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Lungu’s ignorance on ministers’ illegal stay unacceptable – Mwale

JOE Mwale says it is unwarranted for President Edgar Lungu to rely on his ignorance of the law on his ministers and their deputies illegally continuing in office after the dissolution of Parliament in May 2016.

Mwale is the former Ambassador to Japan.

The ministers’ continued occupation of office was instigated by flawed legal advice given to them by President Lungu – a lawyer.

On August 8, 2016, three days before voting day in the general elections, the Constitutional Court ruled that 64 ministers were in office illegally.

However, PF secretary general Davies Mwila, on behalf of 63 others, asked the court to set aside part of its judgment that ordered the ministers to pay back salaries and allowances they obtained during the dissolution of Parliament.

But in September this year, the Constitutional Court refused to reopen and review its final order, meaning the affected ministers have to reimburse the treasury.

During his interaction with journalists at State House on Friday, President Lungu said the affected ministers were ready to pay but wondered whether they should pay every penny they got or just allowances.

The President also wondered whether the ministers worked for free while their input was to the benefit of the nation.

He argued that the matter of ministers paying back was not as simple and straightforward: “as saying ‘Edgar Lungu is eligible to stand in 2021.’”

“This is more complex because there are people who are out of our control now, who are no longer ministers, and we cannot say ‘we are going to deduct from your salary because the court has ordered that you surrender that money,’” President Lungu said.

“Some of them are our enemies and are saying ‘let me know how much so that I return the money.’ But who will tell them? Me I don’t know how much is supposed to be returned. So, this is not out of disrespect for the courts of law.”

President Lungu added that the delay to pay back the money had been because of the confusion on the modalities of repaying.

“So, it’s something that we want to do and I don’t think we want to go back to court and ask ‘what are we returning.’ So, for me when you ask, you just confuse me because…. I wish we could pay back the money and end this one. But from what I’m seeing…. That’s why the delay has taken place, in terms of consultations,” he said.

“Right now we are trying to say can we go to court so that the court can tell us which payments will be returned. Is it a full salary, the allowance we got when we went to negotiate for that loan?”

President Lungu added that the matter had: “caused more questions than answers.”

“We are looking for answers! If it calls for us to go to court and get the court’s guidance, we’ll do so. [It’s] not that we want to harass the court or show disrespect to the court,” said President Lungu.

But Mwale phoned The Mast on Sunday and said: “it is ignorance of the highest level” for President Lungu to say what he said.

“Even now he is admitting that he does not know what to say or what to do [about ministers who illegally continued in office]! This is against the acclaimed maxim in the legal fraternity that ignorance is no defence,” he said.

“So, Mr Lungu’s ignorance about what next to do, where he stands and so on, this one cannot be a defence. He cannot come and start telling us that he didn’t know the implications of ministers illegally continuing in office.”

Mwale added that: “you see, it is folly for him, really, to come out in such a fashion [when] he is a learned lawyer and a Head of State.”

“His ignorance over this issue of ministers being in office illegally cannot be accepted in court. It can’t stand!” argued Mwale.

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