TRANSPARENCY International Zambia (TIZ) has asked the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) not to abuse any legal provisions which allow them to take certain courses of action within the context of their investigations.

And TIZ has wondered who authorised former tourism minister Ronald Chitotela’s K100,000 settlement agreement and whether the same was arrived at after ascertaining the total value of what he was accused of stealing.

Chitotela surrendered K100,000 and an unfinished building in Ibex area in order to get a settlement agreement with the ACC leading to the dropping of the nine charges that he was arrested for.

But in an interview, TIZ executive director Maurice Nyambe said while there were legal provisions which law enforcement agencies could rely on to get into such arrangements, he was concerned about the doubts which they raised.

“TI-Z notes with deep concern the contents of the lead story in today’s News Diggers, to the effect that the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) signed a settlement agreement back in 2019 with then Minister of Housing and Infrastructural Development Mr Ronald Chitotela, which led to the dropping of nine corruption charges that he was facing. While there are legal provisions that law enforcement agencies can rely on to get into such arrangements, we are concerned that these arrangements almost always result in outcomes that raise doubts not just about whether justice has been done, but also about their overall implications for the fight against corruption,” Nyambe said.

“In the same vein, TI-Z also calls on the ACC not to abuse any legal provisions that allow them to take certain courses of action within the context of their investigations. Whatever they do must always be in the broader interest of the Zambian public, and where concerns are raised, they must always endeavor to respond to those concerns. The ACC already have a poor public perception, and revelations such as this one will do very little to change that perception. Zambia needs a strong ACC and other law enforcement agencies, and it is our hope that all these law enforcement agencies will rise to that challenge and freely play their constitutionally mandated roles in order to enhance the fight against corruption.”

And Nyambe wondered who authorised the agreement.

“In this case, Mr Chitotela reportedly surrendered K100,000 and an unfinished building to effectively negotiate his way out of being held accountable in line with the charges he was facing. Was this an admission of guilt on his part? Did the ACC ascertain the total value of what he was accused of having stolen? How was the K100,000 that he is said to have returned decided on? Who authorised the settlement agreement? TI-Z is of the view that these and other questions need to be answered in order for citizens to understand the full scope of what transpired over this issue,” he said.

Nyambe observed that the settlement agreement was made quietly.

“Law enforcement agencies must always be seen to be acting in the interest of the public, and we are of the view that this was not the case in this particular instance. This settlement agreement gives credence to the long-held suspicions of the Executive’s interference in the operations of law enforcement agencies, especially given the fact that then President Lungu resisted calls to suspend Mr Chitotela as Minister pending the outcome of the case. It is further particularly concerning that while Mr Chitotela was arrested and charged publicly, this settlement agreement was made quietly and without the ACC updating the public accordingly,” said Nyambe.

“We would like to urge the ACC under its new leadership to resist the temptation to succumb to any interference in their operations by the Executive even under the UPND administration. The ACC and other law enforcement agencies have a pivotal role to play in the fight against corruption and this role must not be undermined by the Executive or by any other entity.”