DOUGLAS Syakalima says ministers who illegally remained in office in 2016 were “ghost workers” who must now be treated as criminals.
The Chirundu UPND member of parliament says while Zambians are calling on ministers who illegally stayed in office to pay back, President Edgar Lungu must be told that he is eligible for impeachment.
During his interaction with journalists at State House last Friday, President Lungu said his ministers who worked illegally while Parliament was on recess in 2016 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 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 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.
Reacting to President Lungu’s ‘lamentations’, Syakalima said any penny from the State which accrued to the affected ministers was illegal.
“If Lungu hasn’t read the Constitutional Court judgment, I can tell him. The Constitutional Court has said that those ministers who stayed in office after Parliament was dissolved were illegally in office,” Syakalima said in an interview.
“So it means that whatever they did at the time was illegal, starting from getting fuel. We don’t want to go to the Constitutional Court to interpret what “illegal” means. In fact, these (ministers who illegally remained in office) are basically criminals! We must call them by their deserved name. They are criminals who stole from the State and in fact, these people are supposed to be prosecuted.”
He stressed that such ‘illegal’ ministers were not even supposed to be seen loitering on the streets of Lusaka or anywhere.
He told President Lungu that he should not duck blame in the matter, for he is the one who misled the ministers.
“No ducking will help Lungu; he must just admit that, first of all, he lied to these ministers. He said he was a lawyer and that it was legal for them to remain in office after the dissolution of Parliament,” Syakalima said.
“They are contemplating suing him not because of anything but because he is the one who misled them. So, indirectly, he is also culpable; he aided these thieves. At that time, those ministers were ghost workers and when ghost workers are removed from the payroll, they are sanctioned. These ministers were just like ghost teachers, nurses.”
The lawmaker insisted that those affected by the ‘pay back’ judgment ought to pay back everything, “even if it’s one litre of diesel or petrol – it must be calculated.”
“In fact, they must even pay interest because the State suffered and it continues to suffer because of their criminality. Anything illegal is called criminal! So, we are basically dealing with criminals. Each one of them know what they stole and so let them just own up and bring back the money,” Syakalima charged.
“Let them not ask us whether they worked for free; who gave them the work? How can the entire President say ‘fondokadi’ (laboured)? Yes, they fondokadi because they are thieves. Who told them to fondoka (labour), anyway? When Parliament was dissolved, they should have gone to their homes and wait for another life of Parliament.”
He further pointed out that President Lungu must “own up” with the faulty legal advice he gave his ministers in 2016.
“The more they delay [to pay back] the more nkongole (debt) continues. It will reach a point where they will be unable to pay back and they will be declared bankrupt,” he noted.
Syakalima also said President Lungu must give Zambians “a break.”
“We tired of him! In fact, it’s him who even breached the Constitution. This so-called Lungu breached the Constitution and that’s an impeachable offence,” he emphasised.
“While his ministers are being told to pay back the money, Lungu must be removed from office via an impeachment. He must not push his luck too far because he is eligible for impeachment.”
Meanwhile, Syakalima laughed at President Lungu’s comment that the issue of ministers paying back was: “more complex because some of the ministers are no longer in government.”
“We don’t want to deduct money from anyone’s salary – let them just pay back. Those who are no longer ministers must be followed and let them pay back. Let them pay the lump sum; you don’t ask a criminal to pay back in installments,” said Syakalima.