When President Edgar Lungu announced that he was not going to fire or suspend Infrastructure Development Minister Ronald Chitotela despite the top government official being arrested and charged for corruption, almost the whole country, including some PF officials could not hide their outrage.
Some people were particularly angry because Section 47 (1) of the Anti Corruption Act states that: “Subject to the applicable legal and administrative procedures relating to the right to justice, and a fair hearing applicable to public officers under their conditions of service, a public officer who is charged with corruption shall be suspended, at half pay, with effect from the date of the charge.” Zambians expected that President Lungu, being a lawyer, was going to ask the minister to step aside until he is cleared of these allegations.
We are so surprised that people were that shocked with President Lungu’s position on this matter. In fact, we feel those who are disappointed with President Lungu are fairy tale fanatics who fantasize over a Zambia in the hands of patriots, governed by laws. The things they expect from this PF government shock us.
The story of Honourable Chitotela has been told several times before. In December 2013, late President Michael Sata fired Chitotela in a very embarrassing fashion in front of journalists for allegedly involving himself in corrupt activities. It was alleged that he bought a second hand ambulance from Constituency Development Funds and the Auditor General captured the irregularity, forcing the Anti Corruption Commission to drag him into a probe. President Sata said he could not work with a minister who was being investigated for corruption and abuse of office; as such, Chitotela had to go.
The ACC never announced that they had cleared Honourable Chitotela of the corruption allegations leveled against him. Of all the PF members of parliament, this is the man that President Lungu went to pick into his Cabinet. It is not like Honourable Chitotela’s character was unknown to President Lungu, he knew exactly the kind of person he was employing.
Why are people surprised that the President is not firing a minister who is facing corruption charges when he was already under corruption investigations when he was appointed? Corruption has never been a ground for removing anyone from President Lungu’s government.
We will say it again. It is not difficult to find a thief in this government. What is difficult and next to impossible is to find someone who is not a thief. The next most difficult thing is making these thieves accountable because they are all protecting each other. This is what happens in a government of looters. They are stealing in the morning, in the afternoon, and some of them, even in their sleep they are stealing. No one can touch them because they have one another’s back.
Unlike those who are shocked with President Lungu’s defense of his ally, we find the man astonishingly honest. President Lungu is an honest President. What he said at the Airport about his fear of losing Chitotela does not have any pretense in it. That was an honest voice from a very honest President telling his citizens how he views corruption.
President Lungu is asking: ‘What is wrong with being arrested for corruption? Why should I stigmatize those that are involved in corruption by condemning them? Why should I lose my close friends just because they are arrested and charged for theft? How is a corrupt minister different from me? Those are the questions to answers President Lungu is seeking from critics who want him to fire Honourable Chitotela.
We can’t find answers to these questions in a country where corruption is not a crime for those in top government positions. But because we are alive to the undercurrent taking shape in the ruling Patriotic Front, there is another message that President Lungu was delivering to those that are politically awake.
To our ears, the President was expressing fear of building an opposition block within the ruling party. He was saying, ‘I can’t afford to face Chishimba Kambwili, Ronald Chitotela, Harry Kalaba and other aggressive northerners in 2021. That would be suicide. We feel, apart from being his accomplices in the corruption syndicate, President Lungu is scared of firing those who have become so rich in this government, knowing they will use that same money to take him out in 2021.
It is now for the people of Zambia to decide whether this is a Zambia they want, where politicians are playing ping-pong with their lives. The journey to 2021 has already started and the scrutiny of candidates is underway. No one should say, ‘we didn’t know what President Lungu stood for’. He has made it clear for those who were doubting; ubomba mwibala alya mwibala.