CONSTITUTIONAL Lawyer John Sangwa, State Counsel, says Zambians should begin to interrogate the character of leaders ahead of next year’s general elections.

And Sangwa says Zambia has not been blessed with good leaders.

Meanwhile, the prominent lawyer says Zambia is a train in motion that needs to be fixed while it is moving.

Speaking at the virtual Levy Mwanawasa public lecture, Friday, Sangwa said people should not focus on political parties but on the track record of individuals contesting leadership positions.

“I think it is a very important concept that good men and not good laws make good governance. The laws are as good as the people themselves. If you place emphasis on the good men, a good person will not engage in corruption, not because the law says don’t steal, or do not get bribed but because it is just not in him to accept bribes,” Sangwa said.

“A good leader, a good person will respect the law because it is in him to respect the law. Now these are issues that I think we have forgotten along the way. What we need to do I think when we are looking at the elections next year, look at the character of the person, who is he? Which is what we don’t do. We just get excited because there is a particular candidate that is sponsored by a political party, we just vote. The problem…is that leadership cannot make you a better person. In fact, when you are given power, what that power does is that it brings out what is already in you. If you are a criminal, that criminality becomes more evident when you have that opportunity to have power. These are things that we forget. If you have been a womaniser all your life, when you have power, that becomes your main focus.”

And Sangwa said the country has generally not had good leaders since independence.

“So if you have been a good human being all along, that will be manifested when you are given an opportunity to lead. I think for me, if you were to tell me what we should look for in 2021 in order to address the challenges of the past, this is what we should be looking for. People may not agree how we have ended up where we are, 56 years after independence. My conclusion is whereas we have been blessed with so many natural resources and everything else, we have not been blessed with good leaders. And I am saying this generally. We need to interrogate people that offer themselves for leadership,” he said.

When asked how people could overcome the challenges of leadership, Sangwa said there was a need to focus on strengthening institutions of governance.

“…in the last 50 years of independence, no leader has ever strengthened the institutions of government. All of them, in one way or the other, have found a way to weaken the institutions of government and that is why we find ourselves where we are because when you make a mistake of putting a bad leader, the institutions should come in and be able to contain him but unfortunately, our institutional capacity is not existent because everything seems to ride on the name of President,” he said.

“Going forward, it is not about focusing on choosing the right people; it is also making sure that we embark on a deliberate exercise to strengthen the various institutions of governance to make sure that there is proper oversight in these institutions, but unfortunately, we have failed in this regard. We need to focus on good people to take up leadership. Zambia is a train in motion, you can’t stop it and say ‘let’s fix this’. This has to be done at the same time as damage is being done to the country and nobody is going to wait for us; this is something that has to be tackled simultaneously.”

When asked if there was need to get leaders who were willing to reduce their own powers in order to build institutions, Sangwa said President Lungu did not read the amended 2016 Constitution of Zambia which had reduced presidential powers for the first time.

“That is why I was elated in 2016 and I applauded President Lungu when he signed that 2016 amendment to the Constitution because for the first time, you saw the powers of the presidency being reduced but now the only conclusion I reach is probably he did not read that document,” he said.

And Sangwa said Mwanawasa embarked on a campaign to deal with corruption when he assumed office.

“Let me start by acknowledging the fact that I had an opportunity to interact with the late president Levy Mwanawasa primarily as a legal practitioner and also those who have long memories will remember that soon after he assumed office of president, he embarked on a campaign to deal with the issues of corruption which saw his predecessor being arrested and charged on several counts of corruption and I was one of the lawyers that spent years defending former president Frederick Chiluba. So I was privileged to be on the other side of the equation as opposed to the other side that represented the President…,” he said.

Meanwhile, Sangwa said there was no leadership in the county to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“And as it has been demonstrated in this country, what we have seen is the fact that in my assessment of the situation, the law as it exists was not adequate to deal with the virus issue that we have and some people were up in arms. I have spent all my life advocating for the life and freedoms, defending the rights and freedoms of people and here, I was advocating for a declaration of a state of emergency,” said Sangwa.

“…A proper leader will make it his primary obligation that the welfare of the people becomes his primary priority. And that becomes the guiding principle but unfortunately, we don’t have that kind of leadership. A leader is supposed to set aside his own interest and put the interest of the people first and unfortunately, we haven’t witnessed that in this current situation.”