By Isaac Mwanza
Over the past few days, the country has seen an increase in headlines and newspaper editorials calling for the firing or stepping aside of the Minister of Health Dr. Chitalu Chilufya, over some corruption-related allegations, which remains allegations and still under probe. This topic is worth discussing.
Allegations and the fight against corruption
In one edition of News Diggers, the newspaper quoted an unnamed member of the Patriotic Front (PF) intimating that Dr. Chilufya is on the “wanted” list because he harbours presidential ambitions while in an editorial, the same paper asked: “Why is he (President Edgar Lungu) treating them (Ministers under investigation) like shameless morons or cadres from the streets? By subjecting his ministers to such humiliation, he is undermining his own authority.”
In his first address to Parliament on Friday, 18th September, 2015, President Edgar Lungu discussed his Government’s commitment to zero tolerance to corruption and emphatically added, “I will not protect anyone serving in public office found wanting in our anti-corruption drive. Government also remains committed to ensuring that it fulfils its obligations of protecting, respecting and fulfilling human rights.”
Since then, President Lungu has repeatedly pronounced the country’s patriotic duty to not only express outrage against corruption but to do more to combat the scourge. The President, however, gave this fight a decisive clarity during his address to Parliament on 14th September, 2019, when he said:
“The fight against corruption must be done in an honest manner, devoid of the narrow and selfish interests calculated to malign others simply because one has the platform to do so. The fight against corruption must be prosecuted with noble intentions to make our society better. But the screaming headlines of corruption propaganda may succeed to malign someone but they achieve nothing in terms of uplifting the lives of the poor and indigent of our society, the very people we swore to save and protect.”
This passage from the President’s speech summarises what is happening in the arena of the on-going fight against corruption in Zambia. First, it is only true that a number of private newspapers and opposition leaders continue to wage a relentless campaign targeting the Republican President and his inner circle, making all sorts of corruption-related allegations.
From tenders on opening up or upgrading our road network to purchase of the new presidential jet, the procurement of the infamous fire-tenders to ambulances, etc., the target of this negative narrative has been President Lungu himself, and this has been intensifying as the next general and presidential elections draw near in 2021.
Recently, those opposed to this administration have partnered with some foreign-based international entities such as the little-known Environmental Intelligence Agency (EIA), the Economic Intelligence Unit (EIU) of the Economist magazine, and now the pseudo-religious Nigerian “pastor” Seer 1 to spread propaganda on the alleged trafficking in Mukula timber, or simply to publish articles that cast negative perceptions on the Lungu administration.
Earlier, we also saw a screaming headline claiming that some member of the PF Central Committee had said Edgar Lungu’s candidacy for the Republican Presidency in 2021 would result in PF losing power in 2021. This was not taken seriously by anyone including the PF, as its Central Committee has remained united in support of President Lungu’s 2021 candidature.
Those who generate such stories, clearly aimed at rousing confusion within the PF, also coined what has been termed as “Luapula United” a fictional formation of leaders from Luapula province, allegedly seeking to oust President Lungu. The aim is to make President Lungu lose trust in, and therefore alienate some of these Luapula leaders on the unfounded perception that they are “fighting him”, to use local political jargon.
The campaign to run a negative narrative aimed at making President Lungu unpopular ahead of 2021 polls is expected to continue and even intensify with some civil society groups in the forefront, as a way to make a name for themselves and to attract financing from well-known anti-Lungu forces, both at home and abroad. They all will sing the same song of corruption or bad governance, in most cases without any foundation whatsoever, taking advantage of every opportunity that presents itself to poison the minds of the public against President Lungu and his party.
Despite these efforts which started the moment President Lungu ascended to office, it appears President Lungu has remained strong and undistracted in leading the nation. His opponents seem to have come to the conclusion that the only way to bring down President Lungu, is by targeting his lieutenants and his party rather than the man himself.
So, we now have this new song on the market on Dr. Chitalu Chilufya and a fresh attempt to use our own local institution, the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) as a tool to bring down Dr. Chilufya and, in the process, to tar the President with the same brush of corruption. It would appear this new round-the-circle attempt of getting at President Lungu, is being stage-managed by entities which, so far, have failed to produce the intended negative perception of President Lungu and his presidency.
The core aim of the current wave focusing on Dr. Chilufya, carries the same agenda as previous waves which were waged against a prominent PF founder member and former Cabinet minister, Chishimba Kambwili, his cabinet colleague Ronald Chitotela, former presidential aides Amos Chanda and Kaizer Zulu. The plan is simple and straightforward: delink, isolate or separate President Lungu from those who could genuinely stand by his side and defend his Presidency.
