Ministry of Justice Chief State Advocate Joe Simachela says 50% of the cases which his department deals with come as a result of police brutality and misconduct.

Simachela was speaking when he appeared before the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) with Justice Permanent Secretary Thandiwe Oteng to respond to audit queries cited in the Auditor General’s Report for the Financial Year ended December 31, 2018.

“We have already engaged the Inspector General of Police because currently, almost about 50% of our cases in litigation emanate from police brutality or misconduct. What we have now done under my department specifically is that we are now categorizing claims under police in terms of the specific police stations which will therefore come up annually at the end of the year, [then] we will not make a submission to the Inspector General to say ‘listen, in the year 2017 for example, we established that most of the cases were emanating from Emmasdale police, it therefore goes to show that there is a problem either from the officer in charge there or the CIO’, so that we are able to assist the command also at Zambia Police to try to either train their officers specifically because you would find that one issue we also established in the past is that these small police stations like Soweto market, you find that that is where the cases are always coming from and you never find it from Lusaka Central Police,” Simachela told the committee, Thursday.

“So we have now told them to say ‘can we have seasoned police officers’ [and] we have seen a reduction through that engagement with the Zambia Police. So just to specifically respond to that query is that we have tried to identify where the problems are. The Ministry of Lands similarly we have this problem of allocation of land but now we have been blessed with the new system of titling. So we have seen also a reduction in terms of the numbers of cases which are coming out from the Ministry of Lands.”

And responding to a question on whether the reasons why many people were suing government was as a result of the wrongs that state officials from Ministries and Spending Agencies were doing, Simachela said a lot of Zambians had learnt how to sue.

“I just want to also inform the members [that] I have been privileged to be in the ministry for some time and one thing which I have noticed is that being in the department of civil litigation is that cases have increased over the years. Our citizenry seems not to learn how to sue and [if] you notice from the last constitution it says that ‘the Attorney General will also devolve into the provinces.’ We really need to beef-up the number of state advocates to go into the provinces. But on my perspective as in charge of litigation, Zambians have learnt [how] to sue and this is where the problem is. I will tell you [that] today I received ten new cases a day [when] five years ago I would receive ten new cases every four months. So I do not know whether this is something which will also need the support from the higher authorities,” Simachela said.

And when asked on why she was not effecting recoveries of the irregularities that were cited in the audit report, Oteng said it was not her responsibility to surcharge erring officers.

“Chair we are acting as a ministry. So when we have gone to court and we have information that officers have erred, this information is referred to the relevant government ministries and in this regard it would be sent to cabinet office who is responsible for personnel issues regarding officers in government. The officers who have erred are not form the Ministry of Justice. We are a service ministry. We defend government in the courts of law. So these are cases that are emanating from various ministries [and] not my ministry. If they were officers from my ministry I would have taken charge. My responsibility in this regard is to defend government in the courts of law. Once we lose cases and so on and a person is identified, my duty is to relay that information to the Public Service Management Division to take action, to surcharge the officer [or] punish the officer. I have done my part by defending those officers in the courts of law,” said Oteng.

Meanwhile, PAC Chairperson Howard Kunda advised the controlling officer to put in place systems that could deal with the irregularities within her ministry so that the amounts of revenues lost could reduce.

“So looking at the trail and this if from 2015, you had four queries and it was involving K56, 592, 053 million, in 2016 the queries increased to seven and that was involving K195, 947, 479 million, [and] in 2017 just with four queries, it has skyrocketed to K3.243, 627, 578 billion and this is squarely on the issues to do with the controlling officers. The finance department is zero and this is in reference to what I have already stated, it is compensation and awards. We really need to find ways in dealing with this and that is to say that we need to put systems in place because we have seen that this is a burden that is growing. Next year we may be talking about something else, maybe even triple the amounts. Having said that, there are suggestions that may come and maybe you may be required to come to PAC and sit with us so that we can see how we can help as a committee because this is a national issue. We are not going to just watch and see these figures sky rocketing and that is why we thought that you could come back,” said Kunda.

Meanwhile, the committee sent away officials from the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources who were led by the acting PS saying the submission would only be accepted if the substantive permanent secretary was around.

At the time, the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources Permanent Secretary Trevor Kaunda was reportedly out of the country on official duty.