Land was given to the President in his private capacity – Amos

State House says President Edgar Lungu received the controversial piece of land in the Kingdom of eSwatini in his “private capacity” as a citizen of Zambia.

And State House has rebuffed any suggestion that President Lungu’s newly-acquired piece of land in that country abrogates any provisions of the law, including Section 21 of the Anti-Corruption Act.

President Lungu has received a plot in the Kingdom of eSwatini, formerly known as Swaziland, as a gift by King Mswati, but the citizens have risen, accusing the Head of State of abusing his authority.

Below is the verbatim of what President Lungu’s Special Assistant for Press and Public Relations, Amos Chanda, told journalists at State House in a press briefing held yesterday to address the mounting concerns raised by Zambians, living both in the country and abroad, on the gift President Lungu received from King Mswati.

Amos: I just wanted to make very brief comments regarding the matter that is running in social media, and also in newspapers, and on radio stations regarding a very private matter between the two Heads of State; His Majesty, the King, and His Excellency, the President.

My brief comments are that, there is no impropriety, whatsoever, in the said transaction involving a gift of a piece of land to His Excellency, the President, Mr Edgar Chagwa Lungu; there is no impropriety, whatsoever. The matter is purely a private exchange between the two Heads of State. There is absolutely no truth in the value that has been ascribed to the land; there is no building on the land that has been given whatsoever; there is absolutely no construction taking place; the gift of the land is simply what it was: a piece of land gifted to His Excellency, the President.

And that gifting of the land does not constitute any violation of the law or procedure as established by the Zambian Constitution and subsidiary laws. Those who are alleging any impropriety are, therefore, free to come forward and state what kind of impropriety is involved in this matter. The law governing the declaration of assets for the Head of State, for the Ministers, and members of parliament, is very clear. And the President’s assets are properly declared under the law that governs how he declares his assets, both before he became President, and now.

When he was running for office in 2015, he made the appropriate declaration, he also made the appropriate declaration in 2016; that is the law that governs the declaration of assets for the Head of State and he has not departed an inch whatsoever from the law that requires him to do so. As I stated, this is a purely private matter of exchange between two sovereigns. I want to move on to state clearly…before I move on… is that, I do not know where, for instance, some newspapers got the figures of US $3.9 million and the building. Land and the building are totally different, there is no figure whatsoever.

I can confirm that, those who gifted the land to the President, on their own, proceeded to invite architects who could bid for the drawings of the structure, and if they decided, those who gifted the President with the land, decided that they were going to hand it over to him on title, with drawings, again, it is up them. No single cent, not a single kwacha of Zambian money has been spent, whatsoever. The President has not appointed any architect, he has not appointed any builder. Those who gifted him with the land decided that, at a time when they will hand it over to him, they will hand it over to him on title and with proposed drawings – that is where that matter is. The fictitious US $3.9 million is just a malicious manufacture of those who intend to mischaracterise even straightforward matters. So, there is absolutely not a single dollar from the President into Swaziland regarding the development of that land.

I will move on to, again, state that Inyatsi Company is a company that has been operating in Zambia for a number of years long before the President became President and the construction of the road in question – Ndola-Mufilira Mukambo Road – was awarded to Inyatsi Corporation in September, 2014 [holds aloft the contract]; the contract between Inyatsi, and the Republic of Zambia, through RDA, was signed in September, 2014.

As you know, President Lungu became President in January, 2015. He was inaugurated and sworn-in on 25th January, 2015. So, there is nothing whatsoever to link Inyatsi Company and the road construction of Mukambo-Mufilira Road, and the land in question in Swaziland; there is no link whatsoever. All those insinuations are purely malicious, unprofessional and totally absurd and, therefore, must be dismissed as such. There is absolutely no link; this is a contract between Inyatsi and RDA given in September, 2014, long before President Lungu became in January, 2015.

