When we talk about State Capture, some people imagine a Head of State being held captive and confined in isolation while the captors run the affairs of the country. As long as citizens see President Edgar Lungu flying around and visiting their towns to commission projects with the Coat of Arms on the Presidential motorcade, they think everything is in place and the man is in control of the presidency.
We are afraid that things are not as they appear to be in Zambia. The governance system in our country has allowed private businesses to significantly influence the state’s decision-making processes to their own advantage. And that is the simple definition of State Capture.
It starts slow, but eventually as the captors become more and more confident of their authority of the captured state, they begin to show themselves to the public. This is what we felt when we saw Lusaka businessman Valden Findlay alighting from the brand new US$130 million presidential jet behind President Lungu in Ndola on April 2.
To date, we have not found the answers. What was Mr Findlay doing on the presidential entourage during that three-day state visit? Is he one of the State House advisors or an advisor to the President’s advisors perhaps? When this businessman was posing on pictures with the President and Cabinet ministers during the Reed Dance in eSwatini, we were told that he is a successful businessman who could afford his own air ticket to the event. But what about in Ndola? Who paid for his travel, food and accommodation?
We are seeing this man having a jolly ride in the Gulfstream, even before our Republican Vice-President tests the comfort of that Ferrari in the sky that we, the citizens are being forced to pay for. What is going on? What kind of conversations does President Lungu hold with this businessman when they are flying together on presidential duty? How can State House convince citizens that the President is not being influenced by private businessmen like Mr Findlay to make wrong decisions for the country?
As journalists, we have never heard of a State House event where the President held bilateral talks with this man. There has never been a press conference at any ministry or at his house where Mr Findlay explained what investment opportunities he is pursuing in government. But what we see is that he is part and parcel of the presidency? What role is he playing in the governance of our country? Was Mr Findlay involved in the procurement transaction for the presidential plane? We don’t understand this friendship that is being financed by taxpayers money.
This is the State Capture that we are talking about. When private interests begin to influence formal government procedures in areas such as Constitution reforms and resource distribution, or when businesses gain control of individual government leaders and entice them to manipulate state policies and laws in their favour, then you have State Capture in place. Although Mr Lungu is moving about like a free man, there is no one who can deny that private interests are controlling his presidency and the running of state affairs in our country. He is a captured President.
Ironically, State Capture may not appear to be illegal on first sight, because, indeed, those in government are free to have friends who own private business. In fact, this is the excuse that President Lungu has been using to defend his questionable association with ‘tenderpreneurs’. He knows that his dealings with those private interests are never overt, and cannot be easily exposed using legal processes because the judiciary has been subverted by the same captors.
But when you consider the fact that these business persons use political connections to secure government procurement contracts, you find that there is corruption written all over their relationships. That is where State Capture becomes a crime that affects the rest of the poor innocent citizens.
The collapse of governance institutions is not something that is unknown to President Lungu, he is fully aware of where the rot is, but he can’t do anything about it. Mr Lungu is in too deep and he is being held captive by those whom he has done dirty deals with in the past. Many wrongdoers in this government feel safe because they have dossiers on the President; he owes them the responsibility of shielding them from the law.
But we are here to tell President Lungu once again that Mr Findlay was not elected by the citizens of Zambia. His interest starts with profit and ends with more profit. When time for reckoning comes, it is the elected President whom the citizens will hold accountable. These businessmen you are sharing state power and resources with will not be there to defend you. Yes, power is sweet, but it has a horrible aftertaste.