ACC must follow up on those mentioned in Diggers’ exposè 

The recent expose by the News Diggers of serious allegations of impropriety and corrupt activities associated with Hon Ronald Chitotela unfortunately confirms the growing public concern of the pervasiveness of corruption in our country. While recognising that these allegations need to be investigated and the accused brought before the courts of law, we want to observe that we have reached a stage in our country where corruption has no limits even when this impoverishes the majority of the people. We are witnessing a serious erosion of public morality and respect for public resources. The people who are granted the privilege to be stewards of public resources, have become suspected plunderers of even the little that people depend upon for basic survival. This is a sad indictment of the political and community leadership in our land, those elected or appointed to positions of authority see this as nothing more than a means of self if not illicit enrichment. Service to humanity has been replaced with service to oneself as well as to kith and kin. The massive suffering of the people who live on the margins of poverty, has failed to pull at the heart strings of these selfish corrupt individuals. Corruption is rapidly turning this country into an unmitigated disaster and no amount of spin doctoring will save us from this condemnation unless we firstly admit we have a problem and urgently deal with this as an existential threat to our collective well being.

Quite sadly, it has to be said that this expose by News Diggers has failed to shake society to its core because as a people we have become accustomed if not spectacularly indifferent to such revelations which are treated as normal by authorities – a perennial feature of successive governments. For President Lungu, in 2016, out of his own volition and without any public prompting, he made a public confession that his Cabinet Ministers were involved in corruption and were acting with gross impunity. President Lungu informed the public that some ministers were receiving huge daily bank deposits and were additionally involved in illegally acquiring land and property. These are the same ingredients which are highlighted in the expose and it is evident that the sad picture painted by President Lungu in 2016, continues to this day and the situation has even become worse as no meaningful action has been taken in the intervening period. And surprisingly so, the Republican President who was dismayed by the levels of corruption has largely kept faith in nearly the same coterie of Ministers in office, and this speaks volumes about the seriousness or lack of it attached to the fight against corruption. We have always stated that it is not the eloquence of words that wins the fight against corruption but the consistent and timely bold actions by those clothed by law with the necessary powers.

The patently criminal activities of the corrupt alleged in the expose are similar to the revelations made in the 2017 Financial Intelligence Centre Trends Analysis Report. It has become apparent to many why government and ruling party operatives made vitriolic attacks on the Financial Intelligence Centre (FIC) for merely releasing this report to the public in its unadulterated form. In this report, the FIC demonstrated how companies connected to Politically Exposed Persons (PEPs) and their associates, have continued to be involved in suspected corruption and money laundering. The FIC underscored an important point that there were instances were shell companies have been used to conceal the beneficial owners of those companies, who in most instances are Politically Exposed Persons and their associates who may include spouses and children. The expose by News Diggers curiously resembles the description of the corruption and money laundering activities by FIC in its Trends Analysis report. We dare to say we are have now entered into an era where “corruption on steroids” is what defines us.

Given the gravity and far reaching consequences of the expose, it is our honest expectation that the least that the Anti Corruption Commission can do is to follow up on these leads and all those found wanting, should be brought to justice. There is no better time than in the current circumstances for us to emphasise to the ACC the weight of national responsibility that lies on their shoulders. The ACC has the honourable responsibility to thoroughly investigate all leads and cases, regardless of the political consequences of such decisions. The ACC should be reminded that “Fighting corruption in a superficial manner and without any real commitment, is not only tragic but a great injustice to the victims of corruption.”

Given the gravity and far reaching consequences of the expose, it is our honest expectation that the least that the Anti Corruption Commission can do is to follow up on these leads and all those found wanting, should be brought to justice. There is no better time than in the current circumstances for us to emphasise to the ACC the weight of national responsibility that lies on their shoulders. The ACC has the honourable responsibility to thoroughly investigate all leads and cases, regardless of the political consequences of such decisions. The ACC should be reminded that “Fighting corruption in a superficial manner and without any real commitment, is not only tragic but a great injustice to the victims of corruption.”

