The corrupt are evil, and we must not glorify them by idolising people who have just stolen from public office, and in fact, it’s immoral to flash money around if you are serving poor people, says former Attorney General Musa Mwenye.
And Financial Intelligence Centre acting board chairman John Kasanga says when Zambians go to the hospital and find that there is no medicine, they must link the sad reality to the fact that 6.8 per cent (K4.9 billion) of the 2018 national budget was lost through corruption. Further, Kasanga says the FIC is only accountable to the public and will never take any instructions from anyone unless it is in public interest.
Meanwhile, economist Prof Oliver Saasa says a good leader or a bad leader is a reflection of the voter, stressing that “if you didn’t know that someone is a bad leader until you vote him into office and he exposes you to his misdeeds, you must show him the door.”
The three were speaking at the News Diggers/OSISA public discussion forum which was held in partnership with Eden University and Prime Television at Lusaka’s Intercontinental Hotel on Friday.
Speaking at the same event, Transparency International-Zambia president Rueben Lifuka said a President must be compelled by law to declare his assets and liabilities annually, adding that it is difficult to fight corruption in Zambia because the corrupt in government have no regard for the court.
Below is the summarised verbatim of the three-hour long event which was attended by over 600 members of the public from various walks of life – some of whom seized the opportunity to voice out on the topic: “Corruption and the state of Zambia’s economy”.
There is no developing country that has developed without first tackling corruption
The question that I ask, which has bothered me for some time about this revelation of 48 mysterious houses is, if a person abandoned 48 properties, what else does he own? With these revelations, is there a problem of corruption in Zambia? Yes! I have no doubt in my mind that all of us should begin to get concerned.
From what I have heard as a lay man, am yet to come across a developed country that has developed past this stage without first tackling corruption. Whether it’s Singapore or elsewhere, corruption has had to be tackled first. I think for me, it’s an important thing we need to do as a nation. The only reason why fighting corruption is important economically is that I think, in my layman view, that this demon brings with it a twin demon of caderism. If you checked, government increasingly becomes a bureau for dishing out contracts for dishing out contracts to those in government and to those close to them. The problem of this is that it gets down meritocracy; it breeds inflated prices on all government procurement. You have brought down meritocracy; contracts begin to be awarded, not to the best qualified people but to those who are willing to give commissions to those who give these contracts. The result is that we lose huge amounts of money where we should have paid less and end up with shoddy works which we have to redo at some time in the future. Who pays for all this? The poor people, it is us who have to bear the cost and taxes know no party, they know no tribe we all pay these taxes.
Another suggestion which is topical and has faced some controversy is, I actually think we need lifestyle audits. I worked as Solicitor General; I worked as Attorney General, why should I be afraid of being checked if I didn’t steal? I should be asked what I have, how I got it and when I tell you that it’s from allowances, I must prove that, if I tell you that I have businesses, I must prove that I have them and I should also show what tax I paid. We have heard some rebuttals about this lifestyle audit saying everyone should then do it; does everyone have access to public funds? Those of us who choose to enter these public offices should be open to accountability. When you are in public office, you are not a private person, there is no privacy. If you drive a Range Rover, people want to know where you got the money because you are in public office.
President Uhuru Kenyatta last year, some of you may be aware, called for lifestyle audits starting with himself and his Deputy President. The Premier of the Western Cape as well called for audits for members in that Cabinet. It’s a good solution. If I say that I only have one house in my village here in Chongwe and that I have five cows, why do I drive a Range Rover? That’s a lifestyle audit, you check the declaration against how the person is living and there is nothing wrong with that? So I repeat my call for lifestyle audits and I say it again, it can start with me, I was in government as well, let’s all account.
Over the years, very little has been done to prevent abuse of office.
PROF OLIVER SAASA:
When we talk about corruption, we should contextualise it. If you have everything that constitutes what it takes to be rich, why are there poor people in the country? Statistics tell you so. We are actually a rich country with poor people in it, which is sobering. Before 2011, the Zambian economy was growing on average, six to seven percent of GDP annually. After that, something happened; your guess is as good as mine. Studies have shown that corruption directly affects the poorest people in society mostly because the poor, to a large degree, are dependent on public action, what happens in public office. If an official in a government office exaggerates the price of road construction, and is able to entice those that he extends the contract to, essentially what it means is that the tax payer, which by the way includes the poor people, will have to pay the cost associated with the exaggerated price of that road.
