POLICE Spokesperson Esther Katongo says the service cannot not arrest Higher Education Minister Brian Mushimba and Lusaka Province Minister Bowman Lusambo for defying the COVID-19 guidelines because there is no law which mandates them to do so.
And Katongo says political party leaders should advise their cadres against threatening police officers with job losses because it disturbs them in carrying out their duties.
Meanwhile, Katongo says people’s confidence in police hasn’t crumbled, it is just diminishing.
Speaking when she appeared on Diamond TV’s Diamond Break programme, Thursday, Katongo said a number of people had been holding gatherings without getting arrested.
When asked why they could not arrest Lusambo and Mushimba, Katongo said there was no law to cite when they took them to court.
“We see a lot of such gatherings and we have not arrested anyone so why should the police just move in on those? It is not about the office someone is holding, it is about being fair to everyone and doing the right thing. For us, we could not move in because we are looking at the laws which are regulating such at the moment. Is there any law that we are going to cite when we take this matter to court? It is not matter of ‘ba police come here, you go’, no,” Katongo said.
“With COVID-19, it’s a pity that everything is lumped on the police. When you look at regulation number 2 of the SI number 22, it gives authority to certain offices to enforce those regulations and when you read regulations number two, it brings out those in the health sector and those in the local authority and they are called authorised officers. Just like in the Public Order Act, we have got regulating officers. So in the SI, there are what they call authorised officers and when you go to interpretation, of who an authorized officer is, the police is not there. So when we got on board, when His Excellency said the police officers should also get on board to help prevent this, we were working as a team with the Ministry of Health and those from the local authority because those are the authorized officers and they are the ones who are supposed to make judgment to say ‘here we need to do this’ and ourselves we were backing those two institutions.”
She said police could only move in on those flouting covid regulations if invited by the Ministry of Health and other institutions charged with that responsibility.
“We could not go alone without the presence of these authorized officers. When you come to the regulations on gatherings, I think you do remember at the point when the Minster of Health, that time Dr Chitalu Chilufya, was giving updates, he said these measures are scalable, they can be scaled up or scaled down. So it doesn’t mean that what you see on paper is what will be there, no. If the Ministry of Health or local government see something and they want help, and say people there is this situation come and help us, then we help them [because] they have to come to us. Those are experts, the guidance that was given to us was that public gatherings should be there but without a number, we were not given a number. But what was given was as long as they follow the guidelines. We cannot act alone until the experts themselves involve us,” she said.
“That is what brings problems remember last time the officers moved in and the law was not very clear, officers were moving on their own, you heard the noise that came and if people just want to move in any situation that is what brings a lot of sentiments against the police saying this and people will be saying they have lost confidence in the police. So we have to work within the confines of the law. So we have to be engaged by those in authority. Because going to arrest people which law are we going to use?”
And Katongo said officers were often threatened with dismissals or transfers by political party cadres.
“You see what happens is, dealing with a cadre, you will hear all sorts of language ‘ey we are going to make sure that you are going to be fired’ so who would want to lose their job? So others they feel threatened; and not threatened that they can’t deal with that person, they are threatened because they are going to lose their job so political leaders should also talk to their cadres to stop intimidating police officers under the guise that our officers are going to be fired. And also those in the opposition stop courting our officers and intimidating our officers because others will say when we come into power you are gone, we are going to lose your job and I have been threatened before and other officers are told the same thing. Those in the ruling party say ‘you will see, you will be transferred,’” she said.
Meanwhile, when asked if she agreed that the public had lost confidence in the Zambia Police, she denied.
“No I don’t agree because even when His Excellency was talking, he said you bring back the eroding, eroding means there is confidence and that confidence is going down. So it has not crumbled to the ground. So when you hear people always talking about negatives and talking the loudest it may not be the reflection of what everyone is thinking about,” she said.
On ECL 021 number plates, Katongo said police had arrested a few people in connection to the same.
“The situations are seen and in some instances, you would find officers have acted. So if there are complaints that the police have not acted then it’s unfortunate. I remember last time when Mr Nelson Phiri was still Commissioner for Lusaka Province I had gone to the division and those vehicles are parked there when they were impounded, there were two vehicles which had the ECL number plates parked where they call ‘the wire’ and you know it is only that this is a traffic offence which has some connection to a political party that is why there is a lot of outcry. In an instance where an officer impounds such a vehicle, they just need to pay a certain amount of money, admission of guilt fine then they will be told to remove that number plate,” said Katongo.