CONSTITUTIONAL lawyer John Sangwa, State Counsel, says President Edgar Lungu’s corruption fight is a joke and that his defence for not firing Health Minister Dr Chitalu Chilufya makes him sound like the minister’s lawyer rather than the Head of State.
And Sangwa says President Lungu’s advisors should not be blamed for the mess in the country but the Head State himself because he is the one Zambians elected to manage the affairs of the country.
Meanwhile, Sangwa has advised the ruling Patriotic Front to hire a crowd to boo opposition UPND leader Hakainde Hichilema if they are still aggrieved by the booing incident that happened to President Lungu when he visited Monze, as opposed to criminalizing the issue.
Speaking when he featured on Muvi Television’s The Assignment programme, Sunday night, Sangwa charged that President Lungu’s argument on why he had not fired Dr Chilufya was misguided.
He said he did not think President Lungu was serious about fighting corruption.
“What is even sad is the subsequent argument by the President, which was basically a misguided argument to say presumption of innocence and so forth. First of all, it’s even wrong; it is not the job of State House to give legal opinions. If anything, if there was to be any legal statement made, that should have come possibly from the Attorney General, not from State House. I mean it’s like the President is now acting as the minister’s lawyer, arguing a case for the minister, you don’t do that. The President is the Head of State; he is looking at the interest of each and every person, he doesn’t need to show support or favour for one person. We are not saying that when you resign, then you are guilty and that’s what that misleading statement from State House was trying to suggest that if he (Chitalu Chilufya) resigns, then we are saying he’s guilty, nonsense! That’s not what the law says. It is simply a requirement because the whole essence of justice is all about perception,” Sangwa said.
“Can you tell me; there is this young magistrate trying to adjudicate. Are you saying this magistrate will feel free to freely adjudicate on this matter? Because clearly, there is already a signal sent that this minister standing before me has the backing of the Head of State. Now do you really believe that this magistrate will not have those issues at the back of his mind? Of course he will. [So] President Lungu’s fight against corruption is a joke, that’s how I would describe it. I don’t think he’s serious about fighting corruption, he’s not.”
He said the moral thing to do for a minister charged with corruption was to resign.
“In a normal functioning system…the moment the minister was under investigations, two things would have happened: the minister on his own accord, he ought to have resigned and if he was not willing to resign, then the President should have relieved him of his responsibilities. When we say you resign or you are relieved of your duties, we are not saying you are guilty, the reason you resign is that when you are a minister, it is a position of trust. But when the ACC come to arrest you and they even make a decision to arrest you, they are basically saying that ‘we have investigated you and we have established that there is reason to believe you have committed an offence’,” Sangwa said. “Now when you are being prosecuted, you are being prosecuted by the people of Zambia. So when you are serving as minister while under prosecution, it becomes a contradiction. So to avoid that contradiction, what do you do? You resign. The other point is that when you are facing criminal charges, these are very serious matters because you can go to jail. Unless you believe that the entire arrest and prosecution is a sham and the system is already rigged and you know that you will be acquitted at the end of the day, then there is reason for you not to take it seriously. But any reasonable person facing criminal charges, the first thing that will be there is for that person to focus. They ought to resign so that they focus on defending themselves because these are serious charges.”
He said a minister served at the pleasure of the President and could be removed anytime for any reason or for none.
“You are there to serve the people, that is why we are saying for you to give integrity and legitimacy to the whole process, you resign. In any case, why would you cling on to any office? Are you the only one capable of performing the function of Minister of Health in the Republic? Of course not, but the point is this; these are all examples of lawlessness,” Sangwa said.
And commenting on the foreign road construction pictures that were posted on President Lungu’s Facebook page, the prominent lawyer said such a mistake should not be blamed on the State House advisors because the Head of State could fire them if they were not good at the job.
“Advisors don’t get elected; it’s the President who gets elected. So the mandate ultimately is with the President. Therefore, whatever happens at the end of the day, the buck stops with the President. So when you try to blame the advisors then you are simply avoiding the issue, the culprit is the President because at the end of the day, we don’t even know maybe they may even have advised. The President is not bound to his advisors; ultimately, it is his decision because he chose those advisors. So if they are failing him, then he himself has failed in terms of his own judgment. And the President doesn’t always take what he’s told, at the end of the day he has to make his own judgment call. This has nothing to do with the advisors; you can’t blame the mess that is going on in the country on the advisors, you have to blame the President because he’s the one in charge,” Sangwa said.
He also encouraged the ruling PF members to hire a crowd to boo Hichilema if they did not appreciate the booing of President Lungu in Monze as opposed to threatening violence.
“If you have reduced the booing of the President to a political party issue, what stops PF from organizing if they have identified that the leader of the opposition is the culprit? Why can’t they arrange also to boo him? They can do that if they have the following and they can manage to rent some crowd here and there. It is so easy to rent a crowd in this country anyway. Of course it’s not nice to be booed, but is there a law that was broken? There was no law that was broken. You expect such things in the political arena. There is a reason some of us are not in the political arena because we don’t have a thick skin. So when you get in the political arena, expect such things, but if you can’t stomach it then get out of the political arena. So my point is that it’s not an offense to boo someone but if it is an offense then let the people be arrested,” Sangwa said.
He further condemned some PF ministers who were threatening to block Hichilema from entering some parts of Zambia following the Monze incident, saying it was impossible to run a country through threats.
“You have other people saying that leader of opposition will not be allowed to go to Northern Province, what have we become? That’s madness! What’s sad here is that you have ministers threatening violence and asking people not to go to certain parts of the country. Nobody owns Zambia, we own Zambia together. And the police know that it is actually an offense to threaten violence but those ministers have not been called to the police and have them warned that they have no right to threaten violence against other citizens, for me that is the saddest thing. You can’t run a country through threats; you run a country by providing convincing arguments why things should not be done, why things should only be done this way and not the other way,” said Sangwa, who also expressed shock at the billboards mounted around the country in support of the Constitution Amendment No. 10 of 2019, describing them as “crazy and complete nonsense”.