FINANCE Minister Dr Bwalya Ng’andu says government will endeavor to prioritize and increase the budgetary allocation and disbursements to the Financial Intelligence Centre (FIC) as a way of encouraging their work.

And Dr Ng’andu says government, through his Ministry, will during this session of Parliament table a Bill with amendments to the FIC Act Number 46 of 2010 to make it mandatory for law enforcement agencies to act on matters referred to them by the FIC.

Speaking when Parliament considered a report of the Committee on Cabinet Affairs for the fourth session of the 12th National Assembly, Wednesday, Dr Ng’andu said government appreciated the important role which FIC played in combating financial crimes.

“Mr Speaker, the House may wish to note that there is a strong link between corruption and money laundering. In order to effectively fight corruption, the FIC collaborates with ACC. The collaboration between the two institutions is as provided for in the Section 533A, which provided (for) cooperation and exchange of information with law enforcement agencies. Further, the cooperation is enhanced between the two institutions through a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU). The government, through the Ministry of Finance, will during this session of Parliament table a Bill with amendments to the FIC Act Number 46 of 2010, which incorporates the recommendation to make it mandatory for law enforcement agencies or competent authorities to act on a matter referred to them by the FIC and report on the progress and outcome of matters referred to them by center,” said Dr Ng’andu.

“Government appreciates the important role that the FIC plays in combating crimes, including corruption, and as such, through the Ministry of Finance, we will endeavor to increase the budgetary allocation and disbursements to the FIC. We will ensure that funding to the Centre is prioritized, among other competing needs. Mr Speaker, the government, in conjunction with the Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of Justice, shall through the Anti-Money Laundering Authority coordinate the capacitation of law enforcement agencies and asset forfeiture unit prosecutions authority in order to ensure that Zambia prioritizes the pursuit of criminal proceeds, combat corruption and financial crimes using financial intelligence gathered by the FIC.”

And speaking earlier, mover of the motion, who is also Mongu Central UPND member of parliament Mwilola Imakando, observed that there was need for a national policy framework in dealing with domestic cooperation and coordination on matters on terrorist financing.

Imakando added that the Committee also noted a lack of an anti-money laundering/countering the financing of terrorism strategy and policy after reviewing the submissions of stakeholders, who appeared before the Committee.

“The Committee, therefore, urges the government to expedite the finalization of anti-money laundering/countering the financing terrorism strategy and policy as this will ensure that key money laundering and terrorist financing risks are addressed. The Committee expresses worry over the provision in the FIC Act that allows FIC to request for feedback on the progress of an investigation or report that was shared with the law enforcement agencies or competent authorities. This is because the Act does not place an obligation or duty on such a law enforcement agency or competent authority to act on a matter referred to it by the FIC. If this continues, it will weaken the effectiveness of FIC. The Committee, therefore, strongly recommends that the government should ensure that the law is amended to make it mandatory for law enforcement agencies to act on matters referred to them by the FIC and report on the progress and the outcomes of matters referred to them by the FIC,” Imakando said.

Imakando also observed that funding to the FIC was inadequate to enable it carry out its duties effectively.

“This also affects the organization of other activities, such as the recruitment of employees and undertaking sensitization or public awareness campaigns. In this regard, the Committee recommends that there should be increased funding to the FIC to enable it carry out its mandate effectively. The fight against financial crimes is very sophisticated and it requires specialized skill and continued training. Therefore, the need for more funding cannot be over-emphasized. A well-funded intelligence centre will be able to provide an actionable financial intelligence report,” said Imakando.

And Luangeni PF member of parliament Charles Zulu, who seconded the motion, encouraged the FIC to do a lot more marketing about their work so that people could know who they are.

“The stakeholders submitted that there is no coordination between the law enforcement agencies and FIC and this brings about problems between the FIC and law enforcement agencies like the police, the Drug Enforcement Commission, ACC. The other problem we found is that FIC does not inform the public adequately so that the public knows what they are there for. So, FIC should do a bit more in selling themselves so that people are aware of their role in this country,” advised Zulu.

Meanwhile, Ikeleng’i member of parliament UPND Elijah Muchima argued that there was no problem with the existence of the FIC, but that heavy political interference was what needed to be dealt with.

“Time has come now for the government to stand firm on its position, whether this institution is required or not. The report has revealed that Zambia needs this report, what is not needed is political interference. We have a lot of institutions that we have established, they should not be cut and paste. We should be going into depth into achieving realism. We establish institutions, but at the same time, these institutions are being used for political expediency, this should stop! FIC has investigated some cases, given to other agencies, but these agencies have remained mute. This is discouraging the effort of the officers, who have been mandated to investigate cases. We need to revisit the law so that the FIC is given more powers. Indeed, there is very little difference between corruption and money laundering,” said Muchima.

“In Zambia, when there is a small issue concerning an opposition member, law enforcers are very quick to arrest and detain! But when it comes to real issues that are denting the image of the country, those cases are not even investigated. But we should be together in fighting corruption as a country, it should not be one-sided where only opposition members are to suffer, but those in the ruling party are kings and queens. This, Mr Speaker, should be condemned.”

And Home Affairs Minister Stephen Kampyongo informed the House that government had no intention of merging the FIC with the Drug Enforcement Commission (DEC) because the institution was operating competently on its own.

“What we need to strengthen is the collaboration between institutions because intelligence information will still remain intelligence information and it can only be shared to the authorities that are able to competently utilize that information and avoid the risk of people starting to speculate. I think the challenge some of the investigative wings have had is this aspect where the information they are supposed to work on in terms of investigating is already in the public domain and maybe the suspects they are supposed to pursue are already alerted. So, these are things that we need to apply our minds to in order to make this institution effective and perform its functions. Mr Speaker, on our part as government, we look at this institution with law enforcement agencies as a glove and a punch in a boxing ring because they need one another in order for them to pursue these cases and protect this country. There is need to make sure that they follow the movement of finances and they affiliate to other institutions that are beyond borders,” said Kampyongo.

“So, we are not in any way going to combine the work of FIC with that of the Drug Enforcement Commission. We at Home Affairs are very happy with the fact that the person, who is at the helm of this institution is a product of DEC, who we groomed and we are happy with the work that is being done. So, we need to collaborate and just make sure that this institution operates competently without being drawn in public ridicule.”