So, when you hear political leaders say ‘there is no corruption or show me the evidence’ when evidence is no where other than public offices, public accounts committee, the FIC… Why should a leader ask somebody outside government to show them evidence of corruption? For me that is fundamental, but corruption does affect the country in many other ways. There is a human toll on corruption. How can you justify a fire engine at a US$1 million which is supposed to be able to take care of a burning multi storey building on the 15th floor and you distribute those engines to Kaputa where if there is even a two storey building then you are lucky? My question there would not be that somebody stole the money – I don’t have the capacity to find that evidence that someone stole that money, but I will hold accountable whoever made the decision to procure something that is not commensurate with my capacity as a taxpayer and is paying that money. That for me without much sophistication is a definition of corruption, if someone asks me, “show me evidence”, I will show him the fire engines.
We have seen the case which was cited about the 48 houses and the commission has closed the case but is still investigating. Probably my English is very bad, if you have closed the case then what are you investigating? If as a result of public pressure you have discovered that it must be reopened then say so. For me it’s as basic as that, we need to give more power to the ACC, take the right people there. With the right commitment, with the right political will and the right requisite resources that it will take for them to discharge what is provided for in the enabling legislation.
6.8 per cent of the 2018 budget was lost to corruption
My colleagues talked about the issue of the 48 houses which are a different matter from the 49 houses case which was referred to law enforcement by the way. The 49 houses case is with law enforcement; it was disseminated last year and am sure they are still investigating. (audience laughs). But the most important point is that, in the trends report, we outline the risks that the country is faced, in matters of money laundering and financing of terrorism and this is critical, especially if we discuss corruption. In the trends report, and I think this is what puts us in trouble, are these charts, the case studies, now if any of you take the trouble to analyse each case study that you see and then you hear someone from law enforcement saying “FIC didn’t give us enough data or you have just shared raw intelligence with members of the public” then it will be unfair and the reason is simple. If I, a public officer, influences an award of contract and in return am paid an amount of money, either directly into my account or through a surrogate and that financial transaction is reported to the FIC, obviously it will be shown as the person who received the money isn’t it, and it will also show who paid me the money, isn’t it, and it will also show where that guy got the money and it will link them to the tender they won, isn’t it? So what’s so magical about it?
Now, what does the FIC provide to law enforcement, I think its very important, FIC receives suspicious financial transaction reports, mostly from banks. When you win a tender, they will ask you for your bank details, the money will be paid into an account. When you start utilising that money, you will withdraw from that account and there are supposed to be limits on what can be a cash withdrawal, the rest are electronic transactions or cheques which you are paying to someone, so the paper trail is automatic. It’s so obvious. It’s unreal that we argue about it. When you see someone suddenly building a double storey house in two months and you are, a neighbour, it took you seven years, shouldn’t you wonder?
I must also use this fora to explain to you that when we disseminate a case to law enforcement, it means the case is virtually ready for prosecution. In other words, we never disseminate a case that is not 90 per cent complete and when we say this, the 10 percent is officially getting witness statements as you know, using the legal framework for gathering exhibits. You may need proper warrants so that it can be admissible in court. Most of the times, that all that law enforcement agencies have to do because the intelligence gathering is done so thoroughly, by the team at the FIC. Corruption is easy to trace. It’s very easy to trace. The fact of the matter, last year for example, we disseminated 80 cases, the total value of money lost was US$520 million and all those cases were disseminated, lets start from there.
The critical thing is that our colleagues in law enforcement face tremendous pressures and that perhaps should be the basis of public discussion. In 2016, we disseminated to law enforcement agencies cases involving losses of K4.6 billion through corruption of which K3 billion was through corruption, in other words, 76 per cent of what we disseminated was as a result of corruption. This K3 billion in 2016, it amounted to 1,5 percent of GDP. It also amounted to 5.6 per cent of the annual budget, for that year went into a few private pockets. In 2017, out of the K6.3 billion of showing money that has been diverted, K4.5 billion or 75 percent was attributed to corruption which amounted to 1.9 percent of GDP or 7 per cent of the budget. In 2018, last year, we disseminated as already alluded, K6.1 billion, equivalent to about US$520 million, out of that K4.9 billion or 80 per cent was from corruption, again this is equivalent to 6.8 per cent of the budget for 2018. So what is this telling you, when you go to the hospital, you can’t see medicine, link it to this money. The moment we relate these losses to individuals, to the public loss of welfare then we can do something about it and I think statistics tell you that we have a problem.
My question goes to State Counsel. What did government do during your time because you had a very important position and we still experienced issues of corruption.
I was sworn into office on the 29th of December 2011, left on the 28th of January 2015. The corruption perception index for 2012, in the year I was serving was 37. The corruption perception index for 2013 and 2014 was 38, the lowest or best recorded, are you aware of that, those are facts. We enacted the Anti Corruption Act in 2012, we brought back the abuse of authority clause, and we also operationalised the FIC in November 2013. Am not President [Michael] Sata’s apologist, like many other politicians, he had his limitations, but let me give some facts, in the three years that I served under President Sata. We prosecuted three sitting ministers, one was convicted, all of them were fired while they were being prosecuted. There was an official at State House who was allegedly receiving money to fix appointments; you recall him being fired publicly. There was corruption, there were errors of judgment in the financial sector as the ones in charge of the economy should be asked about these things but I personally saw some tangible steps in trying to fight the scourge.
