Minister of Home Affairs Stephen Kampyongo made a very interesting revelation when he featured on the ZNBC Sunday Interview a few days ago. According to him, criminals are generating fake export documents in order to smuggle Mukula logs out of the country and when they reach the border, they simply say a lie that a minister sent them and they expect to pass.

“In his own words, Mr Kampyongo said: “I am not shy to tell you that we had to even go beyond and discipline some of our own law enforcement officers who were being cited to be part of these cartels… Documentation was being manufactured to justify some of these movements of Mukula to some points and there was collusion. Some people are mischievously using some other people’s names. My name was, of course, mischievously mentioned by some characters,” he said.

It is not only his name which is being used by smugglers. He said other ministers, like his Lands counterpart Jean Kapata, have also been mentioned by criminals.

“You know criminal minds can be very clever. If they find a law enforcement [officer] and say ‘no, what we are carrying here is for the Minister of Lands’ even when they know that they are lying, they would expect to get away with that,” said Mr Kampyongo.

We agree with the Minister of Home Affairs. In a normal country, the name of the owner of goods being exported doesn’t matter. It matters less what position they hold in society, but for a lawless country like Zambia where criminals don’t need documents to export natural resources, this is all they need.

Indeed criminals in Zambia have a habit of using other people’s names in order to get away with their criminal activities. However, they don’t just pick names randomly. Like the minister rightly observed, criminals are very clever, so they always make sure that the lies they tell are believable.

But before they decide on a name to implicate, they first consider what they know about the activities that such a minister is involved in. Then to remove any doubt, they make sure to use a name of a minister that fits the narrative of negative public perception.

For example, if smugglers went to the border with 25 containers of Mukula logs and lied that the illegal consignment belonged to Vice-President Inonge Wina, we strongly believe that such a lie would raise a red flag. No officer would easily believe that Her Honour the Vice-President, given what the public knows about her character, would send criminals to smuggle Mukula out of the country.

However, if the criminals went to the border and lied that ‘President Edgar Lungu’s political advisor Kaizer Zulu sent us to take this Mukula to China and he is actually coming behind us to facilitate its passage to the port’, the customs officers would not hesitate to oblige without asking many questions. In fact they would do so hurriedly for fear of being blasted by the mighty powerful Kaizer, not knowing that his name was just being used.

It is for this reason that we are concerned about the revelation from the Home Affairs Minister that criminals are using his name and that of Honourable Kapata, among others, to swindle the government and the people of Zambia. We are even more concerned with his admission that law enforcement officers under his ministry have been involved in the cartel.

Out of all the ministers, why would the criminals and corrupt police officers pick Stephen Kampyongo and Jean Kapata? What is it that they know about these ministers that can make their lies believable at the border? Well, the bad news to the two ministers is that in the eyes of the public, they are corrupt. The truth might be different from this perception, but public perception is a form of truth. That is what counts when it comes to criminals getting away with such illegalities.

The question Honourable Kampyongo and his colleague Honourable Kapata must ask themselves is; what did they do to fall into such a criminal narrative to the extent that smugglers start using their names? Bad publicity doesn’t fall from hell, it is built over a period of time and an innocent person strives to clear their name. What has the minister done about the people who are using his name? Which court are they appearing in? Why have they not been prosecuted?

Honourable Kampyongo cannot claim that his name was merely used because of the nature of government position he occupies. Customs Officers work for the Zambia Revenue Authority and the Zambian Revenue Authority falls under the Ministry of Finance. Why are these criminals not using Margaret Mwanakatwe’s name? Why are they not using Davies Chama’s name who is in charge of the Ministry of Defence. Why are they not using the Minister of Foreign Affairs? It is because they know that Minister Kampyongo and Minister Kapata’s names are perpetually linked to corruption, regardless of whether they are guilty or innocent.

It is not enough for the Home Affairs Minister to discipline criminal elements in ranks and file of the law enforcement wings. Discipline must start with him. He must dissociate himself from people of questionable character. There are many businessmen out there who would love to shake hands with him because of his influence, and he should know better that in business terms, especially among tenderpreneurs and contractors, a handshake means more than just “how are you”.

If truly Mr Kampyongo is innocent and the corruption perception is unfairly bestowed on him, he must change his ways and re-evaluate his friends. If it pains him that he is being hanged for sins he did not commit, the time is now, while he still has State influence, to build a positive image of himself. If he allows the prevailing public perception to define him, Zambians will have a reason for believing that his past is haunting him.