Transparency International Zambia (TIZ) president Rueben Lifuka says there is poor enforcement of the law on declaration of assets, liabilities and incomes by members of parliament and Cabinet Minsters.

Last Thursday, outgoing United States Ambassador to Zambia Daniel Foote challenged government leaders in the PF administration to make personal financial disclosures so that the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) can carry out real investigations and prosecute corrupt officials at all levels.

Commenting on his farewell remarks, Lifuka concurred with the US Envoy, who had since departed the country, observing that there was no follow-up on the type of declarations and the accuracy of the declarations made by government officials on their huge, unexplained wealth.

“The PF government should take heed of the advice rendered by the outgoing Ambassador and there should be no need for rancor from anyone. The message is loud and clear: we have a problem of serious corruption in our land. This is what should galvanize us into action and not for us to get bogged down with meaningless debates on the messenger of this painful and yet truthful reality of our time. It should be common cause to all that corruption and illegal activities whenever these occur – whether perpetrated by elected leaders or ordinary citizens – are strenuously addressed. We have to move away from merely talking about corruption, to doing something tangible about it. Again, the country needs to pay attention to the sentencing regime for those convicted of corruption. There is a growing concern that corruption cases continue to receive light fines or sentences, eventually lowering the significance of corruption in general and malfeasance in particular,” Lifuka said.

“The weakness in our current set-up lies in the poor enforcement of the law on declaration of assets, liabilities and incomes by MPs and Ministers. It has been our source of concern that there is no follow-up on the type of declarations and the accuracy of these declarations made by these leaders. The Office of the Chief Justice has often only released a list of those that have submitted, but of interest to us are the details of what has been declared. We have noted with grave concern that these declarations are usually self-made with no opportunity for verification of these claims. We are not aware of any register of interests, which outlines those in position of authority that have running contracts with government. Today, it is possible for a Minister to have active interests in a business, compete for government contracts and get these contracts without one declaring interest! This is what leads to insider-dealing, which makes for unfair competition.”

Lifuka reminded PF officials that it was law that government officials in high positions should make annual declarations, fairly stating the value of assets and liabilities at the time of the declarations and total incomes.

“We fully endorse the statement by outgoing American Ambassador Daniel Foote on the need for leaders in the PF administration to make personal financial disclosures. In fact, this is already a requirement of the law in the Parliamentary and Ministerial Code of Conduct Act, Cap 16 of the laws of Zambia for members of parliament, including those holding ministerial positions, which extends to the Vice-President, to do make two major declarations. Firstly, there is a requirement under section 6 of the Code of Conduct Act for a member, who has an interest in a contract proposed by government, to make a formal declaration of his or her interest in relation to that contract,” Lifuka explained.

“Secondly, under section 10 of the same Act, a member of parliament and or a person holding a ministerial position, as well as the Speaker and Deputy Speakers (of the National Assembly), are expected to make annual declarations, which should fairly state the value of assets and liabilities at the time of the declaration, as well as total incomes; this is income from all sources in the preceding twelve months. These annual declarations are made to the Chief Justice and every member or Minister, is required to make this declaration within 30 days of the anniversary of the date of appointment to a particular position.”

Lifuka further said there was need for an open register of interests where the public were sufficiently informed of who was running contracts with government.

“We need an open Register of Interests where the public are sufficiently informed of who has running contracts with government. This will also be in line with the new requirement in the Companies Act for registering of beneficial ownership of companies. Those in public service should be open about the interests they hold in different business entities and this helps in assessing whether Politically Exposed Persons (PEPs) are misusing public office for private gain. In fact, we should get to a place where government ministers, permanent secretaries, including the President, have no direct interests in companies, which has ongoing contracts with government. Similarly, there should be proactive public disclosure of the declarations of assets, liabilities and incomes as this will allow for improved accountability of the members or ministers making these declarations,” said Lifuka.

“We want to reiterate our concern that the current laws on code of conduct for elected officials do not extend to the Head of State, who is not under any legal obligation to make an annual declaration of assets, liabilities and incomes. The only time that the Head of State is required to make this declaration is when he presents himself as a candidate for the Office of President. Article 100 of the Constitution of Zambia (Amendment) No. 2 of 2016 provides that a person qualifies to be nominated as a candidate for election as President; if that person declares his or her assets and liabilities, as prescribed. The Parliamentary and Ministerial Code of Conduct Act is clearly a piece of legislation that needs refinement and we would have expected urgent action on this to avoid any ambiguities in the near future.”