The expose equally raises additional and worrisome insights which should attract the immediate attention and action of the ACC and Drugs Enforcement Agency. We urge that all culprits are urgently brought to book. The key points which should be pondered further are inter alia:

1. It is alleged that Hon Chitotela sold maize to Hon Michael Katambo the Minister of Agriculture for an estimated amount of USD4.5 million. Evidently, Hon, Katambo equally has some explaining to do and show how he acquired such amounts in the light of his known earnings;

2. The ownership of Veil Construction which seems to be a shell company, should be established, particularly in light of the newly amended Companies Act which provides for the establishment of beneficial ownership of shares in a company. We further have questions on how a company incorporated in March 2017 became a recipient of numerous payments from AVIC International. What was AVIC International paying for? What services or goods does Veil Construction offer and what if any, are the taxes paid?

3. This episode points to inherent weaknesses in the enforcement of the Parliamentary and Ministerial Code of Conduct Act, specifically section 6 which requires that Ministers and Members of Parliament declare interest in government contracts to the Chief Justice. Similarly, we question the veracity of the annual declaration of assets, liabilities and income made by Ministers and Members of Parliament as required by the Parliamentary and Ministerial Code of Conduct. For many years, we have questioned the authenticity of what is declared given that the office of the Chief Justice has no capacity to verify these declarations. It is time that this Act was reviewed and amended to ensure stricter enforcement of the Code of Conduct. We also demand that the Chief Justice makes public the Registers of these declaration of assets and liabilities. We have unfortunately noted a strange reluctance by the Chief Justice to avail details of the declarations and not merely a list of who has submitted their declarations. We find this attitude retrogressive and self defeating.

Transparency International Zambia wishes to reiterate its position that on the matter of arrest of Hon Chitotela by the ACC on criminal charges of concealment of property, that President Lungu should relieve his Minister of his duties- and this action is not to pre judge Hon Chitotela’s guilt but rather one that seeks to preserve the sanctity of the investigations and the court process. This is not a matter that should attract unnecessary legal arguments because in the first place it will be consistent with President Lungu’s own declaration in October 2016 when he publicly declared that he would not wait for the ACC to take action against corrupt ministers but he would send them packing as soon as he had information of their activities. It would seem that President Lungu has undergone some metanoia and is now converted to the new legal arguments. This insistence to retain Hon Chitotela in office, reminds one of the famous or infamous statement by Oscar Raymundo Benavides- a Field Marshal and former President of Chile, who once quipped -“For my friends everything; for my enemies, the law.” However, we wish to remind him of a couple of points:

1. In September 2018, President Lungu, according to his own Minister of Information and Chief Government Spokesperson, had swiftly relieved Hon Emerine Kabanshi of her position as Minister of Community Development, following allegations of fraud and misapplication of resources for the social cash transfer. Similarly, senior government officers in the same ministry were suspended together with senior managers at ZAMPOST. None of these people were formally arrested and neither were they given their day in court. If we go by the new argument about presumption of innocence – then Hon Kabanshi and all other persons involved, should have or should continue in office until their cases are heard in court.

2. While recognising that there are different civil service procedures, we take note that in 2018, Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of General Education – Henry Tukombe and three others were suspended for suspected theft of K2.5 million. Similarly, three accountants in the Ministry of Housing and Infrastructure Development, the same Ministry were Hon Chitotela is presiding, were dismissed for allegedly engaging in fraud and theft of public funds. Finally, last in 2018, 12 accountants were dismissed by the Civil Service Commission to pave way for investigations. The principle in all these cases is that erring officers have either been suspended or dismissed in order to facilitate investigations. This is the normal way of proceeding but it seems there is one interpretation of the presumption of innocence for those close to President Lungu and another for all of us common mortals.

3. Article 262 of the Constitution of Zambia as amended in 2016 is clear on the matter of conflict of interest and it states that -” A person holding public office shall not act in a manner or be in a position where the personal interest of that person conflicts or is likely to conflict, with the performance of the functions of office.” Hon Chitotela will be conflicted if he continues to discharge functions in the same office which maybe the source of the properties under investigations.

We wish to end by quoting a poignant statement made by one Antonio Mwanza in 2016 , who at the time served as spokesperson of the Forum for Democracy and Development party, following President Lungu’s revelation of high levels of corruption in his Cabinet. Mr. Mwanza called on President Lungu to immediately fire the corrupt ministers and he said -” it is this inertia to fight corruption by the top leadership of the state that demoralises our investigative wings because they know that no matter the risk they take and the length they go to investigate corrupt senior government officials, nothing happens to corrupt officials. Corrupt Ministers remain in office and nothing will happen as they will use their influence and authority to tamper with evidence and intimidate potential witnesses.”

(Rueben Lifuka is Transparency International Zambia chapter president)

         

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