Friday, October 15, 2010

Mchenga, Shonga’s lies about abuse of office

Mchenga, Shonga’s lies about abuse of office
By The Post
Fri 15 Oct. 2010, 04:00 CAT

In their attempt to justify their unjustifiable decision to remove the abuse of office offence from our statute books, they have no alternative but to shamelessly resort to lies.

Rupiah Banda and George Kunda’s representatives – Director of Public Prosecutions Chalwe Mchenga, Attorney General Abyudi Shonga and Ministry of Justice permanent secretary in charge of administration Annie Sitali – failed in their attempt to justify the removal of abuse of office from the Anti Corruption Commission Act when they appeared before the parliamentary committee on legal affairs, governance, human rights and gender matters on Wednesday.

Last week, Professor Michelo Hansungule challenged the government to give reasons for their desperation to remove abuse of office from our statutes. He rightly observed that it seems that the motivation for this move has nothing to do with good governance but an attempt to protect themselves because they know they have done wrong things. The appearance of Mchenga, Shonga and Sitali before the parliamentary committee went a long way to prove that Prof Hansungule is right.

We say this because these three individuals are well-educated Zambians capable of articulating their positions clearly and in a defensible manner. But what happened on Wednesday demonstrates that even they do not have any meaningful arguments to deploy.

In many ways, they resorted to half-truths and outright lies to try and justify something that they have been instructed to justify. They know that it is not justifiable, but maybe for fear of losing their jobs, they are ready to wriggle like a snake between two diametrically opposed positions. They have a crisis in their minds. If they tell the truth, they are fired; if they lie, they are disgraced. What do they do? It is unfortunate that in this day and age, professionals should be subjected to the whims and unreasonable demands of people like George.

It is very clear that George is driving this shameless agenda as he has many times before. George has developed a taste for power which has led him to abandon any pretence of decency. He is ready to do whatever it takes to remain in power and defend what he considers to be the legitimate dividend of his position. This is coming out even in the arguments that they are making. When civil servants stand up and try to defend crime in public, then we all must know that there is something very wrong. How can people argue that it is acceptable, it is not wrong for public servants to make money using their public offices without any accountability or restraint?

This is what the representatives of Rupiah and George were saying at Parliament. Shonga and Sitali even suggested that the current law is unconstitutional. This is a lie. Shonga went even further by saying that such accountability was appropriate under Kenneth Kaunda’s one-party and socialist-oriented state and not in today’s liberalised capitalist economy. What nonsense is this? As we have always said, if you don’t understand issues, it is better to shut up than to expose one’s ignorance in public.

We like the saying by some people that it is better to keep quiet and be thought a fool than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt. Shonga as Attorney General should not make such careless statements to please his political masters. Can he show that the law, as it stands today, is unconstitutional? If these are the people that are advising Rupiah, then we have a big problem indeed. Maybe it is Rupiah advising them instead of the other way round because a serious lawyer could not make such a reckless statement.

If Shonga and Sitali are saying that the current law is unconstitutional, maybe they are talking about a different constitution which they are concocting with George. The Anti Corruption Commission Act as it stands today is consistent with the Constitution of Zambia. Shonga said that section 37 of the Anti Corruption Commission Act being unconstitutional was the major reason for its removal. Sitali, on her part, says that requiring an accused person to prove certain facts was unconstitutional. What both Shonga and Sitali are forgetting is that they are not the only ones who read the law.

We are pleased that we have learnt a little law and that even with that little law, we can show that they are liars. They are behaving like dishonest mercenaries. The Constitution is very specific about the issue they are debating. Article 18 (12)a says, “Nothing contained in or done under the authority of any law shall be held to be inconsistent with or in contravention of – (a)paragraph (a) of clause (2) to the extent that it is shown that the law in question imposes upon any person charged with a criminal offence the burden of proving particular facts”. This constitutional provision allows the laws of our land to require suspects to prove certain facts notwithstanding the provisions of Article 18(2)(a) which states that “Every person who is charged with a criminal offence – (a) shall be presumed to be innocent until he is proved or has pleaded guilty…”

These provisions are there in our Constitution and it is not possible that the entire Attorney General and his permanent secretary are unaware of this law. They were simply being dishonest; they went to Parliament with no other intention but to lie, deceive, mislead, manipulate the members of parliament and public opinion. This is definitely not a recipe for governing well. It’s clear that they are up to no good.

