THE Law Association of Zambia says President Edgar Lungu should consider relieving housing and infrastructure minister Ronald Chitotela of his duties as not doing so does not support the fight against corruption which he has on numerous occasions publicly supported.
Meanwhile, Transparency International Zambia says it is worrying that President Lungu is exhibiting traits of tolerance to corruption at a time corruption perception index of 2018 shows a deteriorating situation in the fight against corruption.
LAZ has also called upon Chitotela to seriously reflect on his abilities to effectively and in good conscience run the affairs of his ministry and at the same time defend himself in court.
LAZ says prosecution of a sitting minister in the courts of law cannot be effective.
The Anti–Corruption Commission on February 5, arrested and charged Chitotela with two counts of concealing property suspected of being proceeds of crime contrary to Section 71 (1) of the Forfeiture of Proceeds of Crime Act, Number 19 of 2010.
Following the arrest and charging of Chitotela, certain sections of society called for the dismissal of the minister by the President.
However, LAZ noted that President Lungu refused to dismiss Chitotela and in aid of his decision cited Article 18 of the Republican Constitution, which presumes an accused person innocent until proven guilty by the courts of law.
LAZ stated yesterday that it had followed the issue and surrounding debate with keen interest.
“In doing so, we have had occasion to peruse the Constitution of Zambia as amended by Act No. 2 of 2016, Chapter 1 of the Laws of Zambia; the Anti–Corruption Act, 2012; the Parliamentary and Ministerial Code of Conduct Act, Chapter 16 of the Laws of Zambia; and the Interpretation and General Provisions Act, Chapter 2 of the Laws of Zambia,” it stated.
“Given the framing of Article 116 of the Constitution, which among other things, deals with the appointment of ministers, we hold the view that the arrest and charging of a minister for any criminal offence does not cause a vacancy in the office of minister. A minister serves at the President’s pleasure. Under any circumstances, it is only the President who can remove a minister from office. However, the Constitution also gives a minister the option to resign at any time.”
LAZ stated that its perusal of Section 18 of the Parliamentary and Ministerial Code of Conduct Act also revealed that there was no provision compelling the President to dismiss a minister on account of being arrested and facing prosecution.
“However, the said Section 18 further provides that nothing stops or limits the right of a minister to resign as minister,” it stated.
LAZ, however, stated that given the spirit with which the Constitution was couched, the mandate of the ACC, the level of responsibility and power that a minister has, it was the association’s considered view that it was not appropriate for Chitotela to continue serving as minister whilst facing criminal charges and appearing in court pending the determination of the matter.
LAZ stated that the rule of law and the national values and principles of good governance and integrity in the discharge of public functions enshrined in the Constitution “are not and cannot be enhanced by letting a minister continue serving when he is subject of prosecution.”
It stated that it was for this reason that a number of provisions applicable to public officers required an officer subject of prosecution to be placed on suspension.
LAZ stated that the purpose of the suspension was not to discipline or impose a penalty on the accused but to ensure sound and proper administration, good governance and above all public interest.
It stated that it was also to ensure that the investigations and prosecution proceed unhindered and without actual or perceived interference.
“Further, dismissing a sitting minister facing prosecution does not offend the constitutionally recognised right of presumption of innocence,” stated LAZ. “It is therefore the position of LAZ that the President should indeed consider relieving Honourable Chitotela of his duties as not doing so does not support the fight against corruption, which the President has on numerous occasions publicly supported.”
Meanwhile, Transparency International Zambia has said President Lungu’s refusal to relieve Chitotela of his duties was in breach of the Anti-Corruption Commission Act number 3 of 2012, section 47 subsection 1 which provides for the suspension of a public servant charged with corruption.
“We would like to promise the Head of State that as organisation that promotes good governance, we will continue banging on his door, we will not relent until the correct thing is done,” TIZ excutive director Wesley Chimbamba promised.
He said TIZ expected President Lungu to respect the provisions of the law and do right by suspending Chitotela.
Chibamba said it was particularly worrying that President Lungu was exhibiting traits of tolerance to corruption at a time corruption perception index of 2018 shows a deteriorating situation in fight against corruption.