I want to say from 1964 up to now, am still fighting for the constitution but corruption is going up and up, if I asked anybody here today how can we stop corruption, the answer will be that it can take us many years and I don’t believe in that. I believe that as part of the people that own these institutions, we want to be the custodians of the constitution and bringing law such as capital punishment for any plunderer. Sir, there is a very big difference about corruption but what we are seeing today in this country is plunder. These people are plundering the wealth of this nation and I believe capital punishment is the only way we can stop these people from continuing to plunder.
Matemala Likwanya – Socialist party:
What we need more than ever before is action. We are going to sit in exotic hotels to talk about the constitution but what we need is action on the ground, many of us here know the people that are propagating corruption but when we are called upon to act, we shy away. There are very few of us who turned up to the yellow card campaign which shows that we have a a lot of cowardice among Zambians. My appeal is that if all of us here can join hands to fight on the ground, that is when corruption is going to be fought and the people involved are going to be removed from power.
State Counsel, is private prosecution available in Zambia, why do we end at NPA?
Mumbi Namwaba- concerned youth:
When are you going to make an effort to engage young people? Because corrupt people are using young people and we will have a repetition and even greater impact of corruption if the right seed is not being planted in them now.
Corrupt leaders are coming from among us, my question is, what qualities should we look for in a leader?
Can we know the state of the economy from you Proffesor Saasa from you? Corruption is not reducing because it’s being celebrated. Those who celebrate do not understand the impact.
Private prosecution is not that easy, you need consent in matters of corruption form the DPP. Second thing is that, investigations that are done, we have no access to them, evidence gathered by the FIC is not handed to anyone other than the law enforcement agencies. But don’t underestimate the power of talking, that’s advocacy, what we are doing here is action as well. So don’t under value this, this is sensitisation. So we are going somewhere. Continue talking and acting.
Who should be made a leader? Firstly, as a democratic country, we do not use our democratic rights appropriately. You may not know who a good leader is until he gets into power and you are exposed to his misdeeds, you should show him the door. And if there is one that you support, let’s assume one from the opposition comes in and they do exactly the opposite of what they promised when they were in opposition; show them the door, that for me is the quality of a good leader. A good leader or a bad leader is a mirror reflection of you. Don’t tell me that “this person corruptly went into power, he corrupted people,” where were you? Because essentially a bad leader who corrupts people, electorates means that you have allowed them and therefore whatever he does, he does it in your name. So as part of civic education, learn to say goodbye to those that fail you in terms of expectation as leaders. Is the economy okay? In todays (Friday) News Diggers! There is a screaming headline that “the economy is doing well – Siliya” and then I think she said that “perhaps things have been taken out of context”. We talked about leaders, if a leader fails to interpret what is happening correctly, show them the door.
State counsel you talked about the lifestyle audits, something that we definitely agree with. Just to say that if the annual declarations made by all the public officials cited in the parliamentary and ministerial code of conduct were accurate we shouldn’t have a problem with lifestyle audits because annual declarations include assets, income and liabilities. But also to note that the president is not required by law to make any annual declarations. The only time the President makes a declaration is every five years if he is a candidate. That’s why you have a problem because the President will only declare his assets every five years. And mind you, we dot have entry and exit declarations, so it very difficult to know what is happening. One of the problems we have in the fight against corruption is the corrupt commit their crimes in the full glare of the authorities, they are not scared of the courts, they are not scared of any authority and they will do it knowing fully well that they are protected. So we need to fight political impunity.
Fighting corruption starts with the individual public officer and it starts with the small things. Corruption is a cancer. Now, I have no apologies for what am about to say next: The corrupt are evil, and we must not glorify them by idolising people who have just stolen from public office. I get amused when you hear stories from people about big buyers in these [night] clubs, why are public officials living like Jay-Z and Beyonce, flashing money around and so on? When we were in office, you would hide, even if you have the money, it is immoral to keep spending money when you are serving poor people, we should be ashamed of that.
There was a question about abrogating Clause 4. We are not contravening clause 4 of the Act, I actually think we are not even doing enough, I would be happy to receive evidence of where we have contravened the relevant provisions because we are a public institution and we are accountable to the public. In fact I must mention that the FIC Act does not presently allow the centre to receive directives from anyone, and may only implement such if they are in the public interest… The future of this country and the issue of corruption lies in your hands!