The Law Association of Zambia has said housing and infrastructure minister Ronald Chitotela must resign from public office or President Edgar Lungu should relieve him of his duties as he cannot effectively carry out his mandate while under investigation for alleged corruption.
Chitotela was arrested for alleged corruption by the Anti-Corruption Commission on February 5 and charged with two counts of concealing property suspected to be proceeds of crimes contrary to the Laws of Zambia.
Several stakeholders called for his dismissal, but President Edgar Lungu said he would not do so but allow the law to take its course.
The LAZ Council, in a statement today, stated that Section 18 of the Parliamentary and Ministerial Code of Conduct Act has no provision which compels the President to dismiss a Minister on account of being arrested and facing prosecution but noted that Chitotela ought to resign on his own as proper investigations against him cannot be carried while he serving as minister.
“…the President refused to dismiss the Minister and in aid of his decision cited Article 18 of the Republican Constitution, which presumes an accused person innocent until proven guilty by the courts of law. As the Law Association of Zambia (LAZ), we have followed the issue and surrounding debate with keen interest. In doing so, we have had occasion to peruse the Constitution of Zambia as amended by Act No. 2 of 2016, Chapter 1 of the Laws of Zambia; the Anti-Corruption Act, 2012; the Parliamentary and Ministerial Code of Conduct Act, Chapter 16 of the Laws of Zambia; and the Interpretation and General Provisions Act, Chapter 2 of the Laws of Zambia,” the LAZ Council has stated.
“Given the framing of Article 116 of the Constitution, which, among other things, deals With the appointment of Ministers, we hold the view that the arrest and Charging of a Minister for any criminal offence does not cause a vacancy in the office of Minister. A Minister serves at the President’s pleasure. Under any circumstances, it is only the President who can remove a Minister from office. However, the Constitution also gives any Minister the option to resign at any time. Our perusal of Section 18 of the Parliamentary and Ministerial Code of Conduct Act also reveals that there is no provision which compels the President to dismiss a Minister on account of being arrested and facing prosecution. However, the said Section 18 further provides that, nothing stops or limits the right of a Minister to resign as Minister.”
They stated that considering the powers vested in a minister, Chitotela would do well to resign.
“…given the spirit with which the Constitution is couched, the mandate of the Anti-Corruption Commission, the level of responsibility and power that a Minister has, it is our considered view as LAZ that it is not appropriate for Honourable Chitotela, to continue serving as a Minister whilst facing criminal charges and appearing in court pending the determination of the matter. We also hold the view that prosecution of a sitting Minister in the courts of law cannot be effective. We therefore call upon Honourable Chitotela to seriously reflect on his abilities to effectively and in good conscience run the affairs of his Ministry and at the same time defend himself in court. We firmly believe that under the circumstances, the Minister ought to resign from public service…,” LAZ stated. “…it is our considered view that the rule of law and the national values and principles of good governance and integrity in the discharge of public functions enshrined in our Constitution are not and cannot be enhanced by letting a Minister continue serving when he is subject of prosecution…Further, dismissing a sitting Minister facing prosecution does not offend the constitutionally recognized right of presumption of innocence. It is therefore the position of LAZ that the President should indeed consider relieving Honourable Chitotela of his duties as not doing so does not support the fight against corruption, which the President has on numerous occasions publicly supported.”