LUNGU has set a dangerous precedence by not firing Chitotela, says UPND president Hakainde Hichilema.
Speaking at Kenneth Kaunda International Airport on Thursday before departure for Livingstone enroute to Sesheke on Thursday evening, President Lungu said a suspect in the eyes of the law enforcement agency could be arrested.
He said the Anti-Corruption Commission had chosen to arrest Ronald Chitotela.
He wondered what such action had to do with him.
“He’s a suspect. And in their wisdom they chose to arrest him, so what should I do? We are fighting corruption…so they have to prove in the courts of law and I hope they give him a chance to prove himself…but you see what I don’t want is to politicise the fight against corruption,” President Lungu said.
“Remember how I lost Chishimba Kambwili? They came to me, they said he’s corrupt. I said investigate him. They investigated him. I don’t know whether they said he’s not cooperating. ‘He’s insulting us’ – you know he’s very vulgar, I’m sorry to say that but he is vulgar, he can be vulgar. They were all crying in my office, I said what do I do? In my judgment…[I saw it fit to] remove him. I removed him. Chishimba, up to now we are waiting for the ACC, the DEC and all those who brought allegations against him to prove their allegations in a court of law. So you want me to lose Chitotela on that basis again? I’m saying no. I’ll give them leeway to investigate and arrest, bring to court the culprit. But I won’t interfere. I’ll even fund them to do their operations but those who are calling for the removal of honourable Chitotela now, I say no, give me space please.”
President Lungu advised people against interfering with the process investigation process.
“Bring your evidence and let him also have his day in court. That’s what justice is and I’m a lawyer. And if you look at the Bill of Rights, I think Article 18, it starts with presumption of innocence, so as far as I’m concerned, he’s innocent. As far as I’m concerned even Chishimba Kambwili is innocent, but look at where Chishimba Kambwili is, ‘no Lungu is fighting Chishimba Kambwili, Lungu this’. I have never fought Chishimba Kambwili. What I had was a report from the law enforcement agency that Chishimba has done one, two, three wrongs. Why investigate him but many others. I said go ahead. And they went ahead,” he said. “At a certain point they came, they said we can’t get anything. There’s no cooperation from him and I said what do I do? In my wisdom, I removed him from office. Having removed him from office, the rest is history. He pledged to work with us. The next thing he was saying I’m corrupt. I don’t care what has happened but what I’m saying is having lost Chishimba Kambwili through an allegation of corruption, by the same forces, I don’t want to lose Chitotela in the same manner.”
President Lungu said Kambwili and Chitotela and all those allegedly corrupt should find justice.
“That’s how the rule of law works. One of the precept of law is there’s no one above the law. Right? When the police feel like investigating you, they’ll investigate you. When they feel like coming to your home at night to search, they’ll search. And I can’t tell them go and search Tom Njovu’s home, ‘go and search that girl’s home’, it’s not in my mandate. So let us not politicise the fight against corruption,” President Lungu said. “There’s a perception that by doing that they are weakening Lungu; they are not weakening me, they are just killing the systems, we have set to fight corruption genuinely. So what comment do you want me to make? May justice be done…’no, I’m fighting Chitotela because he knows too much about me’. What have I done? ‘No, Chitotela has got money on my behalf.’ I’m not a businessman; I’m just a politician privileged to lead Zambia, that’s all.”
According to the Anti-Corruption Commission Act number 3 of 2012 (47)(1), “Subject to the applicable legal and administrative procedures relating to the right to justice and a fair hearing applicable to public officers under their conditions of service, a public officer who is charged with corruption shall be suspended, at half pay, with effect from the date of the charge.”
Chitotela was charged with two counts of two counts of concealing two plots in Lusaka believed to be proceeds of crime, which essentially are corruption charges.
Reacting to President Edgar Lungu’s remarks that he does not want to lose Ronald Chitotela in the same way he fired Kambwili over allegations of corruption, Hichilema said in normal circumstances, “the mere act of being arrested by law enforcement agencies should have triggered a resignation voluntarily by Chitotela on moral grounds.”
“Mr Edgar Lungu’s arguments that infrastructure development minister Ronald Chitotela cannot be fired on grounds that he is innocent until proven guilty has set a very bad precedent for the country,” he argued.
“Like we said yesterday, the offences slapped on Chitotela so far are a mere joke as they do not match what we believe is a grand corruption matrix which implicates a number of very high level PF politicians and government officials. Going by Mr Lungu’s arguments, it is now highly irregular for any organisation in the country to dismiss or indeed put on suspension or on forced leave any of their erring employees who are facing disciplinary action until their matter has been determined.”
Hichilema said President Lungu’s position means that all the more than 80 officers, including the permanent secretary, who are currently on suspension from the Ministry of Education on mere suspicion of financial embezzlement must immediately go back to work until their matter has been concluded.
“Former Minister of Community Development Emerine Kabanshi and her officers plus the Post Master General McPherson Chanda and his officers who were dismissed on mere allegations of misusing the Social Cash Transfer Funds must immediately resume work until their matter has been determined,” he said. “We are also aware that there are a number of account staff and officials at the same Ministry of Infrastructure who are currently on suspension on mere suspicion of financial embezzlement, and these must equally be allowed to go back for work.”
Hichilema said there were several other public service and private sector employees that were on suspension or on forced leave facing disciplinary hearings or were in court facing various charges, “who must equally go back to work until their matters have been determined.”
“In fact, some of the affected officers in both government and private sector are on suspension, forced leave, facing disciplinary hearings when they have not even been arrested by law enforcement agencies,” he noted.
Hichilema said going by President Lungu’s argument bank tellers, teal operators in shops and other companies on suspension or on forced leave on suspicion of financial embezzlement must equally go back to work.
“This is the kind of country we have degenerated into under this PF leadership,” he said.
“As a suspect going through court hearings, Chitotela will still be flying the pride of our Zambian flag, representing the country at both local and international stage, proudly meeting various dignitaries, and later drive the ministerial vehicles to court. In fact, going by Mr Lungu’s arguments, had Chitotela been charged with a none bailable offence, he would have been coming from Chimbokaila prison on a daily basis going for work. And yet, in normal circumstances, the mere act of being arrested by law enforcement agencies should have triggered a resignation, voluntarily, by Chitotela on moral grounds.”
Hichilema said going by the media reports on the alleged plunder and corruption going on at Chitotela’s ministry, “it fully confirms that he is indeed a special minister who is blackmailing the top core of the entire PF leadership.”
“Like we have repeatedly said, when these people are plundering, they are equally hell bent in trying to divide us as a country so that we don’t unite together to liberate ourselves, yet they are not sharing their loot with anyone,” argued Hichilema. “It is time we united together as citizens as we are all suffering at the hands of these economic saboteurs.”