By Chimwemwe Mwanza
His back against the wall and boxed in a pigeonhole, Mutembo Nchito facing 11 charges, 9 of which were of a criminal nature, did the unthinkable. Using powers vested in his office, Nchito outfoxed his detractors by entering a nolle prosequi against his person – in the process acquitting himself of all charges. Stuff of legends, right?
This precedence befuddled state prosecutors who were dead set on locking-up the former Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP). With stakes raised in a highly charged legal poker, he dug in his heels prompting then President Edgar Lungu to use findings of a hastily constituted tribunal to sack him. As they say the rest is history but history has an uncanny way of repeating itself.
For clarity, this discussion is not meant to cast aspersions on Nchito’s character, however you could argue that there are parallels to draw from his experience and the fate of the incumbent DPP, Lillian Siyuni. And if Nchito’s tribulation were a proxy, then it is indeed safe to gamble that Siyuni’s head is on a guillotine. It is just a matter of time before she walks but not without a fight.
At the center of this debacle, is the means through which she granted immunity from prosecution for alleged malfeasance to Milingo Lungu, the former liquidator of embattled mining group, KCM. Important to add, it is not for this discussion to pronounce on Siyuni’s innocence or guilt there-off but the fact that this matter is before courts naturally invokes the principle of subjudice.
Yet just like the biblical Pontius Pilate passed on the opportunity to save Jesus from crucifixion, the President, the Attorney General and the Justice Minister have all washed their hands off Siyuni. She is being hung out to dry. If in doubt about this assertion, let us take a step back to the President’s last briefing at State House. This was his response to a question regarding the DPP’s fate.
‘Who ever issued immunity to anybody is on their own,’ remarked the Head of state in nuanced undertones backing calls for Siyuni to be subjected to a hearing before the Judicial Complaints Commission (JCC). Whatever the argument, the wheels to sack Siyuni have long being in motion and the hearing in question is simply a ruse to justify her dismissal. What then is motivating this hasty decision to sack her?
The DPP’s office is a vital cog to a smooth functioning of Zambia’s criminal Justice system. In fact, the power to institute and undertake criminal proceedings is vested in this office. Its significance places Siyuni at the tip of the new government’s fight against corruption and other vices. Most of all, the President is aware of the enormous power this office wields which is why it is in his interest to have a pliant DPP.
Lessons from the past
Is it best practice for the Presidency to hold sway in the functioning of this office? Off course not. In any case how different is this coup d’etat which is in motion compared to the President’s decision to move the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) to his office? It might well be correct to assume that Siyuni’s possible successor has already bought their suit and is now measuring the drapes of the DPP’s office in readiness for a swearing in ceremony at Community house.
Don’t forget, the previous dispensation was intentional in its decision to incapacitate the state’s prosecutorial capabilities. The end game was using these institutions to fix opponents and cower opposition to silence while looting state coffers. A pliant Head of Judiciary here and compromised Judges there, was the stratagem. That Mary Chirwa’s Drug Enforcement Commission (DEC) has no compelling evidence against any of the former government officials being arraigned before courts is telling of the efficacy of this strategy.
As they say, making allegations is easy but proving them is another. While possible that a few foot soldiers will end up wearing white khaki uniforms at Chimbokaila, it is likely that the big fish will walk free largely due to the sophistication of their schemes and incapacity of the state to deal with serious financial crimes.
That said, Siyuni is being sacrificed to make way for a user-friendly tool that will either be used to fix the former fixers and, in a way help to boost the new government’s waning fortunes in their fight against graft and other sophisticated commercial crimes. Not discounting the gravity of allegations levelled against her, it is deeply troubling that a government that has sworn to uphold the rule of law is slowly drowning in its own sea of inconsistencies.
It is John Sangwa SC who courteously counselled the incumbent President that the public and Parliament ought to have a sway in the appointment of the Chief Justice and heads of prosecutorial institutions. In principle, Sangwa’s counsel was premised on the need to maintain a people centric-Judiciary. Alas, his reasoning was rebuffed without interrogating the gist of his premonition.
Whatever happened to the much-pontificated rule of law, the imminent sacking of Siyuni will only serve to accelerate the slow decent to totalitarianism. But does this even bother the President that luminaries such as Sangwa and Father Telesphore Mpundu have jumped off the wagon that carried him to State House but has since made a de-tour to Community House? You wonder.
Koseni madam Siyuni.