Among all the chaotic exchanges of accusations taking place in Lusaka this week, one outstanding issue has been whether or not the Minister of Justice and Secretary General of the Patriotic Front Party Wynter Kabimba lied before parliament when reading out his motion to strip immunity of former President Rupiah Banda.
According to numerous media sources, in the late afternoon of March 15, Kabimba declared before the National Assembly, “The investigations have been concluded and the team is ready to prosecute Banda.”
However, obviously what has happened this week was not any sort of hearing or arraignment on charges, but rather a series of interview sessions with the former president under the Joint Investigative Wings. The questioning, which according to some sources was not revealing any actionable evidence, was cut short on Tuesday, and it appears that Banda will again be summoned on a Friday – which has many people worried that they will attempt to effectuate an arrest like they did with Nevers Mumba, leaving the former president to sit in jail all weekend until offices open on Monday morning.
Banda’s lawyer Sakwiba Sikota highlighted the contradiction between what the Justice Minister claimed before parliament and the actions taking place this week.
“What is surprising is that these investigations are dragging when the Minister of Justice said the investigations were concluded,” Sikota said. “That is why we said this will be a very long affair because they have nothing against the former president. This is when they are trying to fish something. It will end up being a failed case for the State.”
The fact that Kabimba perjured himself before the National Assembly is only the beginning of the problems facing the PF’s attack against Banda. If they were lying about the status of the investigation and prosecution, then, we must ask, what else were they lying about?
The PF appears to have made three major strategic errors in their rush to remove immunity:
1) They failed to prepare a strong consensus among civil society, and instead achieved only slightly more than half the total seats in favor,
2) By having Kabimba lead the charge, they failed to choose a credible and impartial voice, and
3) They failed to build anything resembling a real case, casting doubt on the legitimacy of the whole affair.
Regarding the consensus building exercise that should precede any removal of presidential immunity, the only comparison we can draw is the conduct of Levy Mwanawasa removing the immunity of Frederick Chiluba. Mwanawasa of course worked for months bringing together different NGOs and parties to back his measure against his former boss. In his personal appearance before parliament, as opposed to President Michael Sata’s disrespectful absence, Mwanawasa laid forth a powerfully detailed case including real evidence, bank accounts details, and legitimate basis under law for the removal of immunity. Outside parliament on that day, there were hundreds of supporters from civil society movements cheering him on. The motion passed by a unanimous vote.
Instead, it was clear from the beginning that Speaker Patrick Matibini was placed under extraordinary pressure to carry out a premeditated strategy to disgracefully push through with the motion despite an unresolved court case, points of order, and the walkout in protest by the MPs. Passing the motion with just over half the seats does not give the government much credibility, and instead makes it look like a one-sided politicised game instead of a real fight against graft. Had they recessed and waited to have a full vote on immunity, they would have greater credibility before the international community.
Of course, everyone now recognizes that there is zero comparison between the Chiluba and Banda immunity removals. The only NGOs that the PF were able to pressure into supporting the immunity removal were deeply compromised outfits such as Transparency International Zambia (TIZ), whose executive director Goodwell Lungu is well known as a man owned and operated by President Sata. Instead of cheering supporting crowds outside parliament, there were hundreds of armed police. Instead of a unanimous multiparty vote, the only opposition members who voted for the measure essentially had to be paid to do so (with deputy minister jobs). It was a clear case of legislative bribery that brings great shame upon Zambia.
If you consider the near-absolute monopoly on the media enjoyed by the PF, with its corrupt allies at The Post Newspaper leading the way, it is absolutely astonishingly that they were not able to drum up more public support through their daily propaganda attacks against the former president.
What is baffling, though, is the choice of Wynter Kabimba as the person to lead the motion. Everyone knows that Kabimba himself has been involved in alleged acts of corruption, and in fact, it could be argued that there is greater substantive evidence to his corruption case given that he failed to declare his shareholding in Midland Energy Limited. But instead of dealing with the judicial process, Kabimba appeared before his summons at the investigative wings with dozens of violent cadres, threatening the anti-corruption officers and refusing to answer questions. Later, after President Sata illegally pressured Rosewin Wandi to give up the cases, the inquiry was suddenly “dropped” by the ACC.
How are we supposed to react to a person like this – one who has flaunted impunity and threatened violence – talking about the corruption of others? It simply is not credible. Furthermore, we cannot expect the Justice Minister to be unbiased, especially when it is he himself who stands to benefit the most from the defamation campaign against Banda and other opposition figures. As the chosen successor to the very sick President Sata, Kabimba is positioning himself to become the next president, and is determined to wipe out any potential competitor. So if there are some real grounds to a case against Banda, he should be the very last person to present them, as his own interest taints the process.
But probably the most fatal error they made was the failure to prepare a proper case. Much of Kabimba’s “dossier” was focused on very vague sorts of accusations such as “abuse of office” (without saying what conduct) or “proceeds of a crime” (but without identifying what crime or where the alleged money is), the other accusations, which have been mocked with glee by critics, focused on ballons, lightbulbs, and lollipops that were given away by during the last presidential election campaign by the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD).
If indeed public funds were applied to the campaign, there should be a very clear paper trail from the national budget, including account numbers, receipts, and documentary proof showing how this was carried out. But Kabimba has offered not a single account number or item of paperwork. Furthermore, it looks like they have failed to turn up any juicy evidence from the questioning. Instead, if the funds were raised by donors, there is actually no law on Zambia’s books guiding campaign financing – so there is no crime to actually charge Banda with.
It is of course likely that corruption occurred somewhere under the last presidential administration or, more likely, under a few mismanaged ministries – it is impossible to imagine that it did not. But whether or not the head of state was personally involved is entirely another question, which is why it is such a pity that the ruling party is just using the theme of “anti-corruption” as an excuse to crack down on political opponents, as citizens are deprived of a meaningful and fair process of accountability. In fact, one of the tactics used by the PF in order to win over members of the opposition has been the promise to shelve their own corruption cases – so what kind of message does this send?
If they want to prove they are serious about anti-corruption, they could start by making Wynter Kabimba face the ACC for questioning despite his exalted status as the secretary general of the ruling party. Even then, who knows if he will tell the truth.