Sunday, August 05, 2007

Declaring assets

Declaring assets
By Editor
Sunday August 05, 2007 [04:00]

It is indeed surprising that the people or leaders who are supposed to be in the forefront fighting corruption are now the ones in the forefront trying to shoot down ideas meant to curb the scourge. We have difficulties appreciating the discomfort expressed by some members of parliament concerning the Parliamentary and Ministerial Code of Conduct Amendment Bill of 2007 being driven by Kabwata Patriotic Front member of parliament Given Lubinda to compel parliamentarians to annually declare their assets, liabilities and incomes before the Chief Justice.

The objective of this amendment is very clear. It is to encourage transparency and accountability among our politicians, our leaders. This being the case, we do not see why well-meaning people or leaders can oppose an amendment with such a noble objective.

Bangweulu PF member of parliament Joseph Kasongo opposed the bill saying it is retrogressive because the House had earlier repealed the Leadership Code enacted by the UNIP government to penalise those leaders who acquired wealth beyond the prescribed limits. Kasongo fears that this bill is aimed at deterring members of parliament from acquiring wealth or assets. Kasongo further said there are established institutions to fight corruption and therefore it is wrong for Lubinda to take it upon himself to fight corruption.

Kasongo is also uncomfortable that outsiders may be behind the sponsorship of the bill because the Zambian chapter of African Parliamentarian Network Against Corruption which Lubinda chairs has been pleading for donor funding and it would not be surprising if donors were behind this bill for their own benefits.

With this attitude from our lawmakers, we doubt if our people should rely on them to come up with laws that will make it difficult for corrupt elements to operate in society. The fears expressed by Kasongo are irrational, to say the least. We do not understand why a minister or member of parliament who has legitimately earned some money in the course of the year can find it difficult to declare that which he legitimately earned.

We also find it difficult to understand why a minister or member of parliament who has legitimately acquired some assets should have problems declaring such an acquisition.
Yes, all members of parliament and indeed ministers declare their assets and liabilities before the Chief Justice at the time they assume office. But this is done once a year.

The proposal from Lubinda, if accepted, will compel members of parliament to declare their assets, liabilities and incomes every year. We think that this is a welcome move and all people who believe in a transparent society should support it. It cannot be denied that most of our people have taken politics as a career. In fact, for many it is a source of livelihood. That is why they can do everything possible under the sun for them to remain in those positions; even if it means betraying their friends and relatives. For many, it is a source of livelihood.

And because it is a source of livelihood, such politicians set economic targets for themselves. They want to acquire certain properties and motor vehicles before the end of their five years as ministers or members of parliament. That is why some of these members are not comfortable with the idea of declaring assets, liabilities and incomes at the end of the year because they know that they cannot justify or legitimately support their acquisitions.

They do not want to expose themselves as leaders who are living beyond their means. If they are able to do that, certainly they will have no reason to oppose such a noble amendment being proposed, inconveniencing as it may be.

It is true that Zambia has established institutions to fight corruption. But we do not see any harm coming up with other measures to supplement efforts by the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) and the Drug Enforcement Commission (DEC). We know that although the ACC and DEC are there to fight corruption and other economic crimes, usually they do not capacity to prevent such crimes from being committed. In most cases, if not all, ACC and DEC are only involved after a crime has been committed.

But if this bill becomes law, it will be easier for ACC and DEC to isolate corrupt leaders; leaders that are involved in money laundering activities. It will also help the public to monitor and question how some ministers or members of parliament acquired certain assets and wealth in general within their five-year tenure.

It cannot be disputed that since the coming of the MMD government in 1991, Zambia has seen men and women who could barely survive before they became ministers and members of parliament suddenly becoming millionaires upon taking up their political positions. We have seen some individuals whose dying businesses suddenly picked up as soon as they became ministers.

Investigations by the Task Force on Corruption have exposed many leaders in the previous regime who acquired property using state funds, especially from the Zamtrop account. If we had a law like the one Lubinda is proposing, the country could have detected such leaders without waiting for the Task Force, ACC or DEC to expose them. How many properties acquired by some leaders in the Chiluba regime have been forfeited to the state?

This is not to say that our leaders cannot acquire assets and properties. Like all of us, these leaders aspire to have these things. But the bottom line is these assets must be legitimately acquired by whosoever acquires them. In our understanding, this amendment being proposed by Lubinda is meant to isolate leaders acquiring assets illegitimately. Of course, we cannot be wrong as a nation to target people who directly control resources of the country.

If there are some shortcomings in Lubinda’s proposal, it would be appropriate to deal with those shortcomings instead of trying to shoot down the whole proposal. There is nothing wrong for other people, including foreign donors, to support Lubinda’s private member’s motion if it is well-conceived, if it is meant to fight corruption. After all, who doesn’t know that almost 90 per cent of the Task Force on Corruption’s budget is funded by foreign donors?

If we are to seriously follow Kasongo’s argument, one would not be wrong to say or allege that the Task Force is pursuing the British or American agenda since these two countries are among the major sponsors of the Task Force.

But would such an assumption or conclusion be right? Who declared zero tolerance on corruption? Wasn’t it President Levy Mwanawasa?

If Lubinda had some ulterior motives behind his proposal, the best those who know about this motive can do can do is to expose him instead of peddling meaningless innuendos against Lubinda and his sponsors.

Alternatively, if the government is also suspicious of Lubinda’s motion, they can takeover the presentation of this motion, and drive the process to its conclusion. The government has done this before with other private member’s motions and there is nothing wrong with this.

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