Zambia: Sata gets tough on corruption (and this time it’s serious) – By Jack Hogan
Prior to their electoral victory in the September 2011 Zambian general elections, the Patriotic Front’s (PF) key promise was “˜Lower Taxes, More Jobs and Money in your Pockets.’ It forms part of their party logo and could be seen everywhere during last year’s election campaign. The 2012 Budget, themed “Making Zambia a better place for all” and due to come into force on the 1st of April, is billed as delivering these, and it may well do so.
In his inaugural speech, Zambia’s new president, Michael Chilufya Sata, promised to uphold democracy and the rights of Zambia’s citizens, to reduce poverty, improve public services and the work of civil servants and renew the fight against corruption.
While most of the PF’s electoral pledges remain to be fulfilled, the fight against what President Sata called the “˜cancer’ of corruption appears, on the surface at least, to have made a real start. There have already been a number of high-profile prosecutions, sackings and appointments, and the new government is certainly making all the right noises.
Almost immediately after the elections, Sata sacked Colonel Godfrey Kayukwa as Director General of the Anti-Corruption Commission, for bungling investigations and his close links to former President Rupiah Banda. Rosewin Wandi’s appointment to the role looks to have been a good one. On the 27th of March, during a speech launching the final report on the National Anti-Corruption Policy, she called for the removal of institutional obstacles to its implementation.
This is hardly a new problem. The Ministry of Health’s Permanent Secretary Kashiwa Bulaya was prosecuted in 2007 for abuse of office, but the case was reportedly severely hampered by the refusal of large numbers of civil servants, who had seemingly benefitted from Bulaya’s corrupt practices, to testify. Wandi’s work will be made a great deal easier by the Anti-Corruption Bill 2012, which has received cross-bench support in Parliament and which is intended to re-introduce the abuse of office clause, removed in 2010 whilst Banda’s Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) was in power. It is hoped this will go a long way towards ending systemic corruption in Zambia’s byzantine civil service.
Another noteworthy new appointment is that of Mutembo Nchito, who had been a prosecutor for the Task Force on Corruption, dismantled during Banda’s time in what many understood as an attempt to neutralize the anti-corruption campaign. Following Sata’s election, Nchito was appointed Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP). Whilst a promising move, Nchito was recently summoned to appear before Chief Resident Magistrate in Lusaka to explain why the case against Maxwell Mwale, former Mines and Mineral Resources Minister, was being stalled by repeated adjournments, apparently caused by inaction on the part of the DPP. Mwale is charged with misuse of public funds for campaign materials.
Sebastian Zulu, PF Member of Parliament and newly appointed Minister of Justice, chaired the Commission of Enquiry into the sale of 75% of the state-owned telecommunications network, Zamtel, to LAP Green Network, a highly-publicised and politically charged deal in the run-up to the election. The Committee recommended the immediate reversal of the sale, describing the latter as a case of “˜economic sabotage’, intended to deprive the Zambian people of a projected 2015 value of Zamtel, US$5 billion. This was possible as, in the Commission’s view, “˜A proper valuation of Zamtel assets did not take place’ before the sale was sanctioned. Yet, the Ernst & Young audited accounts to 31st March 2010 give Zamtel’s position as one of negative equity. Therefore, from an accounting point of view, the company was worth nothing. This appears to have been ignored in the findings of what some have termed a politically motivated inquiry. The US$394 million sale was reversed on the 9th of January. The report of another Commission of Enquiry, into the Zambia Revenue Authority (ZRA), proved equally damning, recommending the investigation of several former and current ZRA staff, four former MMD ministers and the former president, Rupiah Banda.
