Thursday, May 24, 2012
By The Post
Thu 24 May 2012, 13:00 CAT
THE conviction and sentencing of Austin Liato to two years imprisonment with hard labour over the K2.1 billion that he had buried in the belly of the earth at his farm raises more challenges and opportunities in the fight against corruption. Austin, a former labour minister in the Rupiah Banda-led government, failed to account for the source of those billions when challenged by law enforcement agencies to do so. There is need for accountability.
All of us should be able to explain, when required by law enforcement agencies to do so, the source of our money and all the wealth we possess. Money does not grow on trees and it is not mined in the ground; it has to be earned. And since it has to be earned, its source shouldn't be difficult to trace.
If one cannot provide the source of the money he has, then only one conclusion can be drawn: it is unearned. We know very well that possession of any money or wealth of any form that is not earned is a prima facie case of theft, corruption or abuse of office.
Austin failed to account for the K2.1 billion he buried in the ground and has been convicted. But the question is: what would have happened if Austin had quickly used that money to purchase property or other items of value?
What attracted attention to Austin was the strange thing he did - burying such a huge amount of money in a grave as if it was dead. We know that money doesn't die; it has a life that doesn't seem to end. Even when the currency is changed, one can still take the old money to the bank and have it changed.
But Austin decided to bury it alive, with no attempt to kill it before he buried it. And today he is in jail for attempted murder of money! Probably Austin was stupid to do what he did.
Or maybe the money came too fast to him and in too large amounts for him to handle intelligently. Probably Austin was not used to handling such big amounts of money. A few years ago, Austin was nothing but a humble accounts clerk at Zesco where he was also the chairman of the union.
So this type of money was too much for this poor boy. But where did Austin get that type of money? This money is certainly coming from bribes. We have no doubt Austin received bribes. If this money was not a bribe, then Austin stole it from some public institution.
Let us not forget that Austin was the minister under whose authority NAPSA fell. And we all know what was going on at NAPSA, the huge amounts of money NAPSA was paying to all sorts of people. We also know that such huge amounts could not be paid without Austin's approval.
And the recipients of such money definitely must have given Austin something. An investigation of the accounts of those who received huge amounts of money from NAPSA may reveal something about where Austin got that money. But this is not the main issue.
The issue again is: what would have happened if Austin had converted that money into assets like houses or shares in some companies? Given our current approach to investigating and prosecuting corruption, Austin would have gotten away with it if he had converted that money into property.
There are many colleagues of Austin who had stolen more than the K2.1 billion he stole; who have more property far much worth than the money Austin has gone to prison for and which if they are asked to account for its source, they would fail.
It is therefore important to ensure that every citizen of this country only owns that which they are able to legitimately account for. Anyone who is seen or is suspected to own things - money, property and other assets or investments - that are beyond their earned income should be probed, and if found wanting prosecuted.
We have many former ministers in the Rupiah regime who hold assets that are far beyond what can legitimately be said to have been their earned income. They should not be allowed to get away with it because it is clear where this money is coming from; it is not legitimately earned money. There are proceeds of corruption, bribery and theft.
It is not enough to just pursue cash. Let us also pursue property and other assets of value. If one has a house that appears to be above their earned income, let them explain where the money to purchase or construct it came from.
If one has children attending school abroad and they do not have legitimately earned income to support that, let them explain how they are doing it. It may reveal a similar type of corruption that we saw in the case Lt Gen Willford Funjika and Anuj Krishman Kunmar Rathi were involved in.
This should not be restricted to politicians and civil servants. It should also be extended to people in the private sector because they, too, participate in stealing public funds.
We saw this in the case of people like Faustin Kabwe who were in the private sector but were participating in the stealing of public funds in collusion with public officers like Xavier Chungu, Stella Chibanda and indeed Frederick Chiluba himself.
We shouldn't also forget to extend this to judges and magistrates. Today we have got judicial officers who have property worth far more than their earned income.
Yet we know very well that judges in this country are not allowed to engage in business. Some of our judges have children studying abroad in very expensive institutions which they cannot afford from their earned income. How are they financing all this? Let them be probed.
If our law enforcement agencies have difficulties about where to start from, we invite them to start with us. Let them come and probe us for everything that we own and if we fail to account, we should be prosecuted and sent to jail.
We say this because it doesn't make sense for us to call others to virtues which we ourselves do not make an effort to practice.
To be able to create an honest society, a society where corruption is not tolerated, we need to be demanding of ourselves and to create standards and values that make us accountable.
Let Austin's conviction and jailing serve as a warning and a reminder to all of us that no amount of impunity should be tolerated where corruption is concerned. This case shows us clearly how destructive corruption can be.
Taking K2.1 billion out of circulation has very negative consequences on the economy. Money that can be used for production is taken away from circulation and buried in the ground where it is not being used. This is not only stupid but an extreme form of recklessness and irresponsibility.
What made it possible for such a corrupt and irresponsible element, with a mind of an ant like Austin to be a minister of government, to be a political leader, a member of parliament? This reminds us of what Wynter Kabimba said the other day about the need for honesty and integrity in political leadership. Let's mull over things and consider those very serious observations from Wynter.
There is no alternative to a clean and honest political leadership full of integrity. But also, let's not forget that political leadership comes from the people.
If we have a country of upright citizens, then we will have a country with an upright political leadership. Let's start with ourselves. Let each one of us examine themselves over these issues and see what remedies need to be made. In the end, we will get the type of political leaders we deserve.