Without diplomatic constraints and etiquette, I was going to tabulate to you, a long list of gifts that have exchanged between visiting Heads of State from abroad to the Republic of Zambia; and the Zambian presidents who have visited other countries and what they have been given. It is highly undiplomatic, without clear authority from these various sovereign foreign governments, for me to rudely begin to delve into that matter.

When a state visit is taking place, and you look at the programme of the state, in most of them, there is a page where it says ‘exchange of gifts.’ But, the media has become so sensational, so unprofessional, that even obvious things are mischaracterised just for express intentions of maligning those who are in government. Exchange of gifts in diplomatic practice, in diplomatic exchanges, is not a new phenomenon. Again, as I have said, it will be highly undiplomatic of me to begin to delve into the gifts that the Zambian president say, in 1963, 64, 65 gave to this visiting Head of State, and also what the Zambian president of 1964, the Zambian president of 2001, the Zambian president of 2008, 2011 received from this president because I think that will be offending of the dignity and the decency of those governments that gave those gifts.

Suffice to say that, there was no exchange between the Royal Kingdom of Eswatini and Zambia; the exchange was purely private.

I will take questions if there are any.

Stuart Lisulo: Just very quickly, in your estimation, when does a gift become corruption? The reason why I ask that question, sir, if you refer to Mr. Elias Chipimo’s questions, or rather his statement yesterday (Wednesday), he cited the Anti-Corruption Act, Section 21, where he says that a gift that is given to any sitting president, which exceeds US $1,000 constitutes corruption. So, what would be your comment on that?

Amos Chanda: I don’t think that the Anti-Corruption Act does contains the things that you are saying. And in the absence of me having that Anti-Corruption Act, I will be delving into the dark; there is no mention of those things in there. Of the top of my head, I can tell you, that when I look at the clause you are talking about, it does not contain the definition of corruption, the size of the gifts. It says, ‘a public officer, using his position to gain advantage and acquire material property…’ So, in here, what kind of abuse of influence exists in a gift being given to him? Where is the corruption in that case?

Maybe, I can even ask yourself to define corruption. So, where is the corruption in a piece of land? And, maybe, I can even reveal to you what is even of more value here that: during the same visit, His Excellency, the President, was given 10 cows by the King. The value of those cows is far higher than the piece of land we are talking about. Where is the existence of corruption? The President, I can confirm to you, that His Majesty, the King, gave the President 10 cows and encouraged him to venture into farming and said that; ‘when I do come to Zambia, I want to see you, Mr. President, as a farmer, and we can enjoy intra-regional trade. If you become a successful farmer, Mr. President, you can export in eSwatini. And Mr. President, I want Swazi mango juice that will be exported into Zambia.’ So, the value of those cows far exceeds the value of a piece of land that has become the centre of debate.

Stuart Lisulo: As a follow-up to that, Mr. Chanda, do you not think that the President should have declared what he actually received from His Majesty, the King?

Amos Chanda: Where is the impropriety in receiving 10 cows?

Stuart Lisulo: We are referring to the plot.

Amos Chanda: Even the plot, where is the impropriety? All I can tell you is that the President has done nothing wrong. And I told you how the law that governs declarations, what it is; he is within the law.

Stuart Lisulo: So, you can confirm that Section 21 of the Anti-Corruption Act does not explicitly state that?

Amos Chanda: When I have a look at that, I will give you a call. Salim, you can get his number. Some of the things you have said might be there, but quite clearly, because these laws, they keep amending them. I am very, very doubtful whether there is actually mention of the word ‘gift’ and the value that you are talking about.

Stuart Lisulo: In your estimation as well, Mr. Chanda, while we are at it, is it normal for Heads of States to be receiving gifts, especially in the event that…

Amos Chanda: I have never been on a state visit, myself, I have been in government 3 and half years, I have never been on any state visit where the two Heads of States have not exchanged gifts. So, you are insinuating that it’s…again, without naming countries…So, I have never, ever seen a state visit where there is no exchange in gifts. So, if you describe international diplomatic practice as abnormal, I can only leave it to you. But I can tell you that, I have never been on a state visit where gifts have not been exchanged.
Stuart Lisulo: But, for example, assuming that the Anti-Corruption Act, Section 21 states that, do you not think if it is in the law that a sitting Republican President should declare what he or she receives?

