German Ambassador to Zambia, His Excellency Mr Achim Burkart has come under fire for expressing his views in the media regarding President Edgar Lungu’s position on the Constitutional Court ruling against ex-ministers who illegally stayed in office after the dissolution of Parliament in 2016. The foreign diplomat has also been attacked for advising against the ongoing destruction of the famous Forest Reserve 27 in Lusaka.
Because the publisher of the said remarks is not yet widely known to news consumers, the German Envoy’s remarks never really circulated. Like others, we heard nothing about the ‘crime’ that the diplomat had committed, but we were greeted by an aggressive government response loaded with sarcasm and malice.
“German Ambassador Burkart must be a novice on Zambia. Debate continues on relevance of Constitutional Court Vs Supreme and cost to nation. His comments on Ministers ruling must be something lost in translation. President Lungu was clear – Ministers have rights too and [wanted to know] what must be repaid,” tweeted Chief government spokesperson Dora Siliya, Wednesday.
Within a short time, we were called to a press conference where the Ministry of Information Permanent Secretary Chanda Kasolo had a field day castigating the German Ambassador and accusing him of inciting the public to rise against the government.
KASOLO: “The remarks are uncalled for and a gross interference in the internal affairs of the country. They are also a violation of the diplomatic etiquette which requires that diplomats respect the sovereignty of countries in which they are serving. We view the statement as a covert way of inciting Zambians to rise against their government, which government finds undiplomatic and totally unacceptable. His Excellency the German ambassador is well aware of the availability of diplomatic channels through which he can raise any issues of concern, as opposed to talking to the media in the manner he did. Government is sometimes taken aback at the tendency by some diplomats to paint our issues darker than theirs back home. The fact of the matter is that there is that there are enough and bigger challenges in Europe which should remind one to first remove the log in their own eye before seeking to remove a speck from another’s eye.”
When we interrogated the source of Mr Kasolo’s anger and that of his boss, we found that the German Ambassador was merely repeating calls from all Zambians, apart from the former ministers whom the court has ordered to pay back illegal salaries. He was merely saying what President Lungu said about the court judgement would raise a public uproar if it happened in his country.
Ambassador BURKART: “If you would have that in German [failing to respect a court judgment], there would be uproar because of the respect [citizens have] for the Judiciary. You don’t have to love what they (Judiciary) say, [but] the Judiciary in the country should be respected. As a lawyer, if there is a law saying you have to be dismissed as a minister (for doing something wrong), then you be dismissed. In principle he (President Lungu) says someone worked and have to be paid. And it’s true, (but he) has to find a way of saying ‘you pay back…’ but have an indemnity for that.”
We don’t see anything wrong with the observation made by the German Envoy. What is wrong with saying the Judiciary must be respected? What is wrong with reminding the President that as a lawyer, he must be in the forefront enforcing court decisions? Is it wrong to tell the President that even if he dislikes the Judiciary, he must obey the law? We don’t think so. This is the message that all Zambians have been sending to the President and his ministers on this issue. So you can kill the German messenger, but that will not change the message. Ex-ministers must pay back!
Of course we are alive to the fact that diplomats don’t enjoy freedom of expression as other citizens, since they have their own special code of conduct that guides what they can say publicly about a host country. The only thing that we can assure the German Envoy is that whether he has breached the diplomatic accord or not, he will be attacked for advising government in this country. A look at the Ambassador’s remarks and the scathing reaction from Mr Kasolo actually confirms this.
And talking about Mr Kasolo, why does he like speaking on matters that are outside his jurisdiction? In what capacity was he reacting to the German Ambassador’s conduct? Is he the Chief Government Spokesperson? Is he doubling as Foreign Affairs Permanent Secretary? We don’t get it. Why would a controlling officer at Ministry of Information be issuing a statement on a matter that falls squarely under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs?
To put it into perspective, it’s like a Permanent Secretary or controlling officer in the Ministry of Livestock and Fisheries calling for a press briefing to issue a warning against an erring television station. Does that make sense?
It’s not the first time. In June this year after the Financial Intelligence Centre released its money laundering trends report, Mr Kasolo took the lead in denouncing the Centre and calling its director unprofessional. In what capacity was he talking? We don’t know, because the FIC falls under the Ministry of Finance. Do the powers of a Cabinet minister extend to a Permanent Secretary?
Maybe this is possible only in this PF government since Zambia has now just become a joke nation where we are just one huge meme with funny big front teeth!