LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
Leaks of Government Documents Threaten Stability and Rule of Law
By Edwin Lifwekelo
There is no shortage of African governments which struggle with corruption, dishonesty, and opacity – especially those blessed with the wealth of natural resources. So it becomes very easy to assume that if we bring sunlight to every state secret, all problems will be solved.
Just how wrongheaded that assumption can be is currently being played out in my country, Zambia, where a controversial report by the Financial Intelligence Center was leaked to the public against the advice of our nation’s top prosecutors and legal bodies.
Since its foundation almost a decade ago, the Zambian Financial Intelligence Center has been an occasionally valuable weapon in the government’s arsenal to combat money laundering, terrorist financing, and other illicit financial maneuvers that are so frequently employed by alleged criminals.
But what would happen if the criminals themselves were the ones to infiltrate FIC, and use the name of the office to attack their enemies? Ironically, as fate would have it, we are currently seeing this nightmare come to life.
It is still not entirely clear what led the FIC to release to the public its most recent installment of the annual “Trends Reports.” In this edition, the investigators detailed a series of rumours they had picked up from human sources which detailed allegedly unlawful transactions as well as business deals which had attracted questions. Among these claims – which as of yet haven’t been substantiated by any evidence – is that unknown parties had fleeced the Government of Zambia of some 6 billion kwacha.
Since its release, some prominent voices of Zambia’s political opposition have, regrettably, decided to use its findings not to urge investigation to discover responsibility nor inform the public on their position, rather they are using it to advance their platform.
Chief among them has been UPND President Mr. Hakainde Hichilema, who in recent days, has urged H.E. President Edgar Lungu to “take action” against the politicians, bureaucrats, agencies and institutions mentioned, but not identified, in the FIC’s 2018 Trends Report.
But here is the problem – Zambia is a rule of law nation that can’t throw people in jail without building a case based on evidence that is brought before a judge for consideration.
The bloodlust on behalf of the opposition flies in the face of laid down procedure for executing government’s response to the FIC’s findings – but Mr. Hichilema doesn’t appear concerned by that. Either that or he forgets that the FIC is an institution whose express purpose is to shed light on the corruption to which government is blind, giving, finance, justice and other government officials the information they need to explore prosecutorial actions.
Regardless Mr. Hichilema, who’s long claimed to be a champion of small accountable government, has used his platform to urge for the unilateral disruption of Zambian governance.
This is a dangerous misuse of public information. The UPND, and those who subscribe to this alarmism, must remember that two wrongs don’t make a right. If President Lungu were to independently remove, censure or otherwise punish those implicated in the FIC’s report without due process and other guaranteed protections, the President would effectively be violating their constitutional rights, breaking the law to enforce the law.
But there’s no sign that Mr. Hichilema will step down from his high horse. Who would? In Zambia’s court of public opinion, the courthouse is dreadfully hot, crowded and dangerous. Sitting atop his horse, Mr. Hichilema is safely removed from the passions he’s stirring inside while he peers through the window.
And yet, it’s worth asking ourselves, where would Mr. Hichilema be without his valiant steed?
He certainly wouldn’t be among the crowd in the courthouse. He would be before them, standing trial for the duplicitous deeds of his prior private life.
We mustn’t forget that a certain “Hakainde Sammy Hichilema” was implicated in the release of the Paradise Papers a sweeping investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) for apparent tax evasion and questionable business dealings, charges he’s flatly denied.
The only reasonable explanation for HH’s blatant hypocrisy is that this move is politically convenient – perhaps one of the only ways he sees left to recapture some level of legitimacy.
But ultimately, he is just hurting Zambia again, which will not endear him to the public.
_The Author was founding Secretary General for the Patriotic Front_