Richard Sakala: ‘A Fall from Grace’?

Book Review By Richard Mwaba

A Mockery of Justice is probably a wrong title for the 288-page latest release by Richard Lazalous Sakala, a former Special Assistant to the President for Press and Public Relations for Zambia’s second President Frederick Chiluba.

The book should have been titled A Fall from Grace as the author ably chronicled his life from driving an E260 Mercedes Benz to his prestigious office at State House to being “squashed in the back of the truck” with over 200 prisoners as one of the suspected “plunderers” of national resources.

The book is divided into six parts, each with sub-chapters of his experience as an “enemy of the State” following his eviction from State House after the 2001 general elections which saw the end of Chiluba’s 10-year reign.

Sakala was one of the key players at State and his book is full of reminders of how the anti-corruption crusade was started and later hijacked in the process by a cabal of lawyers and journalists who were initially against the election of late President Levy Patrick Mwanawasa, SC.

Sakala names these people in the book.

If the book were to be cast into a movie, Post Newspaper editor Fred Mmembe, Lusaka lawyer Mutembo Nchito and his brother Nchima and Mark Chona, former chairman of the Taskforce on Corruption, would certainly feature as leading actors.

It is a book depicting a Head of State – Mwanawasa – under siege by a mafia-type cabal, holding him to ransom in exchange for political favours and economic licences.

“The President was forced, for political expediency, to accept an offer he could not refuse. Post Editor Mmembe and his lawyers and business partner Mutembo Nchito offered him ‘leadership’ of the ‘anti-corruption’ campaign, which they had enhanced using secret information from the Zambia Security Intelligence Services…” Sakala begins the book in his preface.

And these are the same people who have now teamed up against President Rupiah Bwezani Banda, hoping to get the same results they got when they punished Mwanawasa with consistent attacks in the editorials.

The author’s former boss, Chiluba, who opened the foreword, attacks from another angle, describing the anti-corruption crusade under his successor as a western sponsored scheme.

“This book is an effort to provide an objective critique to the paternalistic politics of so-called donor governments which have continued to dictate the pace of political and economic development of their former colonies,” says Chiluba in Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe style.

“The so-called crusade against corruption is basically the pursuit and perpetuation of politics of calumny to force regime change in the
Third World.”

A seasoned journalist in his own right, Sakala is a former president of the Press Association of Zambia (PAZA) and director of the once prestigious Mindolo Ecumenical Foundation in Kitwe which trained a chain of Zambian and other African journalists.

Using his journalistic background, Sakala takes on The Post newspaper, accusing the publication of throwing ethics out of the window in preference to settling scores.

For example, Sakala questions the logic of Fred Mmembe’s travel to London to testify as a State witness in a case against Chiluba but at the same time wants to pretentiously pose as an objective journalist when covering the same case.

“The journalism profession on the other hand demands a high professional ethic that should ensure moral neutrality, accuracy, truthfulness, fairness and balance,” Sakala lectures to The Post newspaper.

“The Editor of The Post as a prosecution witness cannot be expected to serve an impartial and objective role given their own commercial as well as personal interests. Sadly, the public cannot distinguish when The Post is posturing for self-interest and when it is genuinely presenting an objective fact – this being the result of professional compromise.”

The book has a number of The Post newspaper back issues, depicting how biased and inconsistent the newspaper covered the corruption fight with inside information which even intelligence officers could not access.

Away from The Post, Sakala attempts to show in the book a number of glaring financial irregularities in the Taskforce, including the lack of tender procedures when awarding contracts.

“The Taskforce has been prosecuting cases concerning non-adherence to tender board procedures and yet the audit report is replete with cases where it abused the system,” Sakala writes.

He, for instance, gives an example where  a UK firm was awarded a contract for a monthly fee of US$90,000 but the figure was revised to US$150,000 without the approval of the then Zambia National Tender Board.

The firm eventually was paid a whopping US$2.4 million!

The book details several other irregularities which qualify to be called scandals of the Taskforce.

Further, the book chronicles the fights within government over the legal status of the Taskforce – he uses documents and inside sources – to reveal that current Vice-President George Kunda, SC was against the Taskforce not being legalized as a distinct institution.

But, according to the book, he was overruled by Mutembo, Chona and Mwanawasa despite him being the Attorney-General and Minister of Legal Affairs at that time.

At most times, Kunda was not privy to the work of the Taskforce as he was completely sidelined by the cabal that privates—being answerable to the donor community and, occasionally, to the president.

It is public knowledge that the author was sentenced to a jail term of four years with hard labour for abuse of authority and theft of a motor vehicle.

Sakala argues his innocence even now and blames Zambia’s legal system for his sentence.

He equally blames the judges and the tedious legal procedures, which he said, cannot guarantee justice for a man without a lawyer.

True to some extent, but he fails short of accepting his misdeeds when he served in Government.

Sakala writes: “I found to my dismay that using lawyers was not only expensive but very frustrating. The legal fraternity has created for itself a structure and framework that bears little resemblance to reality, the multiplicity of forms, submission procedures and archaic language seem designed to dissuade any ordinary person from seeking redress. Little wonder thousands languish in jail.” Sakala then turns to the Law Association of Zambia (LAZ), accusing the body of abdicating its responsibility of providing counsel on key issues of national importance.

For instance, he tabulates how the former director of public prosecution (DPP) Mukelebai Mukelebai (late) had sacked Mutembo Nchito from prosecuting him but the DPP was overruled by Mwanawasa even when it is clear that Mukelebai was not subject to the direction of any authority.

And LAZ kept quiet when the constitution was being mutilated. Thus a sub-title of the book is – “Rule without Law Legacy 2001 – 2008” – the term served by Mwanawasa.

The book is well thought out although written for a Zambian audience with current affairs acumen. It is easy to read for those who follow events reported in Zambian media.

In fact, many passages and references in the book can only be understood by ardent readers of The Post.

For instance, some names drop without giving background of what they did for them to appear in the book. On one instance, Dora Siliya’s name appears as an example but the author fails to give background as to who Dora Siliya is and what she is alleged to have done for her to be used as an example.

The editing is also a bit poor; it has some typographical mistakes, which need to be sorted out in the next edition, if any.

The book is worthy reading for those keen in Zambia’s public affairs. It is a fair account of a man who enjoyed much influence when he was at State House but was reduced to nothing by the very system he once worked for.

Lessons for many!

And on a lighter note, Sakala goes back to the 2001 presidential campaign when Mwanawasa had verbal slip-ups and puts the famous ones in the book.

For example, Mwanawasa claimed that he was as strong as “that man who walked on water…” searching for the name of Jesus Christ in a country predominantly Christian!

Book Author: Richard Lazalous Sakala

Title: A Mockery of Justice

Pages: 288

Publisher: Sentor Publishers

Price: ZMK150, 000

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