SO FAR, we have agreed with the advice that Kenyan Law Professor Patrick Loch Otieno Lumumba has offered to President Edgar Lungu. Prof Lumumba is urging President Lungu to leave office with dignity so that he can find something else more honourable to do than pushing for a third term against the will of the people. We concur with the learned Kenyan professor.
But there is something else that Prof Lumumba said on his virtual television programme, which we do not entirely agree with. The Kenyan anti-corruption activist said if President Lungu is worried about going to prison once he leaves office, he can be assured of amnesty so that his dignity is preserved.
“I hope that there are some advisors and some clergy whom he listens to. Let President Lungu be told, no one is going to take him to jail. I know that he may have engaged in things that ought not to be done, but we can grant you amnesty, so that you are not arrested when you leave office. Please, leave and leave in dignity. Go and serve the continent of Africa so that Zambia can remember you fondly,” says Prof Lumumba.
Here, we have a problem agreeing with the learned professor. We understand and appreciate the context in which he is making this suggestion, but we are afraid that it is a suggestion that may not be so popular among Zambians. There are reasons why former President Frederick Chiluba and former President Rupiah Banda had their immunities stripped and subjected to prosecutions.
Many people have argued that this trend takes away so much from the decorum of the office of the former president. That is true, but this decorum is not supposed to be bestowed, it must be earned. A President who desires to be respected and not to be bothered about court processes after leaving office needs to stay away from illegal activities while in State House. He who fails to abstain from corruption and abuse of office must be answerable to the people.
In Zambia, Presidential immunity is not a passport for a Head of State to engage in criminal activities. This means a President who engages in corruption and abuse of office cannot be shielded or insulated from punishment by the mere fact that he or she is a former Head of State. Zambian laws are for everyone to follow, whoever breaks them must be answerable, regardless of position or status in society. If Presidents are allowed to go scot-free after leaving office, regardless of the criminal activities they engaged in, everyone would want to be President, but that is practically impossible. Why should the law punish a minister or send a poor office clerk to prison for stealing K2,000 and protect a President who steals US$50 million?
Our view is that if Zambians are fed up of prosecuting former presidents whose cases take so much time and resources, a decision must then be made to recover all that the particular president acquired illegally. Only then should amnesty be granted. This will be even more beneficial to the Republic. A tribunal will have to be set up to expressly review the evidence of corruption that would be presented before it, involving not just the President but also the former ministers and public servants. Once all that was stolen is recovered, once all the money they stashed away in offshore accounts is brought back to government coffers, we can then allow these former public servants to walk away.
Stealing millions of dollars from a poor country like Zambia is as bad as picking a rifle and shooting underprivileged citizens who depend on the government to provide them with basic needs such as clean drinking water, affordable education and easy access to health facilities. Let’s not make thieves in this PF government too conformable by suggesting to them that there will be no consequences for their criminal activities.
If a President succeeds at revamping a country’s economy, he must be allowed to take credit for his good decisions without his predecessors attempting to take away the glory. But if he messes up a country, he must take responsibility without throwing the blame on those who led before him. If Mr Lungu wants amnesty after leaving office, he must give that amnesty to the suffering masses first. As Dr Kenneth Kaunda would repeatedly say, do unto others what you would have them do unto you.