By Charles Mundia
Now that Messrs Musa Mwenye and Gilbert Phiri have now received their parliamentary ratifications as Chairperson and Director General of the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) respectively, two things should immediately occupy their attention. Firstly, they are taking over a broken down institution whose standing in the eyes of the public is at the lowest ebb. Their close proximity to President Hichilema before the August 2021 election is actually an inconvenience as their execution of duty will be viewed from the same lenses as those used on the Head of State.
Besides a branch and root clean-up of the ACC, the Chairperson and Director General should quickly define their own paths. They should as a matter of urgency seek to take steps that will position the Commission as an autonomous institution with the ability to set its own terms. Chairperson Mwenye should quickly disengage the Commission from the ambit of State House. The ACC Act of 2012 has set out clear and adequate operational framework that to a very good extent guarantees its autonomy. Having the ACC sit at State House does not, structurally, administratively or in any other way help to cut its inefficiencies.
In his inauguration speech, President Hichilema spoke passionately about fighting corruption. He said, “The scourge of corruption has not only eroded our much-needed resources, but it has also robbed us of the opportunity for growth. We shall have zero tolerance to corruption. This will be our hallmark. The fight against corruption will be professional and not vindictive. The institutions mandated to investigate and prosecute will be given unfettered autonomy to effectively and efficiently carry out their mandate without fear or favour of political bias.”
As it stands, President Hichilema’s fight against corruption does not look like the one he promised when he held that Bible in his hand to take his Oath at Heroes Stadium. At best, when he speaks about fighting corruption, he is now beginning to sound like a broken record.
A Crisis of Perception
Established in 1980 under the Corrupt Practices Act, the Commission has largely received a good amount of local and international goodwill. Throughout the past administrations, from the Kaunda right down to the Lungu administration, the Commission has enjoyed a somewhat stable flow of support both technical and financial from its partners including from the Government of the Republic of Zambia. Undoubtedly, the best period for the Commission was during the Mwanawasa administration when late President Mwanawasa launched a zero tolerance policy to corruption and established the Task Force on Corruption which worked closely with Commission to implement the National Anti-Corruption Policy with the Commission as the lead Agency in the fight against graft. During this period, the Commission received unprecedented levels of donor support as many stakeholders actually believed that the Commission was a force for good. Today, some 16 years later, the Zambia Anti-Corruption Commission which commanded huge respect at home, in the region and internationally is unrecognisable. The Commission that sits at Kulima Tower Building in the filthy part of Lusaka CBD is but just a shell. The once respected state institution has been reduced to a wild dog used to scare away political rivals. It backs all the time with little or nothing to show for. President Hichilema has not helped matters. By micro managing the ACC, he is not be absorbed from the blame.
Get some real work done
With a poor average conviction rate of around 11% from over 500 cases, the Commission in its current state is not fit for purpose. Moments following President Hichilema’s inauguration, like excited kids in a candy store, the ACC swung into action and started announcing searches and seizures of property suspected to be proceeds of crimes belonging to former government and party officials who served in the previous administration. As at the end of May, around 20 people closely linked to the PF had been searched, warned and cautioned, arrested and their properties seized or restricted but none have been convicted or even found with a case to answer to date. To their credit, the biggest catch for the ACC so far has been Faith Musonda. She used the Forfeiture of Proceeds Act to reach a settlement with the ACC and returned K65 million, US$57,900 and a House to the State in October 2021. From the heavyweights such as Given Lubinda, Bowman Lusambo, Samuel Mukupa, Ronald Chitotela to junior party officials such as Maxwell Chongo, the ACC and their cohorts at DEC and OP have been very busy issuing very alarming and misleading headlines using a particular Tabloid on some high profile cases when they have very little chance at prosecution. They have also had the offices for former First Lady Esther Lungu searched and they found nothing.
Remember the headlines, “Bowman owns 49 Houses,” which was in the News Diggers Newspaper of January 12th 2021? The ACC leaked the story to gain public support in their so called fight against corruption. When Mr. Lusambo was finally charged, there was no mention of 49 Houses. What he was charged with are 4 counts of possession of property reasonably suspected to be proceeds of crime in Lusaka and Copperbelt provinces. The ACC said Mr. Lusambo was in possession of property number f/609/e/44/13/9, property number Ndo/ln_77505/1, property number Masai/ln_1005309/1, and property number Palab/ln_73112/17.
The also charged him with two counts of concealment of property in the Lusaka and Copperbelt and that he concealed property number Masai/ln_100328/218 disguised in the name of Mbachi Nkwazi and property number Ndo/ln_1004844/191 disguised in the name of Gatbro International Limited. When the matter finally went to court, the ACC in a very unconventional manner was allowed to change the indictment. They struck off the Gatbro International Limited. What was also interesting that the property they screamed about was some virgin land in his home village in Masaiti and the property they suspect him of concealing actually is a half done transaction in the name of Nancy Manase who happens to be his lawfully wedded wife. According to ACC officers, a man can be so dumb that he can actually conceal property in the wife’s name. They made further screaming headlines when they raided Amos Chanda’s property. According to the ACC, having served former President Edgar Chagwa Lungu as his Press Secretary, Amos ought to have been corrupt. They raided his property with the glare of cameras and as usual they drew a blank. They took him and his wife in for allegedly insulting ACC officers and that is a case they have spent close to a year trying to win in court.
Musa and Gilbert should know that the ACC is made up of corrupt, half trained and incompetent men and women who are so bad at their jobs and the Commission is to stand any chance at winning any cases of corruption, a major overhaul is necessary.
Posterity is waiting
Both Musa and Gilbert have done exceptionally well for themselves. As a criminal lawyer, Gilbert commands some good level of respect among his peers. In some circles, he is considered to be one of the finest criminal lawyers around. For Musa, he is respected for his high standards of integrity. He has publicly announced how much he abhors corruption. His experience having served as Attorney and Solicitor General and his many years at the Bar should help provide the much needed leadership at the Commission. The entire Board of Commissioners should also bring some valuable experience in the ACC Boardroom. Both on the good side of 40 years, Gilbert and Musa should be fully aware that posterity is waiting and watching and will judge them accordingly.
*Charles Mundia is a political analyst based in Lusaka