FORMER Attorney General Musa Mwenye SC says there is no political will to fight corruption in the country, “especially from the highest office”.
And Mwenye says it is wrong for government to award a US$17 million contract to an individual, warning that the State stands to lose if such an individual died.
Meanwhile, Mwenye says it is questionable that the presumption of innocence until proven guilty only applies to ministers, while civil servants whom they lead are presumed guilty when facing criminal investigations.
Speaking when he featured on Diamond TV’s Costa programme, Sunday, Mwenye said political will was the main ingredient needed for the country to fight corruption.
“You can’t fight corruption in a cosmetic manner. The most important ingredient in the fight against corruption is political will and political will is shown at the highest level and in a very clear manner; you can’t send mixed signals. In one breath, you are saying that we are fighting corruption and we are committed to it, in the other, you are saying the minister who is accused of abusing the office he is serving in can continue to serve…What message are we sending? The messaging is very clear, in this country there is no political will to fight corruption, and I think that’s just very clear. I get into trouble sometimes because I am a bit clear on these issues. Categorically, I can say to you, there is no political will to fight corruption,” Mwenye said.
He said although the country was fighting COVID-19, corruption was the biggest pandemic which the country was facing.
“You are dealing with COVID-19 with respect of hand sanitisers and so on, the biggest pandemic we have here is corruption, that’s a big problem. You cannot have the kind of leakages that we are having in this country. You can’t harass police officers who are on the road block getting corruption money to buy bread, which is indefensible by the way, but then you are not fighting this grand corruption and when the FIC, which is a government institution, highlights these things, you go after them with such venom and call for their blood. Why? They are simply highlighting suspected corrupt transactions.
Mwenye observed that corruption was a security issue which could destabilise the country if left unchecked.
“Corruption is a security issue. These corrupt individuals become so powerful that they can destabilise a nation and that is what we don’t realise. They can destabilize a nation to an extent where the corrupt now start dictating what policy should be done and where it should be done and they become a security threat. You cannot allow a situation where people can just do whatever they want with respect to government resources and government contracts. It’s completely unacceptable and it starts with me as an individual, when I served in government, at the end of the day, I should avail myself to openness. If you are not willing to be open about what you have and how you got it, don’t serve in government, that’s why is called public service,” Mwenye said.
And Mwenye wondered why government could award a US$17 million contract to an individual, saying this was something he never allowed during his time in office as Attorney General.
He was referring to a case where the ministry awarded a US$17 million medical supply tender to an individual businessman called Imran Lunat, a tender which the incumbent Attorney General said he approved.
“The procurement system is only as strong as the people who insist on observing the rules. We have just heard that an individual was given a contract for millions of dollars. When have you ever heard, Costa, that Musa Mwenye as an individual was given a contract as Musa Mwenye for millions of dollars? As I know it, procurement procedure is that a company should have been in existence for a certain number of years, that they should have some bank statements, they should give certain documents. I have not, in my time in government, I can’t recall an individual, other than those who can’t form corporate entities like lawyers; the Attorney General will appoint lawyers to work for the government because the law doesn’t allow us to have corporate entities, but I can’t remember endorsing the grant of a contract to an individual. So for me, it maybe new procedure, it maybe things that we haven’t seen yet, maybe new law but it’s just something that never happened in government, it’s a new thing to some of us.”
“What if the individual dies three days after receiving that advance? What happens? That is the reason why you give to an established company that has a track record because a company is more than one individual,” Mwenye said.
He said it is naïve to suggest that Ministers had no hand in procurement just because they do not sit in procurement committees.
“It is extremely naïve to suggest that a politician who heads any ministry cannot interfere in a procurement of a contract. They may not sit [in procurement committees] but it is naïve to suggest that they don’t interfere. You know Costa, even we were in government ourselves, sometimes there would be a contract on our table being reviewed by us in those offices and there would be phone calls, what is happening with this, it’s just that we stood our ground and said this can’t happen and if this continues, we have to report it’. There is interference that happens, let’s not beat about the bush and be less than transparent in these things. It is not inconceivable for a minister to pick up the phone and prevail upon a junior officer to do certain things in a certain way, you know, without leaving finger prints,” he said.
Meanwhile, the former Attorney General wondered why civil servants were suspended when being investigated while ministers were kept in office even after arrest.
“So the civil servants who are suspended whenever they are charged with a criminal offence are not presumed innocent? Why are we presuming them guilty if we follow that argument? The truth of the matter is that the civil servants, whenever a civil servant is charged with a criminal offence, they are put on suspension. Let’s talk about morality, Costa if any of your employees here is accused of stealing anything from this organisation, will you let them continue working? It’s just illogical for me. How do you lead the public service as ministers and you have this Animal Farm arrangement where the civil servants are suspended or removed for these criminal allegations and then you have the people who are leading them not walking the talk. What message are you sending to these people who you are presiding over? How serious are we in fighting graft? We know that ministers were charged under Micheal Sata, they were fired.., of course we were giving that advice but he himself also was convinced that that is the right thing to do. World over, you don’t have a minister who is facing graft charges continuing to serve,” said Mwenye.
“How do you keep ministers in office while they are facing these serious criminal charges and you are having officers having to investigate these people from those official offices where the accused are using those offices, does it even make sense? No one is saying when they step aside then they are guilty”