It has been suggested that the sacking of Alfred Chipoya, Sata’s Senior Private Secretary, for taking a bribe to arrange a meeting with the president is in some sense demonstrative of a willingness to pursue the new regime’s supporters as vigorously as its opponents. In the words of Wynter Kabimba, PF General Secretary, “For the MMD that were saying we were on a frolic of retribution, this is clear evidence that we are not taking up these corruption cases on individual basis or because we do not like certain individuals. Chipoya is just the first example. “Yet Chipoya had also been Senior Private Secretary to Banda and was associated with the MMD. Chipoya, then, was hardly a staunch PF cadre, and it is tempting to interpret his disgracing as a cheap way of persuading the public of the sincerity of the new regime’s commitment to eradicate corruption.
It is of course unsurprising that an anti-corruption campaign will target those who were formerly in a position to engage in corrupt practices. Yet the same campaign can also lend itself to less commendable political purposes – viz. the demolition of the opposition. On the 22nd of February, the day in which the opposition staged a walk out of parliament, Felix Mutati, an MMD Member of Parliament, claimed that “this government has been breaching the constitution…creating ministries and transferring responsibilities” without the consent of parliament.
This was followed by the Registrar of Societies attempt to de-register the MMD. This was stayed by a Lusaka High Court judge as, unsurprisingly, the MMD’s 53 MPs applied for a judicial review of the decision. The de-registration would have dissolved the MMD as a political party, and triggered by-elections in 53 seats. It seems highly unlikely that the Registrar of Societies would have been unaware of this outcome, or that the government were unaware of his intentions. This view is echoed by Hakainde Hichilema, the leader of the second largest opposition party, the United Party for National Democracy (UPND): “what we want is a professional and transparent fight against corruption; a fight that will ensure that there is no selectiveness, and no vindictiveness. Unfortunately, at the moment it is very clear that the fight against corruption is being used to settle political scores.”
Corruption has been on the agenda in Zambian politics for decades, and the Zambian public expected Sata to do something about it. Likewise, donors have time and again voiced their concerns, and occasionally withheld funding over the issue. In ensuring something is seen to be done, Sata has thus far just tried to do the opposition in. But corruption in Zambia is not solely the preserve of politicians. In the police and security services, the professions, the education sector, even down to the level of minor civil servants, corruption takes many forms. It will take time to change this, but the litmus test of the new Zambian government’s commitment to change will be its pursuit of corruption regardless of the political identity of the perpetrators.
The PF came to power with a coterie of wealthy and influential Zambians behind it. On the 28th of March, Mutembo Nchito, Sata’s aforementioned new DPP, his younger brother Nchima Nchito, and Fred M’membe, owner and editor of The Post newspaper, the only Zambian independent daily, walked out of Lusaka High Court. The Post was instrumental in Sata’s victory, carrying both PF propaganda and continually criticising the MMD, and in particular Rupiah Banda. The editor also enjoys a close relationship with the upper echelons of the PF.
The Nchito brothers and M’Membe are currently being sued for their involvement in a scandal involving the now defunct Zambian Airways, in which millions of US dollars of public money were lost. The original investigation of the three for theft, fraud, money laundering and tax evasion began after Zambian Airways ceased operations in January 2009, and was revealed to be US$29 million in debt. It alleged that they attempted to persuade Development Bank of Zambia (DBZ), a government supported financial institution, to convert the debt owed to it by ZA as its share equity without showing how and what the loans were used for. At the time the investigation was thought to be politically motivated. They are now being sued by DBZ to recover public money alleged to have been embezzled when they were directors of Zambian Aiways. Their justification for the walk-out is that the judge was not ready to hear them and had already made a decision in the matter. However, it has been suggested that they are refusing to proceed in the matter as their preferred judge, Justice Wood, had recused himself, and they were no longer confident of the outcome.
The Zambian Airways saga is perhaps the first true test of Sata’s commitment to anti-corruption, and he cannot permit those close to him to flagrantly abuse the system he is claiming to be upholding whilst condemning his opponents.
Zambia’s regime change has been accomplished in an exemplary, peaceful manner, and it is to be sincerely hoped that the transition from corruption to probity will be equally successful. Whether this “frolic of retribution” will become “a better Zambia for all” will be the real test of the next six months of PF government.
Jack Hogan is a PhD candidate at the University of Kent.