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Why Is the PF government undermining the Financial Intelligence Centre?

It appears like the Patriotic Front government wants to create a storm in a teacup. In Chiwempala, we call what the PF is trying to do as “ukuivundula”. That is to try and create so much commotion and noise that would help delegitimise an honourable institution such as the Financial Intelligence Centre (FIC), an administrative law body established by an act of Parliament. Even though the entire cabinet has gone berserk over the allegations from the Financial Intelligence Centre, Zambians must hold resolutely and ask that this PF government becomes accountable to the people. The FIC has revealed several suspicious transactions going into billions of kwachas. Instead of ukuvunduka, the PF government should sober-up, sombre-up, and explain what is going on. Soberness is, considering that this government helps itself to “happy juice” very frequently. How come there is so much impunity under this government?

 

The PF government is proposing to amend the FIC Act so that the FIC stops doing its job. I think this would be a terrible mistake. The FIC regime was installed for Zambia to comply with the best practices worldwide to fight money laundering, terrorism, corruption and theft. To do so, FIC must be independent of politicians, and it must also be free to disseminate its findings to the public so that the public is educated regarding the trends going on in the financial and banking sector. If the PF amended the FIC Act, it would most likely cause huge problems for Zambia under the international best-practices. Without transparency, Zambia cannot fight the vice effectively. In any case, FIC reports on trends and disseminates names of suspected individuals only to law enforcement agencies. FIC does not name names, at least not publicly.

 

I am aware, and surprised, that the Drug Enforcement Commission (DEC), went full blast, as well, condemning the FIC. This was a mistake. The FIC isn’t a law enforcement agency. The FIC’s role and the requisite standard of evidence it needs are lower than what would be required for the law enforcement agency such as the DEC. It could be the case that the FIC can find suspicious transactions, without those suspicious transactions being deemed suspicious by the law enforcement agencies such as DEC. DEC should stay in its lane. DEC cannot force its understanding of suspicion upon the FIC. The FIC does not report on transactions using the criminal standard of “beyond reasonable doubt”. The FIC’s standard is much lower for it to be able to effectively gather the intelligence it needs from the bankers and other financial players.

 

Is it then possible that the FIC could be spreading some “gossip”? Yes, it is possible. But a democracy cannot subsist without some gossip. This idea that all gossip must be defeated in Zambia reeks of a rising dictatorship. The problem is that you cannot run a country on the standard of “beyond reasonable doubt”. When a government demands absolute truth when citizens try to hold it accountable, it becomes an oppressive government. For example, when we supposed that Honourable Mwanakatwe should take time off to seek treatment for her apparent substance addiction, we were asked to provide absolute proof. You need intelligence to run a country and sometimes information does not rise to the “beyond reasonable doubt” standard but to a much lower standard. That lower standard is required to fight many irregularities, terrorism, money laundering, and theft. If DEC had issues with the FIC report, it should have just educated the public regarding what the FIC does and what DEC achieves. DEC cannot try to explain its role by disparaging an honourable institution such as FIC. FIC has its purpose and mandate. It has discharged its role very effectively. If DEC would not investigate from a criminal justice perspective, that would be its prerogative not to. But if DEC will not investigate and prosecute it should not then tell FIC not to investigate and report on its findings. DEC can indeed find some of FIC’s conclusions questionable.

 

On a general note, Zambia has a lot of administrative and regulatory agencies. These agencies do not employ the law enforcement standard of “reasonable doubt”. They work under a lower standard. We need to let these administrative agencies perform their work and their duty freely. Perhaps, we all need a lesson or two regarding the distinction between law enforcement agencies and other administrative law agencies. For example, the office of Auditor General has a role similar to FIC. The Auditor General audits departments; follow the money trail and publicly disseminates its findings. The Auditor General does send reports to law enforcement as well. The Auditor General’s “gossip” is vital to run a democracy. Just this year, the auditor has reported suspicious transactions at various ministries totalling millions of kwacha. If DEC will not prosecute the culprits because the standard is higher for DEC, at least Zambians need a general idea of how cash is moving from one contract to lawyers, and then off to building 49 houses for politicians.

 

The author can be reached at elias@munshyalaw.com.

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