Saturday, July 28, 2007
Saturday July 28, 2007 [04:00]
Sometimes it is difficult to believe President Levy Mwanawasa’s pronouncements that there are no sacred cows in his crusade against corruption. It is said that actions speak louder than words. So when Levy speaks, people will always wait to see what action will accompany his words. In most cases, we have witnessed a lot of contradictions and inconsistencies. Levy does not walk the talk sometimes.
Not so long ago, Levy said he would not protect any wrongdoer from facing the law and that he would apply the same standards regardless of who is involved in any case. This was shortly after he fired Claver Silavwe as Northern Province minister to pave way for investigations concerning the over K100 million imprest which Silavwe allegedly failed to retire or account for.
This was a good act confirming that Levy meant what he actually pronounced concerning the fight against corruption. Recently when we exposed a scam in the allocation of land at the Ministry of Lands, we saw Levy rise to the challenge yet again and suspended Frighton Sichone as Commissioner of Lands to pave way for investigations. In fact, he even fired then lands minister Rev Gladys Nyirongo who was also implicated in the scam. Rev Nyirongo was fired even before the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) completed its investigations against her.
And before that, a permanent secretary in the same ministry was sent on forced leave to facilitate investigations against her by the ACC. We also remember that a few years ago, Levy had fired John Mwaimba as deputy information minister because there were some allegations against him which he wanted exhaustively investigated by our investigating agencies. There are several examples we can cite.
But today, we are witnessing contradictions and inconsistencies in the way standards are being applied in the fight against corruption both from Levy and the ACC. There are serious allegations of abuse of authority of office against the Commissioner of the Drug Enforcement Commission (DEC) Ryan Chitoba and his deputy.
The ACC is also investigating Southern Province minister Joseph Mulyata for abuse of authority of office.
Looking at the way Silavwe, Sichone and Rev Nyirongo were treated, one would think that Levy would continue to demonstrate that there are no sacred cows in his fight against corruption by continuing to apply the same standards. In fact, one would think that it would be like pushing an open door for anyone to ask Levy to suspend Chitoba and Mulyata during this time they are being investigated.
Do we really need to remind Levy that in the interest of justice, Chitoba and Mulyata should either be suspended or sent on forced leave to facilitate meaningful investigations against them? If Levy saw the need to suspend Sichone who faced the same allegations of abuse of authority of office as Chitoba and Mulyata, why should it be difficult for him to apply the same standards in the case of Chitoba and Mulyata? Wouldn’t Sichone and Rev Nyirongo be justified in complaining that Levy acted unfairly against them, or that some people are more equal than others? Would it be fair for Levy to take offence if one suggested that his fight against corruption is selective?
It is normal practice everywhere that those being investigated should stay away from office until investigations against them are concluded. There are good reasons for this. Primary among them is that the suspect should not be given an opportunity to interfere with the course of investigations through their continued presence in office. That is why there are complaints at DEC concerning Chitoba’s continued stay in office even in the face of serious investigations against him. It is now alleged that Chitoba, using or abusing his power and authority, is doing all sorts of things to punish and frustrate all those officers at DEC whom he suspects could have reported him to the ACC.
We have heard that a number of officers have been demoted while others have been sent to remote parts of the country. This might be genuine administrative intervention by Chitoba. But coming at this time of investigations against him, this administrative action is likely to be misunderstood whether it is genuine or not. That is why it is necessary that any suspect ceases to perform official duties until he is cleared.
We are surprised that ACC director general Nixon Banda does not see anything wrong with Chitoba’s continued stay in office during this time of investigations. For investigations to be credible, there is need for the ACC or indeed any investigator, to remove all manner of suspicion. Assuming Chitoba is today cleared of all allegations against him, does the ACC expect the public to accept as genuine the outcome of those investigations?
When one is sent on forced leave or suspended to facilitate fair and objective investigations, it does not mean that they are guilty. All it means is that there is need to promote investigations that are above board and without blemish in the interest of justice both to the complainants and those complained against.
And this casual approach to serious issues is what will hinder this fight against corruption. It is true that there is no law in place to protect whistle-blowers, but there is need for the ACC to act in a manner that gives confidence to would-be whistle-blowers; that they would be protected even under this hostile environment.
That is why those who are genuinely interested in fighting corruption in our country should strive to ensure that there is something inserted in our laws to protect whistle-blowers. Most of the people involved in corruption are so powerful and influential that they can use their power and influence to protect themselves by “dealing” with the whistle blower.