We find it unfair that the whole government and the ruling party has risen against the Minister of National Planning and Development, Lucky Mulusa, over the joke he made about the infamous 42-million-dollar fire tenders. People seem to ignore the fact that Mulusa did not stop at mocking the fire tenders; he went further to explain why the procurement of the fire trucks sparked public outrage.

“I see my colleagues struggling to justify [the purchase]. Probably we should have given better explanations than the explanations which seem contradictory, which seem not to be making sense to members of the public. We should have probably done an appraisal on fires tenders,” Mulusa suggested, of course adding that compared to the Liverpool fire truck bought at the same price, ours looked like wheelbarrows.

On October 20, 2017, Vice-President Inonge Wina told Parliament that government was going to discipline the minister for the remark he made. But the leader of government business in the House contradicted government position on the matter. It seems the Vice-President did not pay attention to the question raised by Chimwemwe Independent member of parliament Elias Mwila, but was quick to point a gun at Honourable Mulusa, forgetting what other ministers had told the House about this procurement.

Elias Mwila: “It is the belief of the people of Chimwemwe that Cabinet sat and approved this purchase which we have since welcomed and the minister is bound by the principle of collective responsibility. Now my question is, is the government considering asking the Honourable minister to resign for going against the principle of collective responsibility?”

In response, the Vice-President said Mulusa’s case would be dealt with under the ministerial code of conduct.

Inonge Wina: “Madam Speaker, having received some reports regarding the statement that the minister has made, there are certain channels that we use in this government and in the party to discipline our erring ministers or members of parliament. Under the ministerial code of conduct, this matter will be considered [with] disciplinary measures that government will deem fit to apply in this particular situation.”

This answer simply exposed how double tongued the PF government is. At the same time, it exonerates those who have accused senior government officials of benefitting from this procurement. We say this because in his question, Honourable Mwila suggested that Mulusa and other Cabinet ministers sat and approved the procurement of 42 fire trucks, but in her answer, Vice-President Wina did not distance Cabinet from this matter the way the Local Government Minister did on September 20, 2017.

Vincet Mwale: “Procurement is not a function of Ministers, it is not a function of Cabinet, this is a function of people who are employed to do that and we have up to the Permanent Secretary as controlling officers. Beyond them, you have got ZPPA as an authority that deals with procurement. These are the people that procure for government. Even this decision was made by the officers who were doing the procurement.”

So what collective Cabinet responsibility is Vice-President Wina talking about? What ministerial code of conduct did Honourable Mulusa breach? Is the Vice-President suggesting that if a procurement officer in Shang’ombo (given the resources), purchased a hundred-million-dollar passenger ship to replace the defective pontoon on the Zambezi River, Mulusa would be expected to support that in the name of collective responsibility?

Why is it that all Cabinet ministers are expected to support this particular procurement even though they know nothing about it? How special are these procurement officers behind the fire trucks?

We understand the need for government officers to speak with one voice, but that requirement does not mean stealing with one voice. It cannot be termed as an act of undermining government if a minister criticises a wrong decision made by a junior officer who is not even part of Cabinet.

We must not forget, as a country, that public servants are also tax payers and responsible tax payers in government don’t just sit ndwii, when they see misuse of public resources. They show their displeasure. Honourable Mulusa, like every other innocent government official, found this 42-million-dollar procurement hard to justify, and he exercised his freedom of speech to make fun of it. This is what concerned Zambians who can’t do anything about it have been doing to vent their frustrations.

But we note that this matter is very sensitive to the powers that be. It seems the fire tender procurement is sacred and no one is allowed to make fun of it. That is why police in Chingola arrested 49-year-old Alex Mwale, accusing him of defaming President Edgar Lungu in a joke about the fire tenders.

In the WhatsApp circulated video clip, Mwale was captured pointing at one of the fire trucks and saying: “Lungu you are the one I am telling, is this where you can spend 9.5 million? A thief is a thief! Lungu you are a thief. This vehicle cannot cost 9.5 billion old currency. You are a criminal bring our money back.”

We are shocked that a learned lawyer like Charity Katanga, acting as Copperbelt Province Police commissioner, sanctioned this arrest and was even proud to announce the charge.

How can the police arrest a funny guy on the street, cracking jokes with his friends about a topical governance issues? In any case, there is nowhere in that video clip where Mwale mentioned the words “President” or “Edgar”. He simply said “Lungu you are a thief.” How can the police be so sure that there was no any other Lungu involved in the procurement of fire tenders apart from our Head of State?

There are many people called “Lungu” in this country and like Mwale pointed out, some are thieves. There are also a lot of citizens called “Edgar”, some are drunkards, and many political leaders in Zambia go by the title of “president”, some are dictators. Therefore, it is illogical for the police to assume that “Lungu” means “President of the Republic of Zambia”.