While HH, aka Bally, has very difficult years ahead of him in trying to fix the economy, tackling youth unemployment, creating jobs, paying off debt and rebuilding credibility of governance institutions among other things, it is corruption scandals under Edgar Lungu’s PF regime that will dominate the headlines; and depending on the decisions he makes, this is one thing that may engulf his first term presidency.
The perception in Zambia is that many persons who commit corruption are not prosecuted. The prosecution rate is perceived to be especially low among senior government officials. To quote Professor Muna Ndulo: “The major obstacle to prosecutions include weak investigative capacity, poor prosecution and delays in the courts system.”
This is especially true in the Zambian set up where high-level corruption is very sophisticated and complex. The sophistication and complexity of these crimes contrast with the broad lack of sufficient capacity and appropriate training of persons charged with the responsibility to investigate and prosecute these crimes. There is a clear and pressing need for more specialized training, covering especially forensic accounting, but that will take some time.
As a matter of urgency, Zambia has two key issues that need to be dealt with. The first issue is political will to clean up the system and bring perpetrators of corruption to book. There are still some doubts lingering around whether the new hope, new dawn government has the interest to go after criminal elements indiscriminately. Our concern is that if this is not handled properly, it will create a problem for the new administration.
For example, if President Hichilema mishandles his amnesty towards the Patriotic Front and the defeated leadership, he will technically inherit the corruption that the Zambian people rejected. The PF corruption will become UPND’s corruption. As we have stated before, if you cannot prosecute criminals in the previous regime, you will be sending a message to the new ministers that they can steal and get away with it.
The second issue that Zambia needs to look at is the capacity of the law enforcement agencies. We need to ask ourselves if the current structural formation, mandate and technical capacity for these institutions is sufficient to deal with the grand corruption that we witnessed in the PF administration.
Frustrations with the capacity of the ordinary machinery of justice and the existing institutions; DEC, ACC, FIC, Zambia Police, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Judiciary to deal adequately and efficiently with corruption justifies the need to develop and to fully empower these with qualified, specialized and experienced personnel. But once again, this will take time.
On 23rd August 2021, President Hichilema said: “We met with members of the legal fraternity to discuss matters inhibiting the effective dispensation of justice. We’ll strengthen the justice system and work closely with them to ensure greater efficiency because
justice delayed is justice denied.”
How does he plan to expedite the dispensation of justice? Does he want to simply dump the corruption scandals at the law enforcement agencies and let the same people who were bribed to look the other way deal with the cases?
The country finds itself almost daily with the news of new corruption cases, amongst the already very long list of corruption scandals under the PF regime. Largest amongst these have been numerous corrupt contracts given in the health sector and infrastructure, road development in particular, the procurement of fuel, petroleum products, bulk petroleum storage facilities and its method of financing, procurement of over priced fertilisers.
In our view, there is an urgent need for a special anti-corruption task force or an independent judicial commission charged with the responsibility of recovering stolen monies and assets. Such a body can provide greater efficiency in resolving corruption cases promptly. Setting up such a task force would signal various domestic and international partners that Zambia takes the fight against corruption seriously.
Citizens have often raised concerns about the ability of the ordinary courts to handle corruption cases impartially, and without being corrupted themselves. The urgent need for the establishment of such a special court or independent task force is borne out of the desire to ensure expeditious disposal of such corruption and financial crimes cases. Instances abound where cases pending in our investigative agencies and conventional courts are stagnated and unduly delayed. Focus has also been on prosecuting the corrupted and not the corrupters. This too must change.
A special recovery task force on corruption is something that President Hichilema must consider as it will also help his administration keep away from the PF corruption and instead concentrate on the economy and good governance.