from ARNOLD MULENGA in Lusaka, Zambia
LUSAKA, (CAJ News) – THE renewed threats by the Zambian government to strip former president, Edgar Lungu, of his benefits indicate the new administration is struggling to break with the past.
It is the latest in a series of Zambian presidents persecuting their predecessors once the latter vacate office.
The probe against former First Lady, Esther Lungu, and the earlier interrogation of the ex-leader’s children, all on allegations of corruption, is the source of a standoff between the current leader and his predecessor.
The threats of stripping Lungu his benefits and immunity is the aftermath of him alleging a ploy to harass his family. The threats give credence to criticism that Zambian President Hakainde Hichilema is becoming increasingly dictatorial.
Minister of Justice, Mulambo Haimbe, has been quoted as saying the government former head of state (2015-2021) should not be entitled to his benefits as he is “still in active politics.”
This after Lungu accused the United Party for National Development (UPND)-led government of persecuting him after his wife was called for interrogation by the Drug Enforcement Commission (DEC).
This is connection with 15 flats she owns in the capital city, Lusaka.
DEC alleges the properties were corruptly acquired.
Since Lungu left office after his defeat by Hichilema in August last year, his son, Dalitso, and Tasila, the ex-president’s daughter, have also been subject to probes on allegations similar to the ones faced by the former first lady.
Lungu (senior) recently expressed disquiet at the probes as he addressed members of his Patriotic Front (PF).
He hinted the government might take him to task over his comments that his family was targeted.
“I will answer to whatever charges,” Lungu told the PF legislators that visited him to express solidarity.
“I am not hiding under the immunity,” he added, alluding to allegations he made the aforementioned sentiments because of his privilege as former president.
The new administration, called the New Dawn government, believes such statements equate to involvement in active politics.
The Benefits of Former Presidents Act interprets “active politics” as “the doing of any act indicating a person’s intention to hold elective or appointive office; or the holding of elective office or appointive office in a political party or in an organisation whose main aim is the furtherance of political objectives.”
“The man is retired. Leave him alone. Let him enjoy his retirement in peace. Stop persecuting his family,” Antonio Mwanza, PF Media Director, told the government.
He nonetheless said Lungu, like any other Zambian had the constitutional right to freely express himself without fear or retribution.
“To try to gag him using threats of withdrawal of his retirement benefits is immoral, unconstitutional and totally unacceptable,” said Mwanza.
“It is buffoonery of the worst kind to go after President Lungu’s family and expect the man to remain quiet while his son, his daughter and his wife are being persecuted and threatened through the abuse of law enforcement agencies,” Mwanza said.
All former Zambian presidents are entitled to a tax-free monthly pension, housing accommodation, drivers, motor vehicles with free maintenance and entitlement to fuel.
Other benefits include a personal secretary, security personnel, an administrative assistant, a diplomatic passport, medical insurance and funeral expenses among others.
The current standoff indicates the current government has struggled to break with the past, despite a pledge by Hichilema when he came into power.
From the time Frederick Chiluba replaced Kenneth Kaunda in 1991, sitting presidents have apparently used their newfound status to harass the predecessors.
Chiluba faced similar treatment from his successor after losing the presidency to Levy Mwanawasa.
Michael Sata also came under probe from his predecessor, Rupiah Banda, for alleged abuse of office, corrupt acquisition of public property and misappropriation of public funds.
The above-mentioned ex-presidents, now late, faced allegations of corruption.
The National Assembly invoked the right to immunity on Chiluba in 2002 and Banda in 2013.
“The threatening of former presidents with withdrawing their benefits when they engage in active politics is retrogressive and must be done away with in a politically mature Zambia,” said Silavwe Jackson, president of other opposition, the Golden Party of Zambia.
Thabo Kawana, the Ministry of Information Media Director and spokesperson, denied that the government was persecuting Lungu.
“Just as no one is special before the law, so is no one above the law including our Former First Family,” Kawana said.
Ruth Dante Heaton, UPND Media Director, argued on a number of occasions, Hichilema had invited Lungu as “Father of the Nation” to represent the country on a number of state functions.
She said for instance, Hichilema invited Lungu during the funeral of Banda and veteran politician, Sikota Wina, when “he (Hichilema) himself was denied an opportunity to bid farewell to Dr Kenneth Kaunda when in opposition.”
Thus, depending on which side of the fence you sit, the probe of former First Family is a fulfillment of a pre-election campaign pledge to fight corruption or a continuation of a spat featuring a current president and his predecessor.
– CAJ News