The Guilty are always afraid

Vice-President Inonge Wina’s response to the question asked by Chimwemwe independent member of parliament Mwila Mutale about what the government’s position on the issue of lifestyle audits was, raises more questions.

Inonge says: “I do not think there is need for that audit to take place because we cannot only audit the ministers, as some people try to portray. Unless we audit all the people in the country, which is not possible, those in business, those in parastatals, those in Cabinet, those in Parliament. I don’t think it’s possible for government to undertake this exercise.”

What harm or injustice would be caused by a lifestyle audit of the President, the Vice-President, Cabinet ministers and other senior government officials?

We had a leadership code under the UNIP government of Dr Kenneth Kaunda which covered only ministers. What injustice did it cause?

It cannot be denied that when corruption is stopped at the top, it will be less at the bottom.

Under UNIP and Dr Kaunda’s government, corruption was very low because it was not tolerated at the top. Dr Kaunda had no unexplained wealth. He actually had no wealth beyond his earned income or anything of value whose source was not known. His ministers were also living within their earned incomes. Those with businesses were also known and their businesses and incomes from those businesses were known. This greatly reduced the possibility of corruption, of using a public office to enrich oneself.

What is the situation today?

Today we have a president whose wealth has increased so fast – far beyond his earned income – since assuming office? Doesn’t this need explanation? We all know very well that having a huge unearned income is prima facie evidence of corruption.

The earnings from government of the President, Vice-President, Cabinet ministers and other senior government officials are gazetted. It’s not difficult to notice when one starts to live beyond these earned incomes.

Why should Inonge and her colleagues in this Patriotic Front government of Edgar Lungu be scared of accountability, of lifestyle audits if they have nothing to hide?

With so many allegations of corruption, of receiving bribes, against those in government wouldn’t a lifestyle audit help?

Why shouldn’t a lifestyle audit be possible?

Why should a lifestyle audit be seen as a conviction or crucifixion of someone?

But, of course, the guilt are always afraid!

A lifestyle audit is simply a study of a person’s living standards to see if it is consistent with his or her reported income. What is the problem with that?

The purpose of a lifestyle audit is to identify pointers to improper activity that has enabled the person to live beyond their means, their earned income.

As we have stated before, lifestyle may be judged from things that are pretty public, such as a house, a car, a taste for extravagant food and drinks, holidays or expensive women (or men) which cannot be explained on the basis of what is known of the person’s resources. Other material may be less obvious such as the size of the person’s bank account. Some people can live apparent modest lives, preferring to hoard rather than spend their wealth.

Evidence of this sort is not conclusive, of course. A person might inherit a fortune, marry a wealthy spouse, or have a lucrative but unknown hobby. What it is useful for is to indicate, whose affairs might be worth investigating further.

Superficial appearances of the sort mentioned will be of limited help if a person has squirreled away their money in tax havens, or owns expensive buildings in far-off places, or perhaps buys very expensive jewellery that is worn only on very private occasions.

This could obviously be rather a time-consuming exercise and would require some expertise to conduct well. In fact countries commonly carry out such exercises only for fairly senior public officials. Doing this for all government officials is not very practical.

There are many countries in which the assets of public officers are a matter of public record. You can, for example, read online about the assets of British MPs, including payments they receive for television appearances, or writing newspaper articles, and donations for their work, as well as houses they own.

Naturally, people don’t like it.

The general public has a legitimate interest in ascertaining that politics are transparent. We need more than lifestyle audits and other gimmicks to make a difference

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