FORMER Attorney General Musa Mwenye has insisted that asset recovery exercise should not be the sole focus of the fight against corruption, saying the punishment for those who engage in the vice must be painful.

In an interview, Mwenye said government could not fight corruption by only asking criminals to surrender what they stole.

“The fight against corruption is a serious fight. Those who steal millions of dollars from the people of Zambia are very rich and they have the ability to destabilize a nation like ours. We cannot fight corruption in a half hearted manner. I have always been of the view that asset recovery should not be the sole focus of the fight against corruption. You cannot fight corruption by asking criminals to bring back what they stole only. Where is the punishment in that? If I steal K1 and I bring back the same K1 what have I lost? What pain am I suffering? The K1 wasn’t mine in the first place, so nothing will prevent me from stealing again. If other would-be criminals see that I have just been asked to give back the money, will they be scared to steal? The punishment for proven corruption must be painful!” he exclaimed.

Mwenye recalled that during Levy Mwanawasa’s tenure, a number of security chiefs, permanent secretaries, secretaries to the treasury were convicted.

“I have heard some people say that previous fights against corruption didn’t produce anything! That is simply not true. Under late president Mwanawasa, MHSRIP, a lot of defense and security chiefs were convicted, businessmen were convicted, permanent Secretaries and secretaries to the treasury were convicted and many others. A lot of those officials who were convicted served under late president Chiluba, MHSRIP, and are still alive. Some are prominent journalists and they will tell you that they served prison sentences. Properties were recovered as part of the prosecution, flats in Brussels, in Europe, properties here in Zambia and even shares in companies,” he said.

Mwenye said it was unfair that poor people who committed lesser offences were sent to prison while those who engaged in grand corruption were simply asked to pay back.

“So it is very unfair that poor people who steal chickens because they are hungry are sent to prison while those who steal millions of dollars from the same poor Zambians are just asked to pay back! The fight against corruption must be punitive in nature! That is the only way we will prevent even those who are currently in government from stealing!” said Mwenye.