A fortnight ago, Zambia Revenue Authority (ZRA) Commissioner General Kingsley Chanda was embroiled in a scandal related to smuggling of goods, which involved some customs officers in Livingstone. This was a recorded phone conversation by a Patriotic Front cadre named Chanda Nyela, who was pressing him to lift charges on one of the accused customs officers.
Following an in-depth inquiry, we figured out that the ZRA Commissioner General was implicated in a case that he was not actually involved in. It turned out that the accused persons assigned a PF cadre who happened to be a close friend of the revenue authority boss to solicit for intervention in the matter, and after failing to get the pardon, they resolved to leak the phone conversation between Mr Chanda and his PF cadre friend, in an attempt to bring him down.
We have heard many stories about Mr Chanda. We are aware that before being appointed ZRA Commissioner General, Mr Chanda owned a clearing and forwarding agency called Nishati. Among the accusations he faces is that after selling shares of the company to his relative, Mr Chanda is using the influence of his office to give Nishati undue advantage over other companies in getting business from the revenue authority. We also remember that he was accused of spearheading a scheme to fraudulently use the VAT Refund Account to portray a fake image that under his charge, ZRA is exceeding monthly revenue collection targets, allegations he denies.
So, we are not here to launder or vouch for him. But with all those claims against him, whether true of false, the recording that the accused ZRA customs officers released to the public gave us a reasonable picture of what Mr Chanda is capable of doing and what he is not. It further gave us an idea of what the leaders of key government law enforcement wings go through in their operations.
For the sake of those who missed the recording or may have forgotten, here is an excerpt of the translated phone conversation.
Nyela: It’s Chanda Nyela
Chanda: Yes, Chanda
Nyela: I had sent you a message on WhatsApp. There’s a small issue involving our relative who works with you.
Chanda: I received a report that there were some officers who received goods that were coming through Nakonde, but they were cleared from Livingstone. They were even pretending as if they have inspected the goods. So, I don’t know if that’s the case he is involved in?
Nyela: It seems so, his name is Moses Chintwa, he is also from Chinsali, he is our relative.
Chanda: Eh? But if he did that what can we do? Can you inspect goods, which are not there?
Nyela: Imagine, my elder brother.
Chanda: And if you rescue him, what will he say? They will say that ‘no, he’s just been released because he is from Chinsali. Or because he is from Lenshina; he can see what is not there?
Chanda: That same Moses Chintwa and I, they will come and chase us together, then they will put someone aligned to UPND.
Nyela: Yes, you’re right.
Chanda: These people even though we are helping them, you who are in the political leadership, you must be telling them to do right things. But if there is anything dubious they want to do, they should first tell me as Commissioner General, because I am also a member of the ruling party.
The ZRA boss goes on to talk about how difficult it is to determine whether the goods being smuggled belong to PF or UPND members, but let’s just stop there and judge Mr Chanda’s ethics and professionalism conduct, based on the above conversation.
In a normal country, some of the admissions and commitments that Mr Chanda was heard making in that audio are enough to cost him his job. He can either be fired or asked to resign on moral grounds. He is literally admitting being a PF cadre himself, and technically suggesting that there is room to smuggle goods, depending on which party is involved, the clearing agents used and if he is informed in advance.
Right from the beginning, Mr Chanda was wrong to tolerate that conversation. It should have ended the moment he realised that the caller was asking him to break the law. There is nothing more you can discuss with a person who is asking you to abuse the authority of your office to protect smugglers.
But let’s face reality. We are in Zambia and in this country, things don’t work like that. These cadres don’t work alone. They don’t speak with their own voices. When you get a call from a renowned cadre asking you to bend some rules, just know that there is a minister or top State House officer behind that voice, so you have to be careful how you respond. In Zambia, cadres can get you employed and also get you fired.
This is the reason why you see situations where a government official like Local Government Minister Vincent Mwale, who is the most decent Cabinet minister, a politician who is nearest to blameless, is witnessing the lawlessness at bus stations but can’t stop it because his hands are tied. The cadres who run bus stations and markets are more powerful than him!
For that reason alone, you can disagree with us if you like, but we can confidently say that the ZRA boss scored a 5 out of 10 in dealing with that Nyela cadre, and we can explain why. Anyone who objectively reviews that audio without any vested interests in the matter can tell that Mr Chanda was not going to help the culprits. He basically put his foot down in the most apologetic manner.
But that said, we must remind Mr Chanda and others in similar situations that good and bad have no middle ground. We know that those who get jobs in this regime don’t get employed to do their jobs. They are being recruited to abet crimes. So, before you accept the job offer, know what you are getting yourself into.
What we have observed is that these people who lead law enforcement wings try to strike a balance. They know what is right and what is wrong, but they try to be in the middle so that they permit illegalities only enough to keep their jobs. This is exactly what we heard in another leaked audio involving the Inspector General of Police and the former State House Press Aide.
But that is not acceptable. A wrong is a wrong. It doesn’t matter how many right things you do, one wrong is enough to ruin your public image. The sad part about the paymasters in this government is that they appoint institution heads who appear professionals in the eyes of the public, but willing to bend the rules internally. So, once your reputation is destroyed, it also means you are on your way to losing your job because you are not good for their image either. Just like that, your career will be finished. They will have used you and dumped you like used toilet paper.
So, dear Mr Kingsley Chanda, you have a decision to make. If you consider yourself a PF member who is in that job to help the party make money from illegal deals, step down before you are destroyed! If you consider this a small matter, you’ll remember our words when you stand in the witness box in court.