Renowned Lusaka lawyer Elias Chipimo says the rampant corruption taking place in the PF government under the watch of President Edgar Lungu has demonstrated the need for the country to consider removing the immunity of the Head of State so that he can be answerable for criminal allegations.

Chipimo who is also leader of the opposition National Restoration Party (NAREP) said the theft of public resources through government contracts under President Lungu had gone beyond anybody’s wildest imagination.

He said this when he called-in to contribute to a programme on Hot FM Radio yesterday.

“We should introduce some provisions that do not give immunity to a sitting president. The reason for me is very simple, we have to weigh out, what is worse? To see the continued corruption and no sanction taken against those that may ultimately be responsible for ensuring it is eradicated, or keeping the immunity in place? And I think we need to have a genuine debate around removing this immunity when it comes to certain activities,” Chipimo said.

“The reason why this immunity issue is coming up now is, I don’t think anybody expected that these were the levels of corruption allegations we would ever see in this country. It has gone beyond anybody’s wildest imaginations about how some of these procurement contracts are being structured. They clearly point to something seriously wrong with regards to accountability. If you look at the Auditor General’s report, the percentage of misapplication and misappropriation, the potential fraud has gone up in tens of thousands of per cent. So it is more the extent to which the rot seems to be prevalent that is bringing about this issue. I think the calls for [removal] of the President’s immunity are a sign that we need to take desperate measures to fight the vice which seems to have gone totally out of control.”

He regretted that the PF had more numbers in the House, thereby preventing the opposition from succeeding to strip off the President’s immunity.

Asked what the removal of presidential immunity entailed, Chipimo said; “You need to change the constitution and the unlikely issue here is that because Parliament is dominated by the Patriotic Front, it is unlikely that they would support the removal of immunity but given the nature of things, the PF itself is going through a series of disruptions and there is deep division; it is deep but it is not yet deep enough to result in a motion being put in Parliament that would see the removal of the Presidential immunity.”

“And also the problem that you would have even if the PF left power is that any other President who came into power would be reluctant to see that immunity provision removed. But speaking on behalf of NAREP, I am standing on the presidential ticket in 2021, this is an issue that I want to champion. I believe that we should look at the president, even while he is in office, being sanctioned in the same way by an independent authority which he has no control over.”

He said waiting until a sitting President left office was a waste of time as certain cases took too long to be exhausted in court.

“The levels of impunity with regards to corruption, I think everybody knows. The bottom line is that so much money is being unaccounted for. We see it from the Auditor General’s report, we see it from the excessive expenditure of goods and services; no accountability which leads to serious prosecution. Even those who are eventually arrested for corruption, it takes many years before they are actually convicted for corruption and even then, we never get to the real root of the people behind it. So if you look at the case of Kapoko for example, finally he got convicted but how many years was that? This was prior to Mr [Michael] Sata even coming into power. So we have to weigh up, what is worse?” Chipimo asked.

He said investigative wings in Zambia were ineffective because they were headed by presidential appointees.

“First of all, what have the investigative wings done to date? You will find that very little has been achieved. Look at the two former ministers that have actually left the PF, both fighting corruption. One giving very categorical statements. If you even go back to statements that were made by President Lungu himself, he talked about people that had suddenly amassed some wealth; monies being deposited into bank accounts. What is the Anti Corruption Commission doing? So it is a double edged problem here because it seems that those within the system who actually have the power to do something about it seem to be powerless. There is also a problem with the Anti-Corruption Commission, even if the Director General has some security of tenure, it is a very difficult thing to go against an official who may be connected to a sitting Head of State because you know that somehow your life will be made quite difficult even if you have some kind of protection in respect of your job,” Chipimo observed.

He charged that President Lungu was directly or indirectly involved in corruption.

“There is enough suspicion and enough of an allegation of the Head of State being connected either directly or indirectly to corruption and certainly in terms of his ability to prevent further corruption seems to be questioned, as to whether or not he is willing to step in and eradicate corruption. I can give you one issue of the fire tenders, clearly, it was not a value for money procurement. Now you could take it to court and find that because they complied with all the tender provisions, even though millions of dollars more were spent on them, the Head of State did not take it upon himself to exercise some of the powers that he has, including constituting a commission of inquiry,” said Chipimo.

If you have a whistle blower who is ready to speak, we have put up a very good proposal that there should be immunity granted to anybody who is willing to come forward with evidence of corruption so that they can tell us exactly how it happened. They should be ready to pay back some of the proceeds of that corruption and they should be ready to admit that they did it. I think if that was put in place, which is our proposal as NAREP, we would see a much more effective fight against corruption.”