Amos Chanda: I can confirm about the law where I am very certain.

Stuart Lisulo: Right.

Amos Chanda: If that land is fully-processed, and the title is given to the President; when he has made a declaration under the law that requires him to make declaration, you will see that item listed. I can confirm about the law where I am sure, which governs the declaration.

Stuart Lisulo: So, Mr. Chipimo, as far as you’re concerned, is absolutely wrong?

Amos Chanda: I am not even talking about Mr. Chipimo, I am talking about what I am sure of. There is a difference between the law, the lawyer, the recipient, the donor, Amos Chanda, Lisulo, there is a difference, there is a law; it doesn’t matter who interprets it, it doesn’t matter who puts a spin on it, we follow…as far as we are concerned, the President has done nothing wrong.

Stuart Lisulo: Then let’s talk about the Kingdom of eSwatini’s Republican Constitution; our understanding is that it does not permit or support foreigners to own any land in that country. So…

Amos Chanda: Before you go any further, when we went for a state visit, and we toured the state-of-the art food processing, milk processing plant, His Majesty, the King, he invited Zambian businessmen to go and set up businesses there. You can’t set up a business in the sky, you have got to own land. I am telling you what the King said. Again, I won’t rely on your reading of the Constitution of eSwatini because you may have read a different one, I am telling you what His Majesty said: ‘I want Zambian businessmen to come and set up businesses there, there is a mango processing plant, milk processing plant. Therefore, Mr. President, what I want to see is increased regional trade between Zambia.’ So, how would you set up a farm in the sky?

The King was very clear, ‘Zambian businessmen are welcome here. And my staff are under instruction to process title, and everything that goes with promotion of investment.’ So, if the Constitution of eSwatini prohibits the ownership of land for foreigners, how would these Zambian farmers, and other business people set up their businesses there?

Stuart Lisulo: May we understand in what capacity, Mr Chanda, was His Excellency accepting that piece of land?

Amos Chanda: In his capacity as, both…first of all, he is a human being, he wasn’t born as President. He is entitled to enjoyment of property rights as an individual so he accepted it in his private capacity.

Stuart Lisulo: As a citizen of this country?

Amos Chanda: As a citizen of this country.

Stuart Lisulo: Okay.

Amos Chanda: A citizen of this country, who is also President of the Republic.

Oliver Chisenga: Good afternoon. My name is Oliver Chisenga from The Mast newspapers. We discussed in the morning, I needed clarification, there is a shift that, in fact, the President was not given that as a gift, he had purchased it…

Amos Chanda: You are speaking to the Presidential Spokesperson telling you the facts; there is no incentive, whatsoever, where I stand to lie. I am telling you, that is a gift. Your specialization in online media is something…there is very little faith in information saying, ‘there information emerging…’ Here I am telling you that is a gift! If you have any contrary information that that is not a gift, can you tell us at what price it was bought by the President? Who we paid? Because when you are buying something, there is a contract, there is a sale agreement, money passes. The President has not spent a single cent on this.

So, if you deny that it is not a gift, tell us how he got it?

Oliver Chisenga: Not to disregard what you have already said, I just needed clarification because…

Amos Chanda: I want you to rely on what I am telling you, not on online media. Because this, what I am telling you, unless I am a mad man, it is on tape. I am telling you that is a gift. So, if you insist that it was purchased, perhaps you bought it for him? That is the only way we can be dead sure if you argue with what I am telling you. Unless you can tell me, ‘I have evidence that I bought it for him.’ It was not bought.

Oliver Chisenga: Thank you very much.

Amos Chanda: Alright.

