THE habit of clamping down on people’s freedoms whenever the country is going towards elections is undemocratic and must be stopped, says former Attorney General Musa Mwenye State Counsel.

And Mwenye has observed that the government is spending so much money on surveilling citizens in compounds who do not even have access to clean drinking water and are submerged in floods.

Meanwhile, Mwenye has commended the government and the Zambia Police for arresting a fellow officer accused of shooting prosecutor Nsama Nsama and Joseph Kaunda on December 23 last year when UPND leader Hakainde Hichilema appeared for questioning at Force Headquarters in Lusaka.

Speaking when he featured on MUVI TV’s The Assignment program Sunday, Mwenye recalled that in 2016 government authorities shut down The Post newspaper, a few months before the election.

He added that the closure of Prime TV and suspension of broadcasting licences for other main stream media houses under the Lungu-led PF administration has pushed people to social media.

He wondered what had happened so drastic to necessitate the enactment of the Cyber Security Bill.

“The cyber security bill…we must ask ourselves what is it meant to do. Is it meant to enhance yours and my rights? Or is it taking away from our rights? If it is taking away from our rights, why? The rights that you and I have in this country were fought for. We need to know what is it that has happened that is so drastic that now we should be spied on in this way. I don’t see what has happened that justifies this move. I don’t see what it is that is big that requires this extra law with a lot of draconian provisions which can’t be handled in the pieces of legislation we have. People just chatting on WhatsApp? What is this irresponsibility that is so big? For me, misinformation is cured by more information; not by clamping down on people’s freedoms,” Mwenye said.

“This habit among us Zambians of clamping down on the freedoms of people and the media space whenever we are going into a major election is wrong and it must be stopped. In 2016 what happened in June? We closed The Post. The effects of that is that news decentralises, we are all reporters now. Social media is a platform through which Zambians inform each other on what is happening. Why should each and every Zambian be spied on in that way? I want to sympathise with the government but before I do that, I would like to know what is so drastic that has happened that should necessitate this draconian law? We have cameras in Lusaka now, all over the major roads, we have cameras in areas where there is no running water. The cost of those cameras could mostly cure those things. Why are we having came as in every area when we can build clinics when we can build more hospitals.”

When asked if he agreed with President Edgar Lungu’s remarks that the high cost of commodities was caused by economic sabotage perpetrated by the private sector, Mwenye said it was poor leadership to blame others for bad economic management.

“If there is economic sabotage, we must see tangible actions about it. I am not convinced that there is economic sabotage and the reason is simple, I left government in 2014, the dollar was at six kwacha. It is not such a long time ago. The dollar right now is at K 21.4 to US$1. When I left the government, President Michael Sata inherited US$2.3 billion in reserves. When I was leaving government, that government left to this government US$3.2 billion. There is about slightly above US$ 1 billion in our reserves. So the fundamentals are easy to tell, statistics don’t lie, figures don’t lie. If price increases are happening, it must be because something fundamental has gone wrong in our economy. Let us reduce the interest rates or at least explain why the exchange rate has also gone high. We have problems with inflation now,” Mwenye said.

“I think what is important is for us to hear what the government is doing about it. We can’t have every time that there is something that has happened, we blame others. The government is in a position, so the back stops at you the leaders. If there is economic sabotage, the government must do something about it so as a citizen, as a person who is affected by high prices, what I would rather hear from His Excellency the President and his government is what they are doing about the economic sabotage We don’t want to hear from our aspiring candidates and those who rule over us excuses few months before the elections. We must learn as Zambians to take some of the blame… If the exchange rate goes haywire ‘there are some opposition sympathisers within the Central Bank who are jeopardising it’. If prices go up, ‘it is business people who are committing economic sabotage’, but the buck stops at the desks of our leaders. They are the ones we elected, we didn’t elect business people. I don’t want to believe that the President has no economic understanding, that would frighten me. I don’t want to believe that. What I can speak to is that the economic fundamentals are not where they should be,” he said.

Mwenye noted that the economy could not grow when cadres were given too much prominence.

“You cannot grow when the technocrats are not free to do what they are ought to do. You cannot grow when cadres are more powerful than even the police, the walk in police stations and beat up police officers. you can’t go when the best contractors cannot be given a job. You cannot grow an economy when you have over priced contracts. You can’t grow an economy when you have Honeybee having US$17 million. In my time as Attorney General there would have never been a time where a contract of that magnitude could ever be given to a single person,” Mwenye explained.

“Our economy is a reflection of our integrity in government systems. You can’t have the level of leakages that we have had in our economy and expect the economy to grow; expect the dollar rate to stabilise, you can’t! This economy cannot be fixed until we plug the leakages. We are pouring water into a basket, a reed basket which is porous, it’s leaking. So for as long as those leakages are there, you can’t begin to grow the economy. Let us bring back integrity in the management of government contracts, let us bring back prudence in the spending of government money, there is a bit of wastefulness. Not everything is well in this country and our government will do well to listen to us.”

Mwenye commended government for arresting the police officer who allegedly killed state prosecutor Nsama Nsama and Joseph Kaunda.

“We need to be fair and commend the government when they do the right thing. We have seen them acting on the killing of Nsama Nsama Chipyoka and Joseph Kaunda. And the police officer has been arrested and we need to commend the government. Every Zambian life should be preserved. I will commend the police for holding one of theirs to account. We must commend everyone involved, the Inspector General of police and His Excellency the President. When the right thing is done, we must commend the government,” he said.

Meanwhile, Mwenye said a person who has twice held office was not eligible to hold office.

“If you have noticed, I have veered away from talking about it. I chose not to talk about it. All I can tell you is that I have read the constitution and it is very clear. The specific article talks about a person who has been twice sworn in office not being eligible to stand. ‘Twice held office’ that is the word. And as far as I am concerned the only exception that is there in that clause is with regards to a sitting Vice-President who takes over and the reason is very clear. The constitution is clear a person who has twice held office is not eligible to contest the presidency again. And the only exception is with regards to a Vice-President who finishes the term of the sitting president without going into an election. If that Vice-President’s term was less than three years they are eligible to contest and the reason for that is self-evident,” said Mwenye.