GOVERNANCE activist Rueben Lifuka has called on the Judiciary to take stock of the conduct of the courts in handling corruption related cases, including those bordering on economic and financial crimes.
And Transparency International Zambia (TIZ) executive director Maurice Nyambe says having a specialized court to deal with economic and financial crimes will not only speed up the prosecution of such cases, but will potentially allow the Judiciary to develop expertise in those types of crimes.
On Monday,Chief Justice Dr Mumba Malila announced that Economic and Financial Crimes Court would soon be operational.
Commenting on this in a response to a press query, Lifuka said the success of these courts would depend on the calibre, competency and integrity of the Judges and judicial officers assigned to it.
“The announcement by the Chief Justice of the proposed establishment of the Economic and Financial Crimes division of the High Court, is a very welcome and noble idea. The global challenges presented by economic and financial crises and the sophistication of financial markets and economies, requires that a new mechanism of dealing with criminal justice is put in place. The remit of this specialised division should be broad enough and cover different aspects of asset recovery, illicit enrichment, environmental crimes among others,” he said.
The success of this division will depend to a large extent on the calibre, competency and integrity of the Judges and judicial officers assigned to it. The professional and individual standing of the judges will be important, we cannot afford to have judicial officers with questions about their character and conduct serving on the specialized court. We need judicial officers, who in both professional and personal conduct, reflect the highest standards that the Chief Justice is proposing to see in the judiciary. It is extremely important that only Judges and officers with the requisite qualifications and experiences are assigned to this division. Public confidence in this court is important if the vision of the Chief Justice and the new administration, is to be attained.”
He said the new division should not inherit the inefficiencies and inadequacies of the current set up in handling economic and financial crimes.
“Further, the judiciary under the able leadership of the Chief Justice, should first and foremost take stock of the conduct of the courts thus far, in handling corruption related cases including those bordering on economic and financial crimes. There are immense concerns at the delays in processing cases and the quality of the judgments with many disparities in the sentencing and general sanctions for crimes committed. The new division should not inherit the inefficiencies and inadequacies of the current set up in handling economic and financial crimes. This should be a new start and one premised on the bigger picture of reducing these sorts of crimes,” Lifuka said.
Lifuka said there was need for government to address relevant improvements in the investigation and prosecution of economic and financial crimes.
“To complement the new development in the judiciary, it is important that government equally addresses relevant improvements in the investigation and prosecution of economic and financial crimes and this may require the introduction of new investigative measures and strengthening or in some instances, creating specialized investigating and prosecuting units in the respective government authorities. We inevitably need to refine and strengthen our current laws and regulations to take into account new local and global developments in investigation and prosecution of economic and financial crimes. The Ministry of Justice should take the lead and propose not only how the legislative drafting plan will include key laws for reforms, but how the public consultations will be conducted. The new changes should have the full endorsement of the public and outreach activities are inevitable,” he said.
He said it would be unfortunate if the cases brought before this specialized court were poorly investigated and prosecuted.
“It is vital that the UPND government has a comprehensive strategy which pulls together all these initiatives like the creation of the Economic and Financial crimes division. We need further and wholesale judicial reforms and this is long overdue. The judiciary needs further support in terms of infrastructure and technological developments as part of modernizing this important arm of government,” said Lifuka.
“It is necessary to complement this division with capacity development and increased financial support to the Anti Corruption Commission, DEC, Financial Intelligence Center, the Office of the Public Prosecutor and Zambia Police. It will be a travesty of justice if the cases brought before this specialized court are poorly investigated and prosecuted. We have an opportunity to start strong and change the trajectory of the way we have handled corruption, economic and financial crimes in this country.”
And Nyambe said the establishment of the fast track courts would allow the Judiciary to develop broader knowledge in financial crimes.
“The recent history of our fight against corruption is littered with examples of cases that take forever to be concluded or that simply fall off at some point as they go through the lengthy processes that typically characterize our judicial system. Having a specialized court to deal with economic and financial crimes will not only speed up the prosecution of such cases, but will potentially allow the judiciary to develop greater expertise in those types of crimes specifically. It is encouraging to see the Judiciary pulling their weight in this respect, and we would like to commend Dr Malila for this progressive initiative. Our hope is that once the court is operational, it will be given the necessary logistical and financial support to be effective, and that its mere existence will serve as a deterrent to all those public officials who have intentions of committing economic and financial crimes against the people of Zambia,” said Nyambe.