STATE House says President Edgar Lungu will not suspend or dismiss Health Minister Dr Chitalu Chilufya despite the corruption allegations and his subsequent arrest by the Anti Corruption Commission, arguing that the accused is innocent until proven guilty by the courts of law. This is not the first time that State House is being defiant to the call for transparency and good governance.
In February 2019, the Anti-Corruption Commission arrested Ronald Chitotela who was Minister of Infrastructure Development at the time. There were calls from all sectors of society for President Lungu to relieve the minister of his duties in order to pave way for a smooth prosecution. Those who called for Honourable Chitotela’s removal never claimed that the minister was guilty, they simply expressed concern that prosecuting a sitting minister would threaten potential witnesses, while the minister himself would also be tempted to tamper with potential evidence from his office.
But President Lungu categorically said he was not going to remove Honourable Chitotela because, as far as he was concerned, the minister was innocent until proven guilty. The President went further to state that Honourable Chitotela was his close colleague and he was not ready to lose a friend in the name of fighting corruption. Mockingly, he offered to pay the Anti Corruption Commission for its investigation against the minister. He challenged them to prove their case.
“They have chosen to arrest Honorable Chitotela, so what has that got to do with me? He is a suspect and in their wisdom, they chose to arrest him so what should I do? They have to prove before the courts of law, and I hope they give him a chance to prove himself, if he is corrupt. But you see, what I don’t want to do is to politicise the fight against corruption. Remember how I lost Chishimba Kambwili? So you want me to lose Chitotela on that basis again? I am saying no. I will give them leeway to arrest and prosecute, bring to court the culprit but I will not interfere, I will even fund them to do their operations but those who are calling for the removal of Honourable Chitotela now, I say ‘no, give me space to breathe’, bring your evidence but let him also have his day in court,” said President Lungu.
The same tape can be played on the arrest of the Minister of Health. Those calling for the removal of Dr Chilufya from office should refer to the justification above from State House as a basis for refusing to take action. Now, at a glance, this reasoning seems okay until you look around for how the same President has treated other ministers who have been accused of corruption.
In February 2018, the National Democratic Congress reported Community Development Minister Emerine Kabanshi, Health Minister Dr Chitalu Chilufya and Minister of Infrastructure Development Ronald Chitotela to the Anti-Corruption Commission for graft and abuse of office. President Lungu did nothing about it and the Law Enforcement Agency also did nothing about it. The same year, on Monday September 17, British High Commissioner to Zambia Fergus Cochrane-Dyet announced that his government had frozen all bilateral aid to Zambia because of corruption and fraud in the social cash transfer programme under the Ministry of Community Development. Two days later, President Edgar Lungu fired Minister Kabanshi and unleashed the Law Enforcement Agency on her.
Why did President Lungu fire Ms Kabanshi before she was proven guilty by the courts of law? Why was Kabanshi presumed guilty before she was granted an opportunity to prove herself innocent? On defending Honourable Chitotela, President Lungu said “I am a lawyer. And if you look at the Bill of Rights, I think Article 18 starts with presumption of innocence. So as far as I am concerned, he is innocent.” Is President Lungu saying only selected ministers are beneficiaries of Article 18 of the Bill of Rights? What about Chishimba Kambwili? Why was he convicted and judged by State House before the court could pronounce itself in his case?
This is hypocrisy of the highest level. This is what makes us conclude that in the Lungu-led government, some ministers are sacred cows while others are being used as sacrificial lambs. Those that are close to the President are innocent until proven guilty by the courts of law, but those who are not so close to the President are guilty without trial. This is a very bad way of governing and it takes away public confidence that government is really committed to fighting graft. One would, in fact, be forgiven for concluding that President Lungu is tough on those ministers who don’t share proceeds of crime with him.