This is why Shonga even tried to discuss socialism, a matter which he did not seem to understand well. He would have done well to go and consult Dr Kenneth Kaunda before talking about issues he doesn’t understand. The issues that Parliament is grappling with are serious issues that have far-reaching consequences on all of us. There is no civilised state, capitalist, socialist or any other state whatever its description, that should accept the abuse of public office for personal benefit. There is only one state that accepts abuse of office: a corrupt state, run by corrupt people – a kleptocracy.

But surprisingly even Mobutu’s kleptocracy could not publicly say abuse of public office was acceptable even though it was the order of the day in Zaire. They knew that what they were doing was wrong and the most they could do was deny that there was any such abuse of office. Even Mobutu would look better when compared with the brazenness with which this Zambian kleptocracy wants to defend its crimes, its corruption, its abuse of public office and resources.

There is nothing socialist, capitalist or liberal about corruption, abuse of office. Any honest economic or political system abhors wrongdoing. There is no honest capitalist country in the world today which permits its leaders and public servants to acquire wealth, using their offices, and which they cannot account for. The United States, the most advanced capitalist country in the world, is the most strict country on this planet when it comes to abuse of public office.

We say this because in that country, abuse of public office is not only unacceptable legally but has also become a moral and cultural issue. In our view, this is one of the greatest contributions of the American Revolution to good governance in the world. China is also very strict about corruption in their country. They understand the grave consequences that could arise if corruption were allowed to flourish unchecked.

In China today, the offences that Frederick Chiluba and his friends committed would have been matters for capital punishment – they would be dead. That is how seriously they take corruption. This is a system founded on a deeply held belief that government is run best when the potential for the abuse of government offices by those holding or occupying them is curbed, and when it is held as close to the people as possible.

The issue of the leadership code that Shonga was trying to use to justify their criminal scheme does not hold water. Under Kaunda, leaders were allowed to run businesses. But there were very high levels of accountability that accompanied this. Enoch Kavindele was a member of the UNIP central committee but was allowed to run his businesses upon accepting the requirements of accountability that ensured that he did not abuse his position in the leadership of our country to enrich himself. The problem is not running business; it is abusing one’s office to enrich oneself. The problem here is corruption not running business. If you run business, you are able to account for your wealth if you have any. This is what civilised societies do.

Mchenga argued that Parliament should remove the offence of abuse of office because Zambians do not know how to keep receipts for the houses they are building. This is also a lie. The problem here is not about keeping receipts or producing them when they are needed. There is no honest person in this country who can fail to account for his house even if he doesn’t have receipts. Anyway, let him tell us how many people have been sent to jail since this law was enacted for failing to produce receipts for a house they had built from legitimately earned income. The truth is there is none. Mchenga is lying.

As for Mchenga, it seems lying is his preferred way of maintaining his job. It’s no wonder that the Law Association of Zambia has asked him to resign because he is not fit to continue in that very important public office when his instincts drive him to defend crime instead of prosecuting it. And since when has Mchenga been really concerned about justice?

All he defends every day on important public matters is injustice. We can ask: what justice was Mchenga advancing when he advanced that treacherous nolle prosequi to Kashiwa Bulaya?

What justice was Mchenga defending when he withdrew the appeal against what was clearly an unjustified acquittal of Chiluba by Jones Chinyama? There are more questions about justice Mchenga will one day be forced to answer.

Let them just do what they want to do without the nonsense of their explanations and insulting the collective intelligence of the Zambian people.

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