Former Justice Minister Wynter Kabimba has warned that if Zambia does not deal with the root causes of problems in the Judiciary and police, very soon it won’t just be exhibits going missing, but complete files.
In an interview, Kabimba, who is now Rainbow Party leader, lamented that the Commission of Inquiry on Judicial Reforms had gone into oblivion since he was fired as Justice Minister.
He observed that the said commission was very important as it would have helped to identify and solve some of the challenges that were building a crisis in the Judiciary.
“You know, there was a judicial and legal reforms commission which was set up during the time I was Minister of Justice by the President headed by former Supreme Court judge Honorable Mr Justice Fredrick Chomba. The idea of that commission of inquiry was to recommend reforms in the judiciary, the prisons service and the police because these three institutions work in tandem, they coordinate. And we saw these problems, one of the things that I came across, sadly, which broke one’s heart was how appeals for inmates pended for as long as 10 years from the time that somebody is convicted in the High Court and they appeal to the Supreme Court. And I wrote several letters to the former Chief Justice saying that we can’t have a criminal justice system in this state. So we set up that commission of inquiry so that things like what you are talking about now could be dealt with so that people can come forward and say this is what is wrong, and this is how this can be fixed,” Kabimba said.
“I am saddened to note that since I was dismissed from government, since the demise of Michael Sata on the 28th of October 2014, I have hardly heard about that commission of inquiry. I don’t know whether it has continued, I don’t know whether the appointments were revoked by the sitting president now, nothing has happened. In fact, what was heard more was that useless commission of inquiry that dealt with electoral violence when we all knew the genesis of political violence during elections. And the Fredrick Chomba Commission of Inquiry was completely ignored. This is the problem in our country is that programs are attached to those that initiated them without looking at the underlying principle and the benefit that such a program would bring about. So if the Fredrick Chomba Commission of Inquiry had proceeded to conclude its findings and submit the report to the president, then what you are talking about would not have happened. Because there are a lot of problems in the Judiciary, there are a lot of problems in the police, there are a lot of problems in the prisons service but you will find that the projects that have to do with reforms in all these departments are bring driven by donors and not by us the owners of the country and the people that run government.”
He observed that there was too much pettiness among leaders such that progressive projects were halted on account of being engineered by someone who had fallen out of favour with the state.
“There is need to render support to the Fredrick Chomba commission of inquiry to enable it to conclude its work. I have no idea what happened to that commission, maybe you can raise it with the current Minister of Justice. I have completely no idea…We can’t ignore these problems or wish them away and we can’t continue to attach programs to individuals, which programs are national and they are intended to serve this country and the generations to come. This level of pettiness is what is killing our country,” Kabimba said.
“This culture of exclusion, that those of us that are not part of government are totally irrelevant, is what is throwing us into this dungeon of confusion and where we are just looking like jokers to outsiders because there is no continuity. You must cultivate a culture of continuity, that is how all countries have development.”
He warned that soon, whole files would go missing from the courts if these issues were not addressed.
“So the issue of motivation of workers in the judiciary, in the police, in the prisons service is paramount. Issues of corruption in all these institutions and these other institutions is paramount. Once you have exhibits missing from the Judiciary, it tells stories about the state where we are and how do we fix that problem, you don’t fix it only by making arrests, you fix the problem only by looking at the causes, not the symptoms of that problem, then we shall be making problems otherwise now we shall move from exhibits to complete files going missing. And the consequence of that, people will lose confidence in the judiciary, they will lose confidence in the police, they will lose confidence in the National Prosecutions Authority and we will become an empty society,” Kabimba warned.
He said it was high time Zambia started implementing locally-driven, meaningful judicial reforms.
“When I worked as Minister of Justice, I found there was a project there within the Ministry of Justice, something to do with judicial reforms, there was also a parallel project going on within the police and the prison service which ended up with a change of name to correctional facilities, which is nonsense! You can’t change the name and call it correctional service when the whole department is still running as a prison service. What is it that has changed in our prison service system other than a change of name? You still have inmates that are clammed in small spaces like animals, you still have sanitation facilities that are deplorable, you still have an environment of contagious diseases flying through the roof, you still have people contracting STIs within the prison, you still have prisoners being fed on food that must be given to dogs, to animals when they are in that place,” said Kabimba.
“But because the donors have given you the money, you change. That is where the problem is as I see it and I can speak from a position of privilege having served in government. We as Zambians do not take up a third of this country in our hands and stand up to solve our problems even with the little resources that we have. For as long as we don’t originate programs ourselves and tell the donors, ‘this is what we want’, for as long as cabinet meetings are just about peripheral issues and not issues of substance, and this is what I saw myself, all these issues of governance will be collapsing one after another if they haven’t yet done so.”