Our President’s wealth is once again in the spotlight, this time overflowing into other countries. The construction of a US$3.9 million estate for President Edgar Lungu in Swaziland has stunned taxpayers, but as usual, the tax collectors are downplaying the revelation.
“These are normal practices when the President travels, that various gifts are given in various forms. In this case it was land that was given to the President. This land was processed and given to the President in title. People just like to create stories even when there are no stories,” Chief Government Spokesperson Dora Siliya told journalists, Monday.
“The President was given this gift in Swaziland and it was processed for him. I think the others, like my dear friend Amos [Chanda] was also given but he didn’t process it, but for the President, by virtue of his status in Swaziland, it was given to him even on title deed. So there is nothing sinister about that”
Indeed, in a country where theft is no longer breaking news, there can be nothing sinister about a President building a multi-million dollar estate abroad from unexplained resources. But we insist that there is a story here. Not just an ordinary story, but a corruption story.
No one is questioning how President Lungu acquired land in Swaziland. We know he has a very interesting status there, such that even if this land was not given to him for free, he would have bought it for his own convenience. What Zambians are asking for, however, is the source of funds for this estate project. The land was a gift, but what about the money?
In 2013, the Namibian government gave our own Dr Kenneth Kaunda a mansion in one of Windhoek’s posh suburbs worth over US$ 1 million. It was also a free gift, but that government took the task of explaining why it had decided to spend Namibian taxpayers’ money on a house for a foreign dignitary. “This is a token of appreciation in recognition of the role that KK played towards Namibia’s independence,” said then president Hifikepunye Pohamba at the hand over ceremony.
With that kind of transparency in a transaction, only a mad critic would question the source of funds for Dr Kaunda’s mansion in Windhoek. Similarly, South Africa’s late anti-apartheid hero Oliver Tambo has a little beautiful house in Lusaka. Zambia’s taxpayers’ money was spent on this house and no one is complaining because an explanation was given when Jacob Zuma came to launch this heritage house for the former African National Congress leader.
But for some sinister reasons, when King Mswati of Swaziland gave this land in question to our President and his advisors, this information was kept a secret. Not even the Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation has ever carried a story about President Lungu and Mr Amos Chanda being given land in that Kingdom.
They can argue that they receive so many gifts whenever they travel abroad and it would be impracticable for them to itemise and announce to the media. But that is exactly the point. When State House dragged our buffaloes to Swaziland to impress King Mswati, they kept it a secret until it turned out that the wild animals had ‘cholera’ and Swazis were angry. A normal gesture of gratitude ended up being a scandal. When they went to Saudi Arabia to negotiate cheap oil, they returned with expensive Rolex gifts, but without a single drop of cheap oil. They never declared these gifts on return, and they ended up being scandalized when the public discovered. So what is the point in hiding if there is nothing to hide?
Like Sishuwa Sishuwa put it, President Lungu and his spokesperson were given the land in Swaziland not in their individual capacities but only because of the public positions they occupy in our name as Zambians. When they travel, they do so on our behalf, so anything given to them while on national duty is effectively a gift to the people of Zambia. The question is, why were the actual owners of the land not told about this gift?
And President Lungu and his advisors must be very careful how they define these gifts they are receiving by way of being in those positions they hold. We know that they no longer buy land, houses, cars, phones, watches or laptops. These things are usually given to them as gifts, but in reality, they are never free. One way or another, gratitude has to be shown for these gifts. It starts with a small land gift that deserve any mention, but it eventually develops into a US$3.9 million corruption. Who can donate US$3.9 million to a republican president with no reciprocal benefit? These are not gifts; this is pure corruption booking a date in court.
President Lungu and his advisors must remember that Jacob Zuma claimed to be the most beloved President that business men at home and abroad were jostling to shower him with gifts, ranging from monthly salaries, free loans, cloths and watches. But today, the most ‘gifted’ man is alone in court, the gifts can’t say a word in his defence.
We also want to remind President Lungu that wealth is never enough. Therefore, those in charge of leading poor countries like Zambia must develop a desire to quench the endless thirst of amassing it; at least if they have any feelings for the people they serve.
President Lungu can own a mansion in every SADC country, but he only has one night to sleep at a time, just like Fresher Siwale whom he has put in prison. He can own 20 luxury vehicles, but he can only drive one at a time, just like a poor differently abled child who drives a wheelchair. Above all, we want our President to know that wealth has no limit, but human beings have a lifespan.