Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Church and Rupiah's immunity

The Church and Rupiah's immunity
By The Post
Tue 26 Feb. 2013, 14:00 CAT

It seems the Church, as a collective, is not giving clear guidance on how to deal with the corruption that was perpetrated by Rupiah Banda when he was president of the Republic of Zambia.

The Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia executive director Reverend Pukuta Mwanza says his body is in support of lifting Rupiah's immunity. Reverend Mwanza explains, "We are in total agreement with calls to investigate alleged corruption practices but looking into the history of immunity, we are concerned that the government must not rush the lifting of the immunity of the former president because it is important that the government has credible information and facts or evidence that there is a good case against the former head of state.

If government will rush, there is a danger that information will be scanty and will not be able to yield the intended results. That can rob the credibility of the investigative team. It will be important to do this cautiously."

And the Zambia Episcopal Conference secretary general Fr Cleaphas Lungu says that it would not support the premature lifting of Rupiah's immunity. Fr Lungu says, "We don't believe in the authenticity of the current calls. It's just a waste of our time. There are more important issues, anyway. So I don't think anybody is ready to go into that."

The Council of Churches in Zambia resolved not to say anything on the matter until after further consultations.

What guidance should we take from the Church on this issue? We are rather well versed in Christian principles and in Christ's teachings. We believe that Christ's entire doctrine was devoted to fighting against abuse, injustice and the degradation of human beings. His entire doctrine was devoted to the humble, the poor.

It cannot be denied that there were abuses under the Rupiah regime. Many people, including some of those who are today defending Rupiah, accused him of corruption. We also know that Rupiah's son, Henry, fled the country, fearing prosecution for corruption.

Those who are calling for the lifting of Rupiah's immunity so that he can be open to prosecution for corruption are doing so in defence of the interests of the poor against the powerful. We would say there is a lot in common between the spirit and the essence of Christ's teachings and the objectives of those calling for the lifting of Rupiah's immunity so that he can be prosecuted for robbing the poor of their meagre national resources.

We agree with the call for caution by the Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia. We are nearing a year and a half since Rupiah left government. And for over 16 months, the agencies of the state that have been following up the issues of Rupiah's corruption have been at work. This should be enough time to establish a prima facie case of corruption against Rupiah.

And looking at the team from the police, the Anti Corruption Commission, the Drug Enforcement Commission and the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, we see some reasonable levels of experience in this type of work.
And moreover, we don't see the source of apprehension over insufficient evidence being presented to lift Rupiah's immunity. Those in government will make their case to Parliament for lifting of Rupiah's immunity. If their case is not satisfactory, it will not be easy for them to move Parliament to lift Rupiah's immunity.

We also don't see how Rupiah's immunity can be lifted outside the provisions of the Constitution and the law in general. There are procedures laid out in the Constitution for lifting presidential immunity. These will have to be followed. If they are not properly followed, still Rupiah will not be without legal recourse. Rupiah can challenge the legality of the lifting of his immunity in our courts of law, all the way up to the Supreme Court, if the law is not properly followed.

As to Rupiah's conviction or acquittal, nobody can guarantee that. This will be a matter for the courts to decide. What matters is whether the prosecution has a case or none. If there is a case that deserves prosecution, then Rupiah should have his immunity lifted and be prosecuted.

This was the procedure that was followed under Frederick Chiluba. The civil proceedings against Chiluba were successful in the London High Court. The criminal proceedings against Chiluba were not successful in our subordinate courts, and efforts to appeal that judgment were stopped by Rupiah. And Rupiah explained to the nation why he didn't want Chiluba to go to jail.

So where is the apprehension coming from? Didn't Chiluba receive a fair trial? He did receive a fair trial. In fact, the people, the poor people of this country didn't receive a fair prosecution of Chiluba. Rupiah came in to protect Chiluba from being convicted and sent to jail.

Even the money that the London High Court ordered Chiluba and his tandem of thieves to pay back hasn't been paid because Rupiah came in to protect Chiluba from paying back that money.

We would like to see a Church that protects the poor and their interests and not one that defends the powerful and their crimes. When poor people commit crimes, the Church doesn't come to their defence the way it's doing in Rupiah's case. What message is the Church sending? Is the Church telling us it's okay for people in power to steal from the poor and go scot-free? Or it is simply a question of preference for Rupiah? We ask this question because the Church didn't behave in that way when it was Chiluba's turn.

The rule of law requires that under no circumstances should the state impose additional inequalities; it should be required to deal evenly and equally with all its people. The right to equality before the law is fundamental to any just and democratic society. Whether rich or poor, politically powerful or powerless - all are entitled to equal protection before the law.

Nobody can be more earnestly in favour of the Church taking a correct position on the most serious social problems of our times. Nobody wants to hear again that, as in the past, the Church took the side of the powerful.

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