PRESS STATEMENT ON THE DISBANDING OF THE TASK FORCE ON CORRUPTION BY GOVERNMENT AND STATEMENT FROM HON. GEORGE KUNDA ON TRANSPARENCY INTERNATIONAL ZAMBIA
DATE: SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 1, 2009.
Transparency International Zambia (TIZ) has received the news of the disbanding of the Task Force on Corruption with mixed feelings. . Firstly, while we have consistently called for an appropriate legal mandate for the Taskforce, we think that the decision to disband the Taskforce has been hastily done and could have negative consequences for some of the corruption cases still before the courts of law or allegations still under investigations. Secondly, we find the timing of the decision to be peculiar – i.e. it comes immediately after the acquittal of former President Frederick Chiluba.. It can easily be construed that the purpose of this move is to completely kill off the outstanding investigations against Dr. Fredrick Chiluba. We all know that some Ministers and the Republican President Mr. Rupiah Bwezani Banda have clearly come to the defence of Dr. Chiluba and questions can be raised on whether the ACC will be given room to independently investigate someone who seemingly is under presidential protection.
Having worked closely with the Anti Corruption Commission in the past years, we understand their financial, human resource and technical constraints to handle high profile cases. While the ACC has been given additional responsibility, Government has not indicated the support it will provide to the institution to improve their capacity. In the absence of such support, we question the rational for disbanding the Taskforce. It would have been appropriate in our view for Government to have strengthened the capacity of the ACC before making this transition. It has been a well known fact that the tenure of the Taskforce was limited and plans should have been put in place a long time back to ensure a smooth transition. It cannot be disputed that the Task Force on Corruption has scored a number of successes and has recovered several assets and therefore – whatever decision is made on the way forward – should be one that builds on this success. It is our considered opinion that Government should have evaluated the work of the Taskforce before disbanding it in this fashion. This would have allowed Government to pick out lessons and appreciate the impact of the work of this entity. The move to simply make the Taskforce a department of the ACC does not inspire confidence that Government has thoroughly thought through this decision. For instance. it is common knowledge that the Task Force on Corruption was an administrative arrangement comprising officers from the Anti Corruption Commission (ACC), the Office of the President, Drug Enforcement Commission and Police Service and it is practically impossible to transfer officers from these other wings to a Department at the ACC The move which the government has taken has undoubtedly added to their efforts of killing the fight against corruption and departing from the late Dr. Levy Mwanawasa’s legacy of fighting corruption.
As we conclude, we would be failing in our work if we did not comment on what his Honour the Vice President and leader of Government Business, George Kunda, SC said in the house when he was debating the disbanding of the Task Force Against Corruption and went further to attack us.
It is important to note that the Vice President spoke about us as a leader of government business in parliament. The Vice President accused TIZ of using the fight against corruption for monetary gain. The Vice President in his speech to Parliament said:
“There are organizations such as Transparency International Zambia, they get money from outside…They earn a living through the fight against corruption,……….Yes, they make statements. They are not constructive. The way NGOs should be working is to engage government,…….. The problem with Transparency International ……, it is because it is very difficult for us…to differentiate between a political agenda and the fight against corruption.”
We have taken time to study what was said and there is every indication that the Vice President and learned Minister of Justice deliberately elected to abuse his parliamentary privilege to make damaging allegations against Transparency International Zambia even without providing evidence to corroborate his allegations. We find it unfortunate that the good name of Parliament is being dragged in the mud – on account of such statements made under the cover of parliamentary privileges. Transparency International Zambia, has generally enjoyed a cordial relationship with the National Assembly and we have always cooperated when summoned to appear before portfolio or select committees because we believe in the important role that the Legislature plays in our democracy. The National Assembly is the seat of the people’s representatives and as an organization, it is our philosophy to work with the Members of Parliament in the best manner possible.