President Lungu needs to comprehend this: the current narrative targeted at his lieutenants is meant to create and sustain a public narrative aimed at painting him as running a corrupt administration and Party which should not be voted back into Government in 2021. This is being exacerbated by the subtle in-fighting within the PF. So many people who fought or have staked their necks for the PF have now decided to go silent in order to avoid getting caught in the crossing, partly because the President’s own silence leaves these loyal members unsure as to which way their leader, President Lungu, wants to go.
In my view, right or wrong, the President’s silence is unhelpful and does not encourage his PF members who are willing and ready to fight for him and their Party, and it is therefore dangerous. The uncertainty about President Lungu’s direction, is strangling the enthusiasm of the party faithfuls and could do lasting damage to the Patriotic Front party. The President needs to come out and give clear direction to the many thousands who believe in him and look to him for leadership.
What is the End Game of Antagonising the North?
Luapula and Northern Province will be critical for the re-election of President Lungu for his second term in 2021. In Eastern Zambia, despite the polarisation of the PF resulting from last intraparty elections and efforts by mutineers against Lungu (the likes of George Kanyamula Zulu and Panji Kaunda) wanting to portray as if the entire Eastern is against the President, President Lungu is still certain to win the majority votes in the East, notwithstanding that he may not win with a wider margin which ordinarily the East ought to produce, as is the case in Southern Zambia for Hakainde Hichilema’s votes. This is a fact.
But President Lungu needs to swing into action to motivate the many voters, strategic planners, thinkers and executors in the East who are, at present, not sure about the President’s future direction. He needs to boldly announce himself and call the PF party troops to battle so that they can get ready to reach the people and mobilise support in order to ensure a winning turnout at the polls. PF needs its many supporters in all its strongholds to turn up at the polling stations and cast their ballots in 2021.
The President ought to take note of the fact that there is a ploy to antagonise the North comprising of Luapula, Muchinga and Northern provinces, which form one half of the bedrock of the PF’s support base, the other half being the urban provinces on the line of rail. The President’s opponents realise that the Patriotic Front needs a resounding victory in the North in order to consolidate its power.
The President’s opponents or, perhaps more appropriately, the President’s enemies, were hoping he would dismiss the former Infrastructure minister, Ronald Chitotela and thereby alienate the people of Pambashe and Luapula generally with the claim that Lungu was ungrateful for their support. It had been hoped that this would have compounded the situation following the separation with Chishimba Kambwili and later, the departure from the Cabinet of Former Foreign Affairs minister, Harry Kalaba.
Having failed to bring about the above, the President’s enemies are now targeting the energetic Minister of Health, Dr. Chitalu Chilufya, for separation. It is being alleged that the youthful minister has taken advantage of the spotlight shining on him under the unfortunate COVID-19 pandemic, to focus on himself as a more effective leader than the President. This, of course, is completely false.
Dr. Chilufya has been in the spotlight from the day President Lungu appointed him to the Health portfolio, a role for which he is well-qualified, being a medical doctor himself. He brought his own experience of the Zambian Medical system and has used that experience to push for the implementation of the Patriotic Front’s programme to bring health services to every Zambian.
The much criticised Health Insurance scheme is in fact the brainchild of the PF’s founding President, the late Michael Chilufya Sata who introduced a pilot scheme when he, Mr. Sata, served as Minister of Health in 1995 under President the late Frederic Chiluba. Now, Dr. Chilufya’s enemies are trying to sell the health insurance scheme as some kind of evil tax and blaming it on Dr. Chilufya as a personal enrichment scheme, and that somehow, the trail leads back to President Lungu.
For the record, the National Health Insurance scheme is a life saver for our publicly funded health service and future generations will thank President Lungu for implementing it now.
What about the so-called limelight Dr. Chitalu is said to be getting from the COVID-19 fight? First, it must be understood from a policy viewpoint that leadership in the fight against this pandemic world over has been led by appropriate heads of State or Government as we see from China, Italy, South Africa, UK and USA except where a Head of State designates health officials to do so.
From a legal point of view, Zambia deals with health pandemics using three different set of laws: the Public Health Act, Chapter 295 of the Laws of Zambia, the Disaster Management Act No. 13 of 2010, and the Emergency Powers Act, Chapter 108 of the Laws of Zambia, in that order. Under the Public Health Act, the Ministry of Health takes the lead but where the President pronounces a situation as a national disaster, the Vice President and Council of Ministers takes the lead. And the pandemic can also become an emergency requiring the President to invoke emergency powers.
