Ministry of Health PS for Administration and Minister defy Presidential directives in an effort to compromise LAZ elections in favour of cartel member , Abyudi Shonga
Ministry of Health Permanent Secretary (Administration), Kakulubelo Mulalelo, working in cohorts with embattled Health Minister Chitalu Chilufya has, in an open act of defiance to President Edgar Lungu, has given permission to the Law Association of Zambia (LAZ) to hold its Annual General Meeting (AGM) and Council Elections in Livingstone amidst an increase in the number of recorded COVID 19 cases and deaths in the country.
In a letter dated 25 June 2020 and labeled “secret” and copied to Minister Chilufya, which have obtained, Mulalelo acknowledged that the pandemic was still a global threat but goes on to give permission for the planned meeting to go ahead. LAZ currently has a membership of slightly over 1, 500 lawyers and a significant number will attend the meeting which is slated for 11th July 2020.
The latest action from the Ministry of Health is a slap in the face to President Edgar Lungu and exposes further the divisions in the ruling PF and government as the PS has clearly undermined Lungu’s directive in his last national address.
Sources within the legal fraternity have revealed that the Ministry of Health had earlier on the 8th of June 2020 denied LAZ permission to have their AGM because of the Covid – 19 threat. In a letter dated 8 June 2020 and signed by the Permanent Secretary (Technical Services), Dr. Kennedy Malama, the Ministry advised LAZ to defer its physical AGM or consider holding a virtual one, in light of the public health threat and restrictions on mass gatherings imposed by the government and the President.
On the same day, LAZ issued a Notice to its members in line with the guidance from the Ministry of Health and announced that it would hold its AGM on the 4th of July 2020 from its Lusaka Secretariat and allow members virtual access to the meeting.
No member objected to the virtual AGM then, until two weeks later when former Attorney General, Abyudi Shonga SC, who also happens to be the nephew to former President Rupiah Banda and also running for the LAZ presidency, put pressure on the Eddie Mwitwa LAZ executive to abandon its decision to hold the AGM using a virtual platform.
Shonga, who was removed as Attorney General by his uncle’s successor, the late Michael Sata, in a move that shocked many in the legal fraternity threw his hat into the race for the LAZ presidency. His candidacy for the presidency has seen him cast an unpopular figure among the bulk of the junior lawyers, who feel he has nothing new to offer the Association and his relationship with his uncle RB, who is now a close ally to President Edgar Lungu has led to genuine fear that through Shonga, State House will finally capture LAZ thereby silencing the last voice remaining opposing the infamous Bill 10.
Aware of his unpopularity and sensing a certain electoral defeat at the hands of the younger female presidential candidate Rtd Major. Mutumu Mwape, Shonga, with the aid of his partners and sympathizers in the Legal Practitioners Committee and the LAZ Council, exerted pressure on the outgoing Eddie Mwitwa led executive, to change its plans of holding the meeting in Lusaka and also virtually by threatening that it was against the Rules of the Association. In a letter dated 22 June 2020, and addressed to outgoing LAZ President Mwitwa, Shonga boycotts the planned virtual meeting and goes on to withdraw from the presidential election in an act of blackmail against the Association.
Surprisingly, instead of acting on his withdrawal notice and declaring the other candidate elected unopposed, the LAZ executive in a show of fear, bows down to Shonga’s blackmail and without consulting its members goes back to the Ministry of Health and pressures it to U turn on its decision to ban large gatherings of people.
3 days later, the LAZ executive announces that the date, manner and venue of the LAZ AGM had been changed to suit Shonga’s demands. Sources close to LAZ and Shonga himself reveal that the former AG, had sensed a defeat at the ballot to his competitor who enjoys support from junior and female lawyers who make up the majority of the membership, could not afford a virtual AGM or one held in Lusaka as the numbers were not on his side. The source further reveals that he resorted to bullying the Association to yield to his demands knowing that the majority of his competitors support, would not manage to travel to Livingstone due to financial constraints.
Shonga, who is believed to have massive funding from the ruling party, PF has already embarked on a vote buying exercise and has also hired transport and promised to cater for accommodation as an inducement for vulnerable young lawyers to vote for him.
It has also been revealed that Shonga’s agents in the LAZ executive, led by outgoing Honorary secretary Mwenya Mukupa, used underhand methods to solicit the “secret” approval letter from the PS Administration at the Ministry of Health instead of the PS for Technical Services Dr. Malama who was not open to act in defiance of President Edgar Lungu.
Sources from Shonga’s camp have also said that the move to force LAZ to take the AGM to Livingstone would tilt the election in their favour, as holding the meeting in Lusaka would mean a huge turnout of young Advocates.
While Lusaka Mayor Miles Sampa is fighting a lone battle trying to force bars and clubs to adhere to the presidential directives on restrictions to large public gatherings, it is shocking that the Ministry of Health, is at the fore front of defying the guidelines by issuing “secret” letters allowing large gatherings of potentially up to a thousand people, yet at the same time is championing social distancing and crowd restrictions.
We ask the following questions:
Is President Edgar Lungu aware that his directives are being undermined or that his PS is “exporting” Covid to Livingstone as part of a scheme to aid a struggling candidate?
To Dr. Chitalu Chilufya and Madam Mulalelo, are public health guidelines and restrictions to large gatherings only for us the ordinary Zambians and don’t apply to the learned lawyers? Are lawyers immune from the Covid 19 virus? Are there separate laws for lawyers? Are the poor people of Livingstone not at risk of a Covid outbreak?
We ask these questions with sincerity and in the Public interest and we hope the relevant authorities will answer.