Transparency International Zambia (TIZ) says President Edgar Lungu’s intervention in the mysterious 48 houses case amounts to interference in the work of law enforcement agencies.

And TIZ says it believes the ACC already knows who the owners of the houses are, given the proper paper trail which characterizes land and property transactions.

Yesterday, President Lungu instructed Home Affairs Minister Stephen Kampyongo to ensure the case regarding the 48 houses is probed further, after the ACC announced that it had closed the case because the commission failed to trace the real owner.

But in a statement, TIZ executive director Wesley Chibamba noted that President Lungu had technically passed a vote of no confidence in the ACC.

He suggested that the best way forward was to establish a Joint Investigation Taskforce under the aegis of the ACC.

“Transparency International Zambia (TI-Z) finds it incredulous that the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) has purportedly decided to close the case against a Ministry of Finance official who allegedly owned 48 housing units in Chalala Lusaka, on grounds that the matter lacked evidence linking him to the said properties. We are aware that this investigation has been running for some time and it is our considered view that the reasons advanced by ACC for its actions are unsatisfactory and counter-productive to the fight against corruption. This approach will undoubtedly embolden many other unscrupulous public servants and members of the general public to commit similar offences knowing fully well the self inflicted incapacity, if not deliberate incompetence by the ACC to identify owners of such properties. This action to close this case, serves as a major concern about the capacity of the Zambian law enforcement agencies to address the emerging requirement in many jurisdictions for the identification of beneficial owners of properties or shares,” Chibamba stated.

“We equally find the decision by President Lungu to instruct the Minister of Home Affairs to investigate this matter, rather odd. The Minister of Home Affairs is not a competent authority to handle such matters and this is tantamount to political interference in the work of the law enforcement agencies. This political instruction could serve nothing beyond to muddling the waters and probably compromises the case even further. Technically, President Lungu has passed a vote of no confidence in the Anti Corruption Commission and the rightful step to take is to ask the ACC, who have the mandate of investigating such matters, to re-open the case taking into account the public outcry. It is our position that there are many legal means to attach ownership to property and if ACC has reached a dead end insofar as provision of its enabling law is concerned, there are several other law enforcement and government agencies that can assist reach a logical conclusion on this matter. It is for this reason that we strongly recommend that a Joint
Investigation Taskforce under the aegis of the ACC should be established and bring on board experts from other government agencies.”

And Chibamba noted that land and property transactions had an identified paper trail that couldn’t be hard to trace, adding that TIZ believed ACC already knew the real owner of the houses.

“It is common knowledge that transactions in land and property have an identified paper trail and we have no cause to doubt that ACC is fully aware of the provisions of the law and existing land management practices, to establish the ownership of the properties in question. We want to believe that the parcels of land were acquired from known agents and that necessary contracts of sale, receipts of payments are available. ACC should establish who sold the land for this development for details of the person behind this transaction. Secondly, we are fully aware that any interest in land should be registered, therefore, these records should be at the Ministry of Lands. The records will indicate whether the registered owner is an individual, a company or indeed the properties have been registered under a trust. In any of the given scenarios, records available are able to show who the true owners of the houses are. In an instance that it is an individual, the process will be straight forward and that person will be known. If the registered owner is a company, one can still conduct a search at PACRA and the shareholders/Directors of the company will be known,” he stated.

“Further, Lusaka City Council as a planning authority should have granted the necessary planning permission and approved the building plans as required by the law. Surely, all these are avenues of establishing ownership of the properties in question. The tenants have been paying rent to someone and that is the person who should help the investigations. There has to be records somewhere and all efforts should be made to get to the bottom of this.”

He stated that whilst TIZ supported recovery of assets suspected to be proceeds of crime through seizures, the institution was not for the idea of letting criminals go scot-free.

“As TI-Z, we support recovery of assets suspected to be proceeds of crime through seizures and subsequent forfeiture to the state, but we do not agree with the propensity to let the criminally minded persons behind these atrocities go scot-free. It is also important that the people behind the illicitly obtained property be brought to book, it is not just enough for them to lose the property which they should not have had in the first place. This handling of this case involving the 48 houses is yet another litmus test on how serious we are as a country in dealing with corruption cases and we call upon the ACC and all relevant stakeholders to rise to the challenge,” stated Chibamba.