Transparency International Zambia (TIZ) president Rueben Lifuka says there is need for a broad based investigation to understand the depth at which unscrupulous public servants are using real estate to launder proceeds of corruption.

And Lifuka says in the fight against corruption, there is need to back up words with action.

Meanwhile, Lifuka has insisted that government leaders should subject themselves to lifestyle audits since they profess that they have nothing to hide.

Last week, Vice-President Inonge Wina told Parliament that investigative wings had discovered that the infamous ownerless 48 houses were in fact 51.

“Madam Speaker, the way some of these issues are highlighted, you begin to wonder whether we live in one country or not. We know very well that government has taken steps to ensure that this case is investigated. And the investigations have not ended. And by the way, for your own information, the houses we have discovered, or the investigative have discovered, wings are not 48, but 51. So, it shows that is working government on this issue,” Vice-President Wina said.

And responding to a press query, Lifuka said the 51 houses were indicative of a much bigger problem which investigative wings needed to focus on.

“The mystery behind the ownership of the 48 houses which has now increased to 51 houses (and most likely may increase further) according to Vice President Inonge Wina, continues. What is evident from the statement made in Parliament by Her Honour the Vice President is that there is no further information on who the owners of the houses in question are. From the outset, we want to make it clear that our interest as Transparency International Zambia is that the owner(s) of the houses in question is found and interrogated. It is important that the relevant authorities establish the circumstances that could have led to the ownership of such a large number of houses. We are not only interested in the forfeiture of these properties but for criminal sanctions to be brought against the owner in case of any wrong doing in the manner that he/she acquired this property,” Lifuka stated.

“It is our contention that this is not an isolated case as we are aware of a further mention of 47 houses in the Financial Intelligence Centre Trends Analysis report. Evidently, real estate has become the default channel for unscrupulous public servants to launder their ill gotten wealth. It is important therefore that a broad based investigation is conducted to get to the bottom of this matter. The emphasis should be to understand how easy and possible it has become for some individuals or indeed organisation to channel proceeds of corruption or money laundering to property development without any detection. We need to improve our laws and systems to ensure that beneficial ownership of land, houses and plant can be duly established. It is possible that even in this case of the 51 houses, the purported owner may just be a front for some obscure beneficial owners. We have to address the potential use of shell companies and trusts in the acquisition of property by unscrupulous individuals that would like to hide behind these vehicles.”

He said the ACC needed to be empowered financially in order to holistically handle this problem.

“Our call to government is that it should have a holistic approach to this problem. Instead of merely focusing on resolving this one case, Government should use this occasion to deal with all loopholes which unscrupulous persons especially state and public officers may be using to acquire property. To this end, we would like to see the ACC empowered financially and technically, for them to undertake comprehensive investigations against all those who may be in violation of the Anti Corruption Act, particularly section 22 which mandates the ACC to investigate all public officers in possession of unexplained property or indeed those who maintain a standard of living which is not commensurate with the public officer’s present and past official emoluments and other incomes,” Lifuka stated.

And Lifuka stated that there was need to back up words with action in the fight against corruption.

“We want to again take this occasion to remind the Vice President, President Lungu and all Cabinet Ministers that the successful fight against corruption is dependent on strong political leadership. Presently, our leaders are failing us and they would rather talk eloquently and rhetorically about fighting corruption but are unable to take concrete steps forward. Our leaders are failing to be role models by demonstrating that they have nothing to hide and are willing to be subjected to the highest degree of scrutiny if that will bring about the intended results in the fight against corruption. Our leaders to this day continue to run away from a simple request from the public- subject yourselves to Lifestyle Audits. We want to reiterate our call, it is not too late for our leaders to subject themselves to Lifestyle Audits particularly that they continue to confidently state they have nothing to hide. This singular act will send a strong message to all public officers that no one will be allowed to abuse entrusted power for private gain. The ball is firmly in the court of government, please back your statements with action,” Lifuka stated.

He urged government to work on bills which would improve the monitoring of illegal property acquisition.

“Additionally, Government should prioritise taking to the National Assembly, necessary legislation to operationalize Article 263 of the amended constitution and this refers to the widening of the declaration of assets and liabilities to all those holding public office. We cannot find any reasonable argument why Government has not prioritised working on these bills which would improve the monitoring of illegal property acquisition,” stated Lifuka.