On Tuesday last week, Speaker of the National Assembly Dr Matibini asked Health Minister Dr Chitalu Chilufya to render a ministerial statement on whether or not the Executive was in order to flout Coronavirus Health Regulations. The ruling was made following a point of order which was raised by Monze Central UPND member of parliament Jack Mwiimbu, who cited the commotion that was caused by Patriotic Front cadres at the Magistrates’ Court on Thursday, July 9, when Chilufya was appearing in court for his corruption charges.

We knew this was going to be a very difficult task for the Minister because it put him in an awkward position. Indeed, in answering the question by the House over adherence to COVID-19, Dr Chilufya tried to dodge the questions, thanks to the Speaker, who stopped him in his tracks.

Here is a summary of how the Minister of Health tried to dodge questions over the conduct of his supporters at court.

Dr Chilufya: “Mr Speaker, as Minister of Health, I am concerned about the health of all individuals, including the honourable member of parliament, than bitterness. He needs to tone down because it will claim his own…”

Dr Matibini: “Honourable Minister of Health, let’s proceed in a temperate way, proceed.”

Dr Chilufya: “Mr Speaker, I thank you for your guidance. And Mr Speaker, let COVID-19 not be used as a reason for people to suddenly become democratic. The UPND has never held elections for many years…”

Dr Matibini: “Honourable Minister of Health, take a seat. I have no doubt that you are able to. The issues under discussion are professional issues. They are health issues. There is a point which has been made about discrimination. So, they would like you to clarify on the enforcement of these measures, which you put in place. And I think for progress’ sake, let’s confine ourselves to the issues. I know we are in a politically-charged atmosphere. If we won’t be able to proceed in a manner I am indicating, then I will just stop this session altogether, because we can’t proceed this way. I will just stop it, and I can’t be proposing questions and answers. I expect that we will engage. And we have engaged previously without this kind of situation. I think it’s a fairly straightforward subject [and] I don’t think it’s beyond our management. Honourable Minister of Health.”

Health Minister Dr Chitalu Chilufya pointing at President Edgar Lungu’s banner shortly after he appeared at Lusaka Magistrates’ Court on July 9, 2020 – Picture by Tenson Mkhala

Dr Chilufya: “Mr Speaker, the agenda of the Patriotic Front Government, under His Excellency Dr Edgar Chagwa Lungu, is universal health coverage. Health for all are apolitical. Mr Speaker, we don’t want to characterize gatherings on political grounds, on racial grounds on religious grounds, we are stating categorically here that every public gathering held must be in compliance to public health measures that are stipulated under the Public Health Act and Statutory Instruments 21, 22 and 62. Nothing else matters because we aspire for health for everyone everywhere. And, therefore, Mr Speaker, I use this opportunity to call upon all stakeholders, political, religious and traditional to ensure that as they hold any gatherings of any nature, they adhere to the measures that have been stipulated in the Public Health Act and in Statutory Instruments 21, 22, and 62. Let me use this opportunity to respond to the Honourable member that unity of purpose, solidarity, non-stigmatization, and non-politicization of COVID-19 will be key in responding to COVID-19. So, my response is let us all act responsibly in compliance to public health measures that are stipulated in the laws that exist and protect the public from COVID-19.”

In short, the Minister of Health was all over the place, but he could not address the question that was before him. This is what happens when those in leadership positions are in the forefront of breaking the laws that are supposed to govern the country. How can Dr Chilufya condemn his own supporters whom he transported all the way from Mansa to come and cheer him up at court? It was not logical for him to do. The Minister was the law and the lawbreaker unto himself.

This is why we insist that when a government leader is indicted, especially in a criminal case, he or she must step down to pave way for, not only transparency, but for sanity. Dr Chitalu should have excused himself from the ministerial position for a while and allow somebody to act on his behalf. Imagine if there was a neutral person acting as Health Minister, wouldn’t it have been easy for that person to condemn the cadres’ behaviour that day at court? Of course it would. But how can we expect the person who sponsored the cadres to condemn them?

We can cite a simple example of Mumbi Phiri. As PF deputy secretary general, it was easy for her to gather the confidence and courage needed in condemning the behaviour of her party cadres because she was in a neutral position. She had the moral right to call those the youths “foolish” for accepting to be used by politicians to engage in uncivil behaviour. If Mumbi Phiri was appointed acting Minister of Health, she would not have had any challenges answering questions in the National Assembly.

This is just an illustration of what is expected to happen in the trial of Dr Chilufya itself. The same way that we do not expect the Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Health to condemn the cadres’ behaviour because the boss is involved, is the same way we should not expect any employee at the Ministry to willingly testify against the Minister. It is not possible that this Minister will allow his members of staff to go and testify against him in court. It can’t happen without consequences.

This is where the PF has failed this country. The lawlessness is being sponsored by the people in leadership positions. This is why to this day, two weeks after a ruling party official attacked a police station with a gun and stole money, PF has opted to remain silent. They have not condemned the incident because they don’t see anything wrong. What a shame!