The unsubstantiated allegations by the Vice President who is also a Leader of Government Business in the house, is a sad turn of events. However, we do note that in the last few months, some of the members of the front bench in particular have used their positions of authority and privileges to attack institutions that they fully know are not in the house to defend themselves. We remember very well, the attack made by the Minister of Information and Broadcasting Services on the Catholic Church –his debate was allowed despite the fact that the Catholic Church had no platform to defend themselves. To date, Hon. Shikapwasha has neglected to either substantiate his allegations or apologise for his statement. Other Ministers including some Members of Parliament have attacked the private media especially the Post Newspapers for its critical position on a number of matters. Today, it is the Vice President making allegations against TIZ – knowing fully well that he has no solid foundation for what he is saying. For Hon Kunda, this is not the first time that he has used the House to attack Transparency International Zambia. In 2006, following the launch of our Book – Show Me the Money- Hon Kunda as Minister of Justice then – made disparaging remarks about Transparency International Zambia. At the time, we ignored the remarks hoping that the Minister of Justice would soon realize the folly of attacking organizations who were not there to speak for themselves. However, this time around, it is clear that Hon. Kunda has made it habitual to attack TIZ – an organization he seems to have a problem with. It is ironical and a question of doublespeak that on the same day when the Vice President made these allegations against TIZ, he was counseling Members of Parliament against attacking the President without adequate facts and lowering the standards of debate in the House. Now, surely, is the Vice President saying it is right for him to attack organizations without adequate facts?
This situation is baffling in that the Vice President occupies a distinguished position of power and if at all he has any inkling of wrong doing in the work of Transparency International Zambia, he can institute investigations through the law enforcement agencies. In fact, we stand ready to provide him all the necessary information about our operations, and thus help him not to mislead the National Assembly. It is unfortunate that Hon. Kunda has not bothered to find out the basic information about Transparency International Zambia as evidenced by some of the statements he has made on the organization. Transparency International Zambia was established in early 2000 and formally registered as a Company limited by guarantee in June 2000. We started operations almost one year before the end of the term of office of former President Frederick Chiluba. We therefore ask the question- how possible is it that donors facilitated the formation of TIZ alongside the Taskforce on Corruption which was only established in 2002? With a little bit of due diligence, His Honour would have gathered these basic facts about us.
Honourable Kunda intimated in his statement in the house that TIZ has been using the fight against corruption for financial gain- we find this statement, to use his own words, mere politicking. We want to remind him that the corruption that we are fighting is one where some senior Government leaders through their newly registered Construction companies, corruptly obtain government contracts. The corruption that TIZ has fought over the years and continues to fight- is one where Food Suppliers inflate invoices for payment in order to benefit some political parties, and the corruption that we fight is one where public procurement has been compromised and contracts are awarded to companies without following laid down tender procedures. The corruption we fight includes the abuse of public office where Government officials including very senior Government leaders fail to retire imprest despite existing laws. This is the corruption that we tackle every day – and the question for Hon. Kunda is what corruption is he fighting? Maybe by the time Government seriously starts fighting corruption, they will realize our immense contribution in this area. We believe in principled action and whether the Vice President likes it or not- we will never turn ourselves into Praise singers – yes we will generously give credit where it is due and similarly, we will not shy away from rendering our views on what we think is not working well in the fight against corruption. We live by the same maxim and we are ready to accept criticism of what we are not doing well but not mere allegations. We implore Hon. Kunda to take wise counsel from the distinguished writer and teacher on Leadership – John Maxwell who states –“As a leader- listen to the whispers and you won’t have to hear the screams.”
The statement in the house is surprising because while the Vice President was making allegations against TIZ, the National Assembly was inviting us to go and appear before a Parliamentary Committee. While the Vice President, seems not to see what we do as an organization, he did invite us to serve on the National Governing Council of the African Peer Review Mechanism-we obliged to serve because we believe in this country and we are prepared to make a meaningful contribution to the peer review process. Further, TIZ, in a spirit of constructive engagement serves on the Steering Committee of the Millennium Challenge Account under the Ministry of Finance and National Planning. TIZ chairs the Multi-Stakeholder Group of the Construction Sector Transparency Initiative – a project under the Ministry of Works and Supply and finally, TIZ are represented on the Zambia Council for the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative anchored by the Ministry of Mines and Mineral Development. With this in mind, at what point, did the Vice President realize that TIZ just makes statements and has a political agenda?
In going forward, Transparency International Zambia, would like to implore the Speaker and the Committee on Privileges, Absences and Support Services, to take notice of this growing trend of abuse of freedom of speech by Members of Parliament which comes with the parliamentary privileges. Secondly, we challenge the Vice President – not to hide under privileges and repeat these allegations outside National Assembly. On our part, we will seek every legal option to clear our name and we have instructed our Lawyers to pursue this issue to its logical conclusion. Further, we are seriously reconsidering our participation on the various bodies where we serve – because clearly, Government has no respect for civil society in general and TIZ in particular.
TIZ CHAPTER PRESIDENT