Opinion

Opinion: Supreme Court’s Missed Opportunity

Zambian opposition leader Michael Sata is sworn in as President at the supreme court in the capital LusakaLast night’s extremely disappointing decision by Zambia’s Supreme Court to advise against, but ultimately allow, President Michael Sata’s plans to form a special tribunal aimed at removing inconvenient judges is based upon a long history in our country.

When Levy Mwanawasa resigned as Zambia’s Vice President in 1994, it was because of what he alleged were corrupt tendencies in the Frederick Chiluba administration. At the center of Mwanawasa’s corruption allegations was Micheal Sata, who had started of as the first Local Government Minister under the Movement for Multi-Party Democracy (MMD).

Corruption allegations over Sata first emerged when he was Local Government Minister and this was more to do with the Merzaf scandal regarding the construction of houses and flats in Lusaka’s Chilenje suburb. Merzaf Construction Company was owned by his crony and cigar mate George Memegus, a businessman of Greek origin who has since passed on. Then followed the scam at the Ministry of Health, particularly to do with government money allegedly deposited in Sata’s personal account to earn interest at a named bank.

As vice president Mwanawasa found it fit to raise the issues with his boss Chiluba who apparently advised that Sata be reported to the relevant authorities if really there was any wrong doing on his part. Mwanawasa proceeded to report to the Anti-Corruption Commission, ACC, then headed by Justice Robert Kapembwa. When the case reached the Director of Public Prosecutions Gregory Phiri it could not move any further than that. By then Mwanawasa is said to have prepared an elaborate dossier on Sata’s alleged corruption at the Local Government and Health ministries. But the next time Mwanawasa checked on the dossier it had vanished from his office and was never recovered. Someone had gained access to the Vice-President’s office and the rest is history Sata was never prosecuted.

That is why the Supreme Court ruling over the Judge Chikopa Tribunal should not come as a surprise to anyone. It is all about allies protecting one another. Firstly, acting Chief Justice Lombe Chibesakunda, who delivered the ruling throwing out High Court Judge Flugence Chisanga’s order to grant leave pending judicial review, is said to be a relative of President Michael Sata. What’s more is that her niece Prof. Nkandu Luo is a serving cabinet minister in the Patriotic Front, PF, government. Secondly, acting Deputy Chief Justice Florence Mumba has had direct connections with Fred Mm’embe as she used to give presentations at the Post Newspaper on parallel voter tabulation, PVT when she was heading the Electoral Commission of Zambia, ECZ. Thirdly, Supreme Court Judge Gregory Phiri is an acquaintance of President Sata and they both go to the same church, St. Ignatius Catholic Church. It may as explain why he never moved to prosecute Sata back then when he was DPP.

Yes, there was a vote of 4 against 3 but on face value it seems that those that voted in favour of the Chikopa Tribunal to proceed have failed to redeem themselves. Some observers have talked about the decision as though it were an “opportunity” for the PF government to gracefully back away from the Tribunal and pursue other means of protecting M’membe and Nchito from having to pay their debts. But the idea of this government would ever “do the right thing” is hopelessly naive. In fact, it should not surprise anyone if President Sata immediately moves ahead with the Tribunal against the advice of the Supreme Court.

As for the justices, they have betrayed the Zambian people and failed in their constitutional duties to protect judicial independence and separation of powers. The judges have missed an opportunity to regain peoples’ confidence. All they have done is to make Mm’embe and Nchito, seemingly much more powerful and they have certainly betrayed their own. This will catch up with them – for whom do we think will be on the chopping block next after they fire these three judges related to the DBZ case? And you can forget about any of those contested by-election seats up before the courts – as of last night, the one-party state is on the way.

But they must also know that sometimes the mouth bites the hand that feeds. That is what they should have done, bitten the hand of President Sata.

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