disclosure of Chimese’s emoluments would not affect state security as the said emoluments do not fall under classified information which can threaten State security.
Zimba added that in line with the Presidential emoluments Act, the Head of State’s emoluments were in public domain, and further wondered how the defence can argue that the personal emoluments of another public officer who was subordinate to the commander-in-chief of the armed forces becomes classified information.
He submitted that Chimese’s personal emoluments do not go anywhere near what the State Security Act seeks to protect, adding that transparency would also require that the evidence relating to the emoluments should not be deemed as classified.
But when the matter came up yesterday for a ruling on the objection by the defence, magistrate Chanda said relying on the provisions of the law and authorities, there was no suggestion that emoluments for the general can classified.
She added that in the interest of justice, it may be wrong to classify emoluments for Chimese as secret because transparency requires that it be not.
Magistrate Chanda said from the provisions (of the law), it was clear that the much talked about renumeration for the air commander was not classified material as this was not the first time an air commander was being tried in his mandate.
She also said it was clear that there was no prejudice to Chimese, but there would be prejudice to the State if such information was not received in evidence and the court be allowed to make a conclusive finding of facts.
“I have carefully considered the law which can be applicable to help me consider the general’s emoluments as classified information. But all the cited cases by the defence falls off. I find that the general’s emoluments are not classified matters. The State Security Act’s intention was to deal with serious matters like espionage and sabotage ,” magistrate Chanda said.
She however, said as much as the emoluments were not among the classified material, the court would proceed to hear the evidence for Col Chileshe in camera (in Chambers) to avoid the witness fail to adduce all evidence he deems necessary to present before court.
The matter comes up on November 6, for continued trial.