Center for Trade Policy and Development Board Chairperson Isaac Mundia has charged that the Zambia Police acted out of paranoia and suspicion when they arrested pastors and CTPD officials who convened in Ndola to discuss the 2019 budget.

On Monday, Copperbelt Province Police Commissioner Charity Katanga said police arrested pastors and CTPD officials who gathered to discuss the national budget because they digressed from the topic and started talking about politics, which incensed other discussants.

But at a press briefing in Lusaka, Wednesday, Mundia said there was no illegality or any malice in hosting a 2019 budget meeting in Ndola.

“Detention of CTPD Staff and five Pastors was uncalled for. The Board of the Centre for Trade Policy and Development (CTPD) condemns police action towards its members of staff and 5 Ndola faith leaders on the 19th of October, 2018 when they detained the 8 for hosting a meeting whose agenda focused on the proposed 2019 National Budget. It is unacceptable that after 54 years of independence citizens’ rights to assemble, associate and express continue to be threatened and abused under the guise of an archaic piece of legislation called the Public Order Act. It is very unfortunate that a meeting organized at the request of church leaders who are looking for positive ways to contribute to the resolution of some of the challenges that this country is facing, inter allia illicit financial flows through tax avoidance and evasion could be construed as illegal or an intention on our part and the church leaders to commit a crime,” Mundia said.

“At a time that our country is facing financial challenges, citizen’s interest and commitment to support domestic resource mobilization needs to be appreciated and encouraged by all well-meaning Zambians. We understand that the police action may have been out of paranoia and suspicion which is totally unfounded given the nature of work that CTPD undertakes. The aforesaid is well known and a quick search on the internet would have confirmed this. What is more worrying is the continued misinformation from the Copperbelt Province Police Command that the meeting was a political meeting? We have also read a number of untrue and misconstrued statements from the Copperbelt Province Police Command which include, inter-alia, an assertion that we had gone to beg the Copperbelt Provincial Minister for forgiveness.”

And Mundia insisted that discussants did not digress from discussing the budget as Katanga claimed.

“We would like to make it very clear that at no point did any member of the CTPD Board or staff meet either the Minister or the Copperbelt or the Copperbelt police commissioner to beg for lenience. On the other hand, the decision to accept paying a fine alluded to by Mrs. Katanga in her statement issued to the News Diggers on the 29th of October, 2019 for a lesser charge of conduct likely to cause the breach of peace as opposed to the initial charge of unlawful assembly with intent to commit a crime under section 174 of the Penal Code was arrived at following consultations we had with the church leaders and families of the affected staff from CTPD. In the premise, the decision to allow our staff to accept the charge of conduct standing was arrived at after taking into consideration their concerns and the trauma that their families endured during their incarceration for simply discussing a public document,” said Mundia.

“…the presentation that was to be made at meeting in issue was the same presentation CTPD recently presented and submitted to the expanded parliamentary committee for budget estimates on the 8th of October, 2018. It is the same presentation CTPD shared at a public forum it hosted focusing on Public Investments towards Children’s rights held at Southern Sun Hotel on the 5th of October, 2018. The question that begs is why were these meetings not deemed political in all these forums? If the police command say they were tipped off by one of the participants who became uncomfortable with what was being discussed, why didn’t they come to sit in through the meeting as provided for in the same law they were citing when dispersing the meeting? The police command claim that the meeting had started digressing from discussing the budget to other things, since when did the police become moderators of public discussions for them to determine specific direction a conversation should take? For this reason, the Board stands with management and staff of CTPD and will continue to support them and the Ndola faith leaders to ensure that we work towards building a society where the rights of citizens to assemble, associate and express are respected.”