The Law Association of Zambia (LAZ) has rejected any proposals that seek to have the Financial Intelligence Centre (FIC) abolished or merged with the Drug Enforcement Commission (DEC).

And Deputy Inspector General of Police Bonny Kapeso says the police service enjoys good collaboration with the FIC and further endorsed the continued production of the FIC annual Trends Report in its current form.

Speaking when he appeared before the parliamentary Committee on Cabinet Affairs, Tuesday, LAZ president Eddie Mwitwa said there was no justification to abolish or merge FIC with other Law Enforcement Agencies (LEAs).

“FIC is a creation of statutes and we are all aware that Parliament has the power to enact laws and even to amend them. So, the merging of the FIC with other Law Enforcement Agencies can simply be done by an amendment to the law. It is also possible that the FIC can be abolished by simply repealing the FIC Act, very simple. It is not as difficult as it is to amend the Constitution, which requires a 2/3 majority. But if there are any such intentions, whether that intention is written or is simply a suspicion, our view is that it would not augur well for Zambia to move in that direction because the world’s eyes are on Zambia and Zambia is not an island. It would be inadvisable for anybody to move in the direction of getting rid of the Financial Intelligence Centre,” Mwitwa cautioned.

Asked by Chiengi FDD member of parliament Given Katuta on where it was written that FIC would be merged with other investigative institutions, Mwitwa said the general suspicions were arising from the Constitution Amendment Bill No. 10 of 2019.

“From what we have read about the FIC, I think there is no justification, really, to get rid of it; there is more justification to strengthen it and help it operate optimally. The suspicion (is) arising from the provision in Bill 10 amendment 69. I think very little has been done by the movers of Bill 10 to explain to the citizens, the purpose of each and every intended amendment in Bill 10. Even when Parliament is resuming next month, we still have not seen that effort being made. So, as long as the public continues operating in ignorance about the intention of these amendments, these suspicions will only be fuelled. The simple answer to where is it written? I think in Bill 10. It is not expressly written, but people are reading into it. So, I think it is incumbent on our leaders to explain to the people the intention of these amendments that are intended in Bill 10,” he replied.

And Mwitwa said it was possible for government to frustrate the work of the FIC by squeezing its funding.

“The FIC being a government creature and also one that gets funding from government, I think the suspicion that there could be interference is debated. I think in an environment where you have a government that is not totally devoted or committed to fighting corruption, it is possible that the FIC can be frustrated in its work by the tightening of funding that goes to the institution,” Mwitwa observed.

Meanwhile, he recommended that the FIC should be mandated to trace and seize assets belonging to suspects during investigations together with other LEAs.

“It is important that the FIC should be involved at an early stage of investigations that are conducted by Law Enforcement Agencies to trace and seize assets belonging to suspects. The FIC should continue operating independently and should not be merged with the DEC as some have suggested. I think these are sentiments that have been expressed publicly by certain quarters. The FIC should be independent from both direct and indirect political interference. It is worrying when we see public officials or executive members coming out in the open and openly criticizing the Financial Intelligence Centre, especially after the release of the annual Trends Report. And there should be a deliberate effort to promote coordination and cooperation between the FIC and Law Enforcement Agencies. There is also need to have competent and independent people on the board of the FIC to enhance its effectiveness and independence,” he said.

Mwitwa also urged government to adequately fund the FIC as well as other investigative wings to increase its effectiveness and efficiency.

And appearing before the same Committee, Kapeso said the police service enjoyed its collaboration with the FIC, adding that the production of the Trends Report should continue in its current form.

“Since FIC and Zambia Police Service speak the same language, we share a common ground. We recommend that this co-existence between the Zambia Police Service and the Financial Intelligence Centre should be upheld and enhanced so that the law can delve into those that have got long fingers to get into government resources. In our quest to meet our obligations, we collaborate with many organizations and FIC is one of those organizations. Therefore, collaboration between the two organizations is mainly on the sharing of suspicious financial intelligence information during monthly review meetings to access joint performances or investigations,” said Kapeso.