FOLLOWING the arrest of Belarusian businessman Aleksander Zingman in the Democratic Republic of Congo, those aligned to the Patriotic Front government expressed anger at the fact that we introduced the alleged arms dealer as President Edgar Lungu ally. They asked why we were dragging the President’s name in the arrest of Mr Zingman. They accused us of being unpatriotic and that we were bent on discrediting the image of our Head of State.
We find this to be a very misplaced concern. Firstly, our people need to understand that Mr Zingman would be of no interest to Zambia if it was not for his connections with our President. What makes Mr Zingman a person of interest to Zambia is the fact that he was pictured drinking and dining with President Edgar Lungu, while at the same time claiming to be a government contractor. This is what raised questions about the kind of business they are engaged in.
It is not the first time that we are reporting this kind of news. When another friend of President Lungu, Valden Findlay was named by a witness in the drug smuggling case in the United Stated of America, we informed the people of Zambia that a Lusaka businessman who is usually found at State House, posing for pictures with the President, has been named in a drug smuggling scandal in America. It cannot be disputed that Mr Findlay is a controversial businessman and a government contractor at the same time. So this makes him a person of interest to the people of Zambia, and he is not the only one.
The Belarusian businessman is not a man without controversy. Anyone who has an internet connection can google “Aleksander Zingman” and they will realise that he is a man accused of dealing in illegal arms, and he has a number of questionable relationships with African countries. This information is on multiple sources of news around the world. So when we report news that Mr Zingman has been arrested in Congo, we are not telling a story of Mr Zingman, we are telling a story of President Lungu. A story of Mr Zingman’s arrest in the Congo is not of interest to Zambia and Zambians, unless we tell our readers how he is connected to Zambia. And Mr Zingman’s connection to Zambia is that he is an ally of our President. The question now is, what does this arrest mean to Zambia and the President?
Mr Zingman is associated to Mr Lungu not because he is a former lawyer at Andrea Masiye and Company or because he is a former MP of Chawama Constituency. He is interested in Mr Lungu because he is the Republican President and Commander-In-Chief of our armed forces. There is nothing more and nothing less that can be said about that relationship. The meeting between President Lungu and Mr Zingman is not like a meeting of people who merely go to the same Church, it’s a meeting between people who have common business interests.
Now, Mr Lungu is in State House because the people of Zambia elected him. He is not in State House to serve his own interest but the interests of the people who elected him. As long as he remains in State House, his dealings, his lifestyle, his decisions and the people he befriends are going to be a matter of public interest.
The number one responsibility of the media (at least private media), is to provide checks and balances. It is our duty to demand good governance and accountability from those who have given themselves as servants of the people. The reason is simple; the government does not have a single volunteer in public office, the President and everyone else who is on government payroll is paid by tax payers’ money. When the President makes a decision or a commitment, it does not affect him alone, it affects the entire Republic and the people who live in it.
It remains true that the President is also a human being and has the right to choose his friends, but the people who elected him into office also have the duty and the right to scrutinize those friendships which the President establishes to ensure that they do not expose our national resources to risks. Nobody cares if Mr Lungu has established new friends from Belarus, Kuwait, Russia, Turkey or Ukraine, what we care for is the business they do.
If Mr Zingman says his only business in Zambia is to supply agriculture equipment to the government, why should he posing in pictures with the President and not the Minister of Agriculture? Why should he be posing in pictures with the Air Force Commander and the Defence Permanent Secretary? Do Zambians cultivate in the sky now? It does not make sense! When one wants to do business in a given country and goes to befriend the President of that country, it means only one thing – he wants influence from the Head of State.
This is where our problem is. State House is not a procurement wing of any government department. The President is not a procurement officer, it is not his duty to sign or approve supply contracts. He has Cabinet ministers and controlling officers in those line ministries to do that. It should worry every citizens when those who get top government contracts are also seen dining and wining with the President. That is what paints a bad image on the President.
It is not us who are dragging the name of the President in the mud, it is the President’s friends who are doing this. Mr Lungu has chosen his friends. He is not mandated to, but he has decided that Mr Zingman should be his friend, so if what Mr Zingman does dents the image of the Zambian President, blame him, not the media that reports the news.
We love this country and we love the people who were elected to lead us, but if patriotism means helping them to cover their dirt; if patriotism means concealing their scandals, then we don’t want to be part it. Those who want to live without anyone questioning what they do or the friends they keep, must come out of public service and we will not bother them. Those who want to stay in government with access to State coffers must remember that the public and the media are watching!