MINISTRY of Defence Permanent Secretary Sturdy Mwale is accountable to the public and he is wrong to be dismissive of queries regarding published photographs exposing his links with questionable characters, says Transparency International Zambia (TI-Z) president Rueben Lifuka.

On Monday, Mwale said he did not need to dig deeper into understanding the questionable character of people he was found with and that there was nothing wrong with him taking pictures with Belarusian businessman Alexander Zingman.

But responding to a press query, Lifuka insisted that government had an obligation to appraise the general public on the story behind its interactions with the international business community.

“Public officials like PS Mwale are accountable to the general public and it is wrong, therefore, for him to be dismissive of queries from the media regarding the photographs recently published. Like we have previously stated, government has an obligation to appraise the general public on the story behind its interactions with the international business community. On numerous occasions, government has publicly announced the visit of international companies that would like to do business with the Zambian people and we do not see why this particular visit(s) should be an exception. The government should not wait for media exposes before availing information to the public on such engagements. Again, we reiterate, clear and unvarnished truth is needed on these and any other business arrangements that Zambia has entered into with the Belarusian company or any other for that matter,” Lifuka stated.

“This is the best way to avoid speculation and innuendos of any unsavoury conduct on behalf of all those involved. We want to remind PS Mwale and all others occupying public office that yours is a daily requirement to serve with distinction and honour at all time, and the general public will make no apologies for holding you to the highest standards of professionalism and integrity. You are not doing the Zambian people a favour for serving in this position, instead, you should consider it a great honour for having been appointed from among many other equally or better qualified persons to serve the interests of this and future generations of Zambians.”

Lifuka said individuals who were privileged to occupy public office should refrain from abusing their temporal power for private gain.

“TIZ has read the statement made by the Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Defence – Mr Sturdy Mwale – with a sense of trepidation at the casual and flippant manner that he made his response to a press query without any regard to the possible chaos that would befall this country if all those serving in public service, including those in sensitive positions in public procurement, equally adopted this same carefree attitude. We wish to react to this statement as follows: both elected and appointed public officials like PS Mwale discharge their functions not for themselves or their appointing authority, but on behalf of the Zambian people,” Lifuka added.

“These are positions of trust and everything possible should be done not to betray the public trust for any reason whatsoever. Individuals who are privileged to occupy these positions should refrain from abusing the power and authority clothed in these offices for private gain. Abuse of office is broad in its definition and includes trading or peddling in influence, cronyism and patronage, among others. We have no cause to doubt that PS Mwale fully understands the sensitive and strategic portfolio that he occupies and the enormous expectations of the public that controlling officers like him, will discharge their functions with dignity, decorum and to the highest standards of personal and professional integrity.”

He noted that Mwale was free to choose whoever he wanted to associate with, but not at the expense of discharging public functions and expectations.

“While PS Mwale can be at large in choosing whoever he wants to associate with in his personal life, he has no such latitude when it comes to discharging public functions and the expectation is that he will at all times satisfy himself that those that he comes into contact with, have no ulterior motive to serve other than public interests. The company that the PS Mwale keeps – both in his private and professional life – are proxy indicators of his integrity outlook. It is our understanding that PS Mwale is equally subject to the Government’s Code of Ethics for the Public Service and in that document, integrity is defined as ‘putting the obligations of the Public Service above one’s personal interests, and conducting oneself in a manner that is beyond reproach.’ Further, the Code of Ethics is instructive as it behoves those in public service to discharge their functions with honesty and avoid situations in which their private interests conflict, or might reasonably be perceived to conflict, with the impartial fulfilment of their official duties and the public interest,” he added.

Lifuka, however, welcomed Mwale’s openness to be subjected to a lifestyle audit.

“We want to thank PS Mwale for his openness to subject himself to a lifestyle audit and it is our desire that all public officials, including the ZAF Commander, will be as responsive to the audit as the PS. It now remains up to the relevant authorities, including Financial Intelligence Centre, DEC and ACC to take PS Mwale on his offer and urgently conduct the lifestyle audit – this should set a standard for other officials to follow,” stated Lifuka.