ACTIONAID Zambia country director Nalucha Ziba says her organisation is surprised the President Hakainde Hichilema’s decision to task citizens with providing evidence on allegations of corruption against those close to the Presidency.

And Transparency International Zambia (TI-Z) president Sampa Kalungu says the burden of proof of any corruption allegations should not be placed on citizens.

Commenting on President Hichilema’s remarks that he was satisfied with Foreign Affairs Minister Stanely Kakubo’s explanation on his visit to Sinoma and that his appointees denied giving Milingo Lungu immunity, Ziba said law enforcement agencies were fully equipped to cary out investigations.

“The President informed the nation of significant progress being made in the fight against corruption with major cases opened and stolen assets reclaimed through seizures and freezing of assets. We however are surprised with the President’s decision to task citizens with providing evidence on allegations of corruption against those close to the Presidency. Our country has competent investigative wings whose jobs it is to do that,” Ziba said.

“Allegations of corruption, especially of those close to the President cannot be dismissed on the simple basis that the President made a phone call to inquire from his aides and his appointed officials [who] allegedly engaged in the very corruption. If the government is to implement their zero tolerance to corruption and abuse of authority by public officials, the fight against corruption needs to address the current corruption allegations against ministers and government officials serving in the government.”

Ziba said President Hichilema had a dismissive approach towards youths being key stakeholders in the governance process.

“We are concerned with the way the President has continued to address the issue of youth inclusion. The President has a dismissive approach towards youths being key stakeholders in the governance process, something that is a contradiction to the commitment he made to the youth during his inauguration ceremony. We hope that the President will embrace the youth and create spaces for them to meaningfully contribute to the governance of this country,” she said.

“The President spoke on the need to strengthen the Public Private Dialogue Forum. This is a progressive move that would create think tanks. We hope that various leaders in the civil society will be brought to the table to have an all-inclusive effective forum. As ActionAid Zambia, we are happy that the President has committed to creating time to address the nation on various issues that affect the country through the press. We hope that this practice will continue.”

Ziba said there was need for immediate short-term actions to be implemented in order to support the poor and vulnerable.

“In the year 2022, Zambia has seen a significant increase in the price of fuel with petrol and diesel increasing from ZMW19.84/litre and ZMW18.93/litre, to 26.50/litre and 26.20/litre respectively between January and April. Fuel is a key economic commodity for all industries. The increase has had a knock-on effect on the cost of living for most Zambians with the prices of goods and services remaining stubbornly high despite the fall in the inflation rate. There is need for immediate short-term actions to be implemented to support the poor and vulnerable,” she said.

“It is sad that the President did not give a clear road map and plan on how the government is addressing various issues that affect the soaring cost of living. We argue that this was an opportunity lost to adequately address matters around the high cost of living. The restoration of the economy cannot be built on the goodwill of the President alone, thus it must be properly laid down and shared with the citizens. We are further elated with the pronouncement of K1.4 billion being released for the procurement of drugs. It is good to see the government heeding our call for urgent intervention on this matter.”

Ziba further called on government to swiftly release the Debt Sustainability Analysis and provide timelines to the debt restructuring process.

“While there have been gains made in reducing the inflation rate from 24% to 13% and the kwacha stabilizing against major convertible currencies, the impact has not been felt by the Zambian people in the immediate term. Considering this, we are calling on the government to swiftly release the Debt Sustainability Analysis and provide timelines to the debt restructuring process going forward. The Enactment of the revised Loans and Guarantees Act must also be prioritised to ensure there is prudent debt management that is backed by law,” said Ziba.

Meanwhile, Kalungu said the burden of proof of any corruption allegations should not be placed on citizens.

“When the President said citizens should provide evidence for him to take action against any government official that is erring, this exactly reminds of the same words that the former head of state Edgar Lungu had said. He also put it on the citizens to say you need to provide information if you want me to take action. We find this very political and it is not being said with a sincere heart. If you want to fight corruption to its core, the President knows that corruption is very complex. It is not just you and I who can investigate corruption. Even if we had skill, we could not have the resources and the mandate to do that,” Kalungu said.

“The President should not have learnt from what Edgar Lungu had said but picked something from his brother in Malawi. When people had taken information to him, he said he had taken the information with interest and he regarded them as whistleblowers. He tasked investigative wings to investigate where citizens were having suspicions. He did not ask citizens to provide evidence because he knew they would not have the capacity. The President should be interested to see where whistle blowing is and then the experts will investigate. So it is not very correct and fair to put the burden of proof on citizens.”

Kalungu said President Hichilema should not give a verdict of somebody being clean just by giving a call.

“Similarly, when the President said he called the Foreign Affairs Minister about his visit to Sinoma and he denied engaging in any corrupt activities. The President is not supposed to investigate. He would have asked the law enforcement agencies to investigate instead of him giving a verdict of somebody being clean just by giving him a call. When a child has done something wrong and you ask them about it, they will say no even when they have done it. So the President should push law enforcement agencies whenever there is some rumor or pointer to issues of corruption to investigate. So the burden of proof and finding information should never lie on the people. Unless by chance, a citizen comes with information which they need to take to law enforcement agencies who have to prove its authenticity,” he said.

Kalungu hoped that President Hichilema’s example of creating a law to lock up suspected plunderers until they talked was a joke.

“The President also cited a neighboring country where they lock up suspects and leave them there until they speak up. I want to hope that the President meant that as a joke and it was [not] mentioned seriously. However, he spoke about it lengthily which means there was some level of seriousness to that. We always want to learn and pick lessons from neighboring countries. We should never allow ourselves to pick bad lessons from neighbours or from those that have ruled before us. For example, there are many things that PF did not do right and we should never pick lessons from that. If the President meant that example to be very serious or something he has considered or pondered on, trampling on people’s rights just because we want to fight corruption can never be an excuse,” said Kalungu.

“Human rights are tops and nothing goes above. Until somebody is indeed proven guilty, we should never treat them like they are already guilty. I am sure the President understands this because he was a victim of injustice where he was locked up for not even being charged or tried. So giving that as an example I find it unbelievable and that is why I keep insisting that I think the President did not mean what he was saying. Even giving it as an example is a bad example. The President should never think of those things. We can fight corruption and the President has already shown to some extent the willingness to fight. There are many tools that [he] himself and the law enforcement agencies have elaborated. We need commitment and loyalty to the constitution.”