[By Aaron Ng’ambi]
On September 3, 2020 I wrote an article for The Mast newspaper which was entitled; Give us an independent commission of inquiry.
In that same article I clearly stated that it was shameful that the probe into the privatisation of our national assets by the MMD government under president Frederick Chiluba had taken so long to even be considered. In other civilised societies a national blunder of that magnitude could have been investigated and exhausted a long time ago, of course with everything being done in good faith.
However, even though I am for the idea of setting up an independent and impartial inquiry into the privatisation of our state assets, I argued in the same article that the Patriotic Front (PF) government, as led by President Edgar Lungu has no moral basis upon which to establish a commission of inquiry. The reason for this conclusion is simply that; this president was part and parcel of the privatisation of parastatals when he was a legal practitioner in the case of the Zambia Cold Storage Corporation Limited. Therefore, to set up an inquiry into a matter of which the president himself had participated in either directly or indirectly and expecting that the inquiry will be just, and fair is absolutely a joke.
The PF government has no credibility whatsoever to seriously investigate the so-called crimes or flaws of what took place over 20 years. This government itself is entangled with scandals after scandals so much so that we need commission of inquiries pertaining to these current issues of corruption before we even begin to consider anything else from the past. The attempt by this government to bring up the issues from the past is not only a calculated move to distract the public from pressing issues of our time, but it is also an orchestrated political witchhunt targeting a specific individual. Therefore, as a well-meaning Zambian with a clear conscious I cannot personally support such an undertaking because it amounts to nothing but malice, abuse of authority, and political hegemony.
It shocks me to see that when people assume the reins of power, they seem to be blinded from the lessons of history. I would encourage the political advisors of President Lungu, his friends and family to advise him to immediately abandon this exercise of seeking to establish a commission of inquiry. This course of action is not worth the President’s time nor our taxpayer’s money. If anything, these folks should look no further than take notes from Dr Chiluba’s experiences. It is no secret that the late president Chiluba was known for using the existing laws or even creating specific laws to fix his political opponents such as Kenneth Kaunda and others. As fate would have it, we know that the same laws that Dr. Chiluba had once used to target specific individuals came to bite him soon after leaving office.
Therefore, we pose this question to President Lungu, do you want this to be your experience as well when you leave office? Have you not learned anything from history to be foolish enough to try to use the law for settling political scores? Because the saying which says, “what goes around, comes around,” must not be ignored or forgotten by those in the political field. Today President Lungu may think that he is untouchable, and that the same so-called commission of inquiry which he is so much in a rush to set up has no bearing on him. However, it is very much possible that the same inquiry could legally lynch him upon leaving office.
Now, if the President is so concerned about what transpired during the MMD era during privatisation, the most prudent thing to do right now is for him and his government to request for a full report from the Zambia Privatization Agency (ZPA). I am sure the President and his government know very well that ZPA has all the information needed with regards to this issue at hand. If the report from ZPA is not sufficient, the only other credible and viable option is a judicial tribunal set up as an inquiry into the matter, a move that I would personally support as long as it is done in good faith.
Therefore, if the PF government or even the government after them means well and decides to set up a judicial tribunal to specifically investigate the issues of privatisation, such a move would be a favourable one as long as it is not politically motivated.
Unfortunately, the recent experiences of how this government has used state machinery to influence different state institutions including the judiciary to achieve a desired political goal worry a lot of citizens and shows that they cannot be trusted. Because in a civilised democracy, a judicial tribunal would possibly be the most reliable and trusted route in exhausting such a case of national disaster.
The plunder of our national wealth during and after privatisation had serious consequences on the lives of many Zambians. However, it is sad to state that it is difficult for most Zambians today to have faith and confidence in the independence of our judiciary, simply because our people have witnessed too many times the influence of the executive’s overreaching hand into judicial affairs. The daily persecution of opposition political leaders in court houses under the disguise of prosecution has often been nothing but intimidation and an attempt to silence those with opposing views from the PF government.
Thus, it cannot go without saying that the judiciary in our country has a long way to go in terms of its independent functions and gaining the confidence of the public. For example, Sir William Harrington a former member of the Chiluba cabinet has petitioned the chief justice to set up a judicial tribunal into the forest 27 saga and this petition has fallen on deaf ears. Therefore, because of such bias and inconsistencies, we can safely say that this government has no credibility to initiate the so-called commission of inquiry.
It is beyond doubt that the government’s motive and intentions in pursing this exercise is none other than to use privatisation as a political tool against others without shame, and such cannot be tolerated. If the PF is popular as it claims to be, then they should desist from coming up with useless schemes of implicating the opposition leaders to disadvantage them or disqualify them from contesting the August 2021 elections.