Steven Mvula: My name is Steven Mvula from Zambia Daily Mail. These talks have continued about the land. Apart from this press briefing that you are doing here, is there anything else that you are going to do, or the Office of the President intends to do, just to put it clear that it is not true?

Amos Chanda: This is very clear. I don’t know the background where…I don’t want to make a very, very big distinction between the journalism then, when I was on the other side and now, so that I don’t sound impolite. I also want to ask that what becomes of me tomorrow, if I stand here and tell a lie on a matter as big as this? I mean, land doesn’t disappear. If that land in question does not exist… Look, I don’t think this is the last of me in my career. What about tomorrow? I cannot tell you a lie, what I have told you…we can do nothing…

Those who are suffocated by this gift, we can only appeal to them that they don’t die of that suffocation. I mean, we won’t skin ourselves in order to explain this, in order for people to believe that. We hope that they can fully understand that, look, what we are saying is the truth. The land in question is there.

The President has not commissioned any construction; he has not spent US $3.9 million. We are saying, these have been published, now we are saying, ‘it is not true,’ we can’t say any more than this. The Minister explained, and further to the explanation of the Minister, now I am telling you that, this is as high as it gets. We will not add anything to what is existing; the land was given, no US $3.9 million was spent on it; the land is in Eswatini; the 10 cows were given whose value is higher than that piece of land. Of course, the architect even called for a tender for people who can draw that openly.

And let me state if there was any wrong doing of anything to hide, the President, probably, would have sought advice to those who have put their assets in Panama and elsewhere. That’s hiding! But here, on the papers, his name was…because there is absolutely nothing to hide. If he sought to hide, he was going to put it in the Panama Papers, which are deliberately hidden, away from the people.

Stuart Lisulo: Thank you very much, Mr. Chanda. I suppose, finally from me, I would like to bring to your attention that, the Honourable Minister of Information and Broadcasting Services, Dora Siliya, told the BBC in recent days that, apparently, His Excellency also receives gifts from the People’s Republic of China. So, are you able to explain what the nature of those gifts are?

Amos Chanda: Chinese tea! The last time he was given two boxes of Chinese tea, that I can confirm.

[Laughter erupts among journalists]

Amos Chanda: When we went to Kigali, we were given tea by President Kagame from the volcanic mountains between the DRC – he was explaining the difference between the tea grown in the lower ends and also there. So, we receive those things. And we also give, sometimes, copper ornaments. Again, without offending diplomatic practice, I can tell you, as a special envoy to a neighbouring country, I met a president, and we finished everything. At the airport, a small box was given to me from that Head of State as I was getting on the plane.

So, given the narrative that is being created here is that, I should have run away from the airport back to State House to go and throw back that…

It is normal courtesies. I worked in London myself; when we were inaugurating the new High Commissioner, and we went to Buckingham Palace, when they came to pick us from 2 Palace Gate, and the High Commissioner and the escorts, even as we were getting off No. 2 Palace Gate, he gave us some little gifts themselves. As the High Commissioner presents credentials, he presented gifts to Her Majesty, the Queen.

But I must emphasize that, if he intended to hide anything, they will be in Panama; that land would have quickly been processed and put in Panama. The President is a lawyer, and lawyers are retained by property magnates to handle their assets, and lawyers know how to hide assets. So, if he wanted that, he would have hidden it, and he would have put it through a proxy.

I mean, clearly, the President can hide if he wanted to hide, it will be in Panama Papers. It will be in the Bahamas; it will be in these safe havens where you create a shell company and put there.

Ladies and gentlemen, there is no…of course, it’s a story because it involves the Head of State, but I can tell you in journalistic terms, there is no story.

There is a story that there is land, and there is a President, and there is a Kingdom of eSwatini. But clearly, maybe I must qualify it, there is no scandalous story about this.

Thank you very much.

         

Stuart Lisulo

About Stuart Lisulo

Stuart Lisulo is an experienced Zambian journalist with a focus on business news.
Email: stuart [at] diggers [dot] news

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