By Michael Chishala
Former President Edgar Chagwa Lungu recently announced his return into active politics, to the surprise of no one. According to information in the public domain, it strongly suggests that he resigned as PF President in August 2021 and he then wrote to Cabinet Office informing them he was no longer party President and therefore entitled to his benefits as per Benefits of Former Presidents (Amendment) Act of 1998.
Cabinet Office obliged and have been paying him taxpayer money for his benefits as a former president, presumably because they did their due diligence and were satisfied that he was no longer in active politics. The Act states in Section 5(1) as follows:
5(1) The pension and other benefits conferred by this Act shall not be paid, assigned or provided to a former President who is—
(a) in receipt of a salary from the Government; or
(b) engaged in active politics
“Active politics” is defined in the Act to mean either “the doing of any act indicating a person’s intention to hold elective or appointive office” or “the holding of elective or appointive office” in a political party or in an organization whose main aim is the furtherance of political objectives.
All this raises a number of pertinent issues. Mr Lungu on 28th October 2023 declared out of his own mouth the following as quoted by News Diggers:
“I have decided to return to active politics and continue as president of PF…. I am back to active politics as PF president elected in 2021 with a mandate up to 2026. The PF will hold a general conference at the right time to choose a leader before the next elections in 2026. After this conference, I will hand over to whoever will be elected to lead the PF in the 2026 general elections.”
He was thus clearly admitting that he has been the PF president all along since 2021, hence the use of the word “continue” and referencing his “mandate” up to 2026. Three big issues immediately arise:
1. If Mr Lungu is still PF president from his election in 2021 by his own public admission, does it mean he is guilty of obtaining money under false pretences which is an offence under Zambian law? Why would he claim his benefits from the government if he was still PF president at the time? Does it mean he deliberately misled the government of Zambia that he was no longer in active politics (as defined by the Act) when in fact, he was?
2. Mr Lungu receiving his generous benefits on the basis of a misleading letter he wrote to Cabinet Office suggests he uttered a false document to the government of Zambia. The law frowns upon such, and he may be liable to being prosecuted for this.
3. If Mr Lungu is still the PF president and this was already known to Cabinet Office, why have they been spending hundreds of thousands of Kwacha on him, including spending possibly millions to build him a retirement home?
Mr Lungu might be at risk of being dragged to court for fraud, obtaining money under false pretences and uttering a false document to the government. Provided he did in fact resign as PF President and there is documentary proof of this, he will have to answer some very difficult questions on the witness stand to square his latest public statements with the letters on file.
If he ends up in court and faced with fines and possible jail time he retreats to the previous default position of retirement, his zombie party dies even faster. And it means his foot soldiers have to go fight Mr Miles Sampa without him and that fight will be very ugly and protracted with no prisoners taken.
Michael Chishala is a Zambian analyst, blogger, and ICT Specialist. He has interests in Philosophy, Economics, Politics and Art. Email: michael [at] zambia [dot] co [dot] zm.
2.Zambia Daily Mail