A concerned senior accountant Victor Nyasulu says government’s continued intimidation of the Financial Intelligence Centre (FIC) will make potential investors think twice about investing in the country.

And Nyasulu says the government’s attacks on FIC will jeopardise the country’s seriousness in fighting financial crimes.

In an interview with News Diggers! Nyasulu, who is also a Fellow of the Zambia Institute of Chattered Accountancy (ZICA), said the country risked losing potential investors as they would opt to divert their resources to other jurisdictions if government continued attacking the FIC.

He noted the international community would begin to regard Zambia as a country which tolerates financial crimes if government fails to protect the FIC.

“I am uncomfortable with what’s going on between the FIC and central government. I am uncomfortable because Zambia is in the process of being assessed in terms of its anti-money laundering and countering of financing of terrorism, the regime. We have a regime whereby we fight as a country [against] money laundering and terrorist financing and the financing of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. So, as a member of the Eastern and Southern Africa Anti-Money Laundering group, Zambia like other countries in the group, gets assessed to check how well it is fighting anti-money laundering and related financial crimes. One of the things that the FIC is required to do by law, going by the amendment of 2016 section five, sub section E, they are required to educate and sensitize the public about the efforts being made to fight the vices of money laundering and terrorist financing,” Nyasulu said.

“So, when they have done their findings like they’ve done and then you get reactions from government saying that, ‘it is a rumour’, then you get pressure saying that, ‘the chairman who is in fact an acting chair, must be removed, the board must be disbanded and the director-general must be fired,’ it tends to scare and intimidate the Financial Intelligence Centre and undermines the country’s ability to fight these vices. So, I am very worried because the assessors are just two weeks away, they will be coming to Zambia for the second time in ten years to assess what progress Zambia has made. One of the key things [that] shows that you have made progress is for you to have an independent Financial Intelligence Centre, and that is what we are saying our Centre is. If it is independent and then it has done its work, according to the law, how can you then have the government spokesperson saying that is rumour? How can you have a former minister of finance saying that that is sensationalism? Meanwhile, they have not named anyone in the report and they have observed all that they need to observe as an administrative Financial Intelligence Centre.”

Nyasulu expressed worry that Zambia might not get a good rating on its efforts to fight financial crimes, given the ongoing differences between government and the FIC.

“As a private citizen and senior accountant, I am worried because that can affect the rating or the perception that the assessors will have when they come on-site between the 25th of June and the 10th of July, 2018. The first impact is that the officers will be intimidated and they will be unable to do their work freely. You must remember that all they have done is what they have been doing since 2013; every year they are telling us what they have done in the past year regarding the fight against money laundering. So, [if] our Financial Intelligence Centre is judged to be interfered with and is judged to be in fact not free not do their work, we may get a bad rating. If we get a bad rating and eventually if we don’t show seriousness as a country we can end up having economic sanctions from the Financial Action Task force, and also we will be named as a country that when investors are coming, they should think twice because we will be thought to be tolerant of financial crimes,” Nyasulu observed.

He advised government to resolve its differences with the FIC and start supporting the Centre for the sake of protecting the country’s image.

“I would urge that there will be a proper reconciliation between central government and the FIC. Central government must be seen to be supportive of FIC, not to be antagonistic because it is not good for the country. But what is likely to happen in [my] opinion is that these things are in the public domain, the threats are in the public domain. The pressure on the director-general and the board of FIC are in the [public domain] so it is reasonable to expect that once the assessors are on the ground, and even now they may be reading on the Internet, it may jeopardise Zambia’s possibility to get a good ranking as a country that is really serious in fighting financial crimes. So, the government cannot afford to be antagonising an institution for doing what they are mandated to do, according to the latest amendment. So, this is a discomfort to me as someone who is aware of what the FIC has been doing and how they’ve not broken any law, I am just uncomfortable that government itself seems to be sort of unsupportive at this critical hour when we are being assessed,” said Nyasulu.