Chief Justice Irene Mambilima says there are no sacred cows in the application of the law in Zambia.
She also says that the true reflection of justice demand that judicial institutions operate independently without any form of interference.
Justice Mambilima says access to justice was a fundamental right hence the need to guarantee every person access to an independent and impartial process and the opportunity to receive a fair and just trial.
“The rule of law is simply the way it is. For example, Zambia has a constitution which is the product of the people, and under that Constitution, laws have been made, and both the governors and the governed are subject to the same law. So, whoever contravenes the law is subject to that law. There are no sacred cows in the application of the law. It is the rule of law, not the rule of men, therefore the law is paramount. So regardless of your social status, whether a lawmaker, law enforcement official or even a judge, when you break the law, you go through the same process of trial and you have the right to access to justice like every other person,” says justice Mambilima. “The challenges of delayed justice in Africa are real. To me, I think justice will be meaningless if it takes you so long to get through judicial systems…”
This is the way things should be. But this is not the way things are in Zambia.
We have all seen how those in power get away with lawlessness. On June 22 home affairs minister Stephen Kampyongo connived with Lewis Mosho, the provisional liquidator of The Post, to have his agent Robert Chabinga break into, and have the police occupy, Dr Fred M’membe’s house in Mwika Royal Village without any court order. Chabinga stole footballs, Socialist Party regalia and items from the house with impunity. Those living at the house were chased and left homeless and their food stolen by police officers. Livestock was slaughtered and eaten by police officers.
This is how lawless the country has become.
Today, those in power do as they please regardless of what the law says. And we saw this in the case of The Post. Edgar Lungu had made it very clear that he will deal with The Post and there was no way he can lose in a fight with the newspaper because he was Head of State and had control of the State apparatus. He said this publicly in Solwezi. A few months later, the Zambia Revenue Authority was unleashed on The Post and in total disregard of the law and rules of fairness closed it. The Post obtained orders from the Tax Appeals Tribunal compelling the Zambia Revenue Authority to reopen the offices of the newspaper and hand over all the assets they had confiscated. These orders were for six months but were simply ignored by the Zambia Revenue Authority with the backing of State House. Attempts by The Post to enforce the order were met with vicious police brutality. Police officers were dispatched from State House to beat up and arrest Post personnel trying to enforce the Tax Appeals Tribunal order.
To ensure that the Zambia Revenue Authority got around the Tax Appeals Tribunal order, an agent of State House was assigned to initiate a liquidation process of the company. Of course, the entire state apparatus – the police and the entire judicial process – was mobilised for this exercise. The rest is a story that everyone knows very well. There was no attempt to hide their abuses of power and lawlessness. At every turn, they were manipulating and abusing state institutions in the crudest of ways. But the story of their lawlessness does not end with The Post. They are ready to close any company that stands in their way. They are boasting everywhere about the system; everyone who tries to resist their lawlessness is being threatened with the wrath of the state.
Businessmen are today very scared of having Zambia Revenue Authority unleashed on them if they are seen to be standing in their way. Everyone has to pretend to be with them or for them in order to survive. In the process, they have destroyed the credibility or integrity, professionalism of the Zambia Revenue Authority, the police, the courts and of all other institutions of the state. To them, this is boma – boma ni boma. To them, in this way, they are ruling.
Look at their brutality on the opposition and other dissenting voices!
Where there is law, it means citizens’ rights have to be respected. Look at their lack of respect for the constitutional rights of other citizens! To them, everything is discretionary.
What type of rule of law is this? The rule of law entails that the law should govern a nation, as opposed to being governed by arbitrary decisions of individual government officials.
The rule of law is about the influence and authority of the law within society, particularly as a constraint upon behaviour, including behaviour of government officials. The rule of law also implies that every citizen is subject to the law, including the president himself. There is nothing like the nonsense of ‘boma ni boma’. In this sense, it stands in contrast to an autocracy, dictatorship, or oligarchy where the rulers are held above the law. But we shouldn’t cheat ourselves that because we call ourselves a multiparty democracy, then automatically we have the rule of law. No, it doesn’t work that way. Lack of the rule of law can be found both in democracies and dictatorships, for example because of neglect or ignorance of the law, and the rule of law is more apt to decay if a government has insufficient corrective mechanisms for restoring it.
If there was rule of law in this country, we wouldn’t be witnessing so much lawlessness and impunity.
Justice Mambilima knows very well that if there was rule of law in this country judge Sunday Nkonde wouldn’t be on the bench, he would be in prison.