Transparency International Zambia says much as it respects the Chishinga Royal Establishment’s right to offer tribal solidarity, calls for Infrastructure Development Minister Ronald Chitotela’s dismissal are backed by the law and it would only be morally right for the minister to step down on his own volition.

On Tuesday, Chishinga Royal Establishment chairperson Musonda Mushota vowed that the establishment would stand with Chitotela, who is also a headman in Chitotela village, saying they won’t support him if he decides to resign.

But responding to a press query, TIZ president Rueben Lifuka said calls for Chitotela’s dismissal were backed by the law.

“Transparency International Zambia finds the comments of the Chishinga Royal Establishment castigating those calling on Hon Chitotela to step aside following his arrest by the ACC, as not only unfortunate but misplaced. We do understand and empathise with them that one among their number is facing these charges but they have to remember that Hon. Chitotela is not serving in Government as a representative of his tribal grouping but as a national leader for all Zambians including those who may be hurt by his acts of commission and omission. Against this development, we wish to raise a couple of points to underscore why we have continued to ask either Hon. Chitotela to step down or President Lungu as appointing authority to relieve him of his duties. As a preamble, we want to state that we have nothing personal against the Minister and the issues we raise now, we have canvassed for the same before when other elected leaders found themselves in similar predicament,” Lifuka said.

“While no one can deny the Chishinga Royal Establishment its right to offer tribal solidarity to Hon Chitotela and stand by him in his hour of need, they have to remember that a precedent is being set and tomorrow they will have no right to call to account a minister or public officer, who is a subject of another tribe who maybe accused of wrong doing. Yes, the presumption of innocence has to be upheld but it is our considered view that one can defend his/her name outside the public glare of political office. We want to urge that this tribal solidarity or chauvinism should not be in defence of wrong doing at any level but rather should be in support of uprightness, integrity and honesty in the discharge of public service.”

Lifuka noted that a government which could not command the obedience and trust of its people could not succeed in executing its mandate.

“Cabinet Ministers in Zambia, just like Members of Parliament are bound by the Parliamentary and Ministerial Code of Conduct, which attempts to define the expected standards of behaviour of Ministers in the discharge of their responsibilities. A whole range of sanctions are provided including administrative and legal sanctions. Clearly, the code of conduct does envisage that there will be acts by Ministers or MPs which may require them to step down once there is a violation even if such a violation does not attract criminal sanctions. This is an important backdrop when we make the call for Hon Chitotela to step aside, we are not passing a verdict on him as this lies in the province of the courts of law, but we are referring to a moral standard where those who serve in positions of trust should do everything possible to maintain public trust which is reposed in not only one Minister but the whole Government,” Lifuka said.

“Our Republican Constitution in Article 8 provides for national values and principles which shall apply to the interpretation of the constitution, and some of the national values and principles provided for are morality and ethics, and good governance and integrity. Every year, since the coming into force of the amended constitution, President Edgar Lungu has gone to the National Assembly to appraise the elected representatives of the people on the progress made in upholding these national values and principles. Cabinet Ministers take an oath to uphold the constitution and they can be considered to be “gatekeepers” of the supreme law of the land and clearly where there are suspicions of misconduct, these men and women who serve in these privileged positions of authority, should do the right thing and insulate the rest of government from ridicule and condemnation by stepping aside. Stepping aside should not be seen as an admission of guilt but in fact a strong show of the strength of character of one who has nothing to fear about their conduct in office. The work of a Cabinet Minister is a demanding one and a special place of honour- Ministers make vital decisions on behalf of more than 15 million Zambians, and it is only proper that these our leaders function in an environment free from any encumbrances and distractions which maybe brought about by onerous investigations and potential court proceedings.”

He cited other laws which supported calls for Chitotela’s dismissal.

“It is instructive to note that the 2016 Constitution and other laws provide for persons who have been charged or who are facing complaints of impropriety to step aside until investigations and formal hearings have been completed. For instance, under Article 108 of the constitution under impeachment of President, once a motion for impeachment has been moved and supported by two thirds of the Members of Parliament, the President is informed by the Chief Justice of this resolution, “whereupon the President shall cease to perform the executive functions” and the Vice President shall perform the executive functions until the impeachment hearings have been concluded. The President steps aside even before the hearings of the allegations against him or her commence. In the event that the National Assembly clears the President of the allegations against him after formal hearings, he resumes to perform his executive functions. Similarly, in Article 144 of the constitution dealing with the procedure for removal of a judge once the Judicial Complaints Commission establishes a prima facie case against a judge, the President is expected to suspend the judge from office and such a judge once cleared, can then resume office,” said Lifuka.

“The Anti Corruption Act in Section 47 equally makes a similar provision where a public officer who is charged with corruption shall be suspended at half pay with effect from the date of the charge. And suspension of such a public officer ceases when proceedings are halted or he/she is acquitted. Therefore, if all these public and state officers including the President can be asked to step aside, notwithstanding the presumption of innocence, what is remarkably unique about Hon Chitotela’s case? Interestingly, we do not recall the Chishinga Royal Establishment raising similar arguments in 2013 when President Sata relieved Hon Chitotela of his duties as Deputy Minister following allegations made against him at the time.”