The author is not aware if the COVID-19 pandemic was pronounced as a national disaster. So what has been wrong with the Minister of Health leading his Health establishment in giving daily updates about COVID-19 in the absence of escalation of the situation to a national disaster or a national emergency or the Republican President asking the Minister to step aside from taking a lead?
In the grand scheme of things, the plan to destabilise President Lungu’s government by way of baseless rumours and allegations, it is clear that those behind these calls for Dr. Chilufya’s dismissal, know that each plucking of wings of the Eagle will eventually incapacitate the Eagle. This is the end game.
Is Government and its leaders that corrupt?
When one reads the daily private tabloids, one gets the impression the entire Government system has broken down. The reason? Ministers and public servants are building mansions, own posh cars, farms, night clubs, etc. This appears to send the message that ministers or civil servants cannot own a farm or build a villa in this country, from scratch. If you don’t want to be accused of stealing, stay as poor as everyone else.
But that is wrong. There are many, many people who have become millionaires in this world, who started very small. In this country, there are people who saved from their salaries and private earnings from selling chickens, vegetables, salaula, block making etc, to buy a house or buy a mini-bus. The house was put on rent and mini bus began to operate. The income from these properties or activities, multiplied the number of properties and buses until they could afford to purchase or own their current villas or mansions.
Surely, even as we call for lifestyle audit of the people in the public service, we have no basis for the assumption that our government ministers and civil servants cannot own properties. There are many private individuals, some being very prominent leaders in the official opposition, who serve as an example of how it is possible for a person who manages his or her resources prudently, to rise from a poor village boy to a millionaire.
Again, I want to reiterate what President Lungu said in his address to Parliament, that even as we come to a common cause that the scourge of corruption is not just criminal but morally reprehensible, “we must also agree on a genuine legal and awareness response to the problem, not the baseless name-calling which does nothing to the crusade but simply polarises our society between the accused and the accusers.”
The ACC has been investigating hundreds of civil servants and other public workers. In these cases, it is very rare that civil servants and public workers are made to step aside except when there is compelling evidence giving rise to fear that the investigation may be compromised if the subject of the investigation is allowed to remain in office, in which case the subject may interfere with data or evidence.
We have also had cases like the one where the Director at the Zambia Law Development Commission was investigated and prosecuted in the courts of law, the Commission itself did not ask for the director to step aside or go on forced leave during the investigation or prosecution. What then, is different with Dr. Chlufya or indeed any other minister, especially when there is nothing concrete arising from the ACC’s work so far?
We should allow the ACC and its sister investigation units do their work and when they are ready, they should ask the appointing authority to take appropriate action.
Zambia, like any other country, has a duty to protect the meagre resources it has through a relentless war against corruption. The genuine fight against corruption must be supported by all well-meaning Zambians, but this fight, as stated by President Lungu, must never be used as a scapegoat to destroy the lives of people through mudslinging.
The current calls for Dr. Chitalu Chilufya to resign or for his dismissal, in my view, amount to nothing more than a desperate attempt to sow division and discord within the higher ranks of the Patriotic Front with the aim of weakening the Party and President Lungu who has already lost a number of strong men and women to these allegations.
In our society where one is presumed innocent until proven guilty, it appears that Dr. Chitalu Chilufya and many others, are instead judged by the court of public opinion as guilty and therefore may never enjoy the presumption of innocence as guaranteed under our Republican Constitution.
Dr. Chitalu Chilufya should be encouraged to stay strong and stay on the job as he leads the fight against the fire threat posed by COVID-19; he and his team, with their colleagues at the Zambia National Health Institute, have done an outstanding job so far and Zambia remains an outstanding example of resilience in the face of a dire situation and grave challenges. The author urges President Lungu to ignore these manufactured challenges to his authority and his very position as President of this Republic.
The President of Zambia is elected by Zambians at large, not by some cabal at some dark corner meeting. President Lungu should not unduly concern himself with these made up stories of imaginary challengers; Dr. Chilufya just happens to be one of those individuals to whom hard work comes naturally, not to attract attention in the political arena.
The Zambian people demonstrated, twice in the space of 18 months, that they recognised Edgar Lungu as the man to lead this country after Michael Sata; it is my humble view that the fervour with which the Constitutional Court’s verdict was received, confirming that President Lungu was eligible to run for the presidency in 2021, demonstrated clearly that the people of Zambia have not changed their mind about President Lungu being the man for 2021. He should therefore focus on leading this country, and pay no attention to the baseless stories of imaginary challengers within his party PF. There are none.
The author, a governance activist and holder of Bachelor of Laws, is inclined to discourse on governance and legal matters