The recent revelation that the Government of the Kingdom of eSwatini (formerly Swaziland) offered a generous gift of land to President Edgar Lungu and the subsequent public statement from the Chief Government Spokesperson- Hon Dora Siliya confirming this revelation, is a matter that raises a number of legal and ethical questions. From the onset, we wish to underscore our expectation that all those who work in public service, who include the Republican President, will actively seek to maintain and promote the highest standard of professional ethics and integrity. President Lungu has an enormous task not only to preach integrity and accountability but to live according to these standards. In this instance, the bestowal and receipt of foreign gifts and donations, is an area fraught with a lot of weakness and easily abused for personal and illicit enrichment. It is evident that the receipt of gifts and donations by the Republican President, Ministers and senior Government officials, is a grey area that needs urgent attention
As TI Zambia, we wish to raise specific issues, which we find vexing about the whole saga. We want to indicate that the statement made by Hon Siliya did little to assuage the fears of many that there is something inherently wrong with the whole deal.
1. Nature of Gift- We want to be charitable and assume that indeed the land in question was a gift officially bestowed on our President by the Government of the Kingdom of eSwatini. If this was an official gift, we want to believe that the value of the land is not lost on President Lungu and he and his government are fully aware that this gift is a far stretch from the description of a gift of minimal value and should accordingly have been officially disclosed and declared. It is sad to note the untimely confirmation of this “gift” by the Chief Government Spokesperson- who was only compelled to disclose this gift after architectural drawings were leaked. The question that begs an answer is assuming that there was no leak of architectural drawings, would the Chief Government Spokesperson or the Minister of Foreign Affairs have voluntarily announced this “gift”? And a more substantive question is how many such gifts- which are well beyond the definition of minimal or modest value, has President Lungu received which we the public are not aware of and is government waiting for another expose before confirming these gifts?
2. Ownership of the gift – Hon Siliya in her statement, brazenly indicated that there was nothing sinister about President Lungu receiving gifts from his hosts. Indeed, it is a common practice of exchange of gifts among leaders and states but the norm is that these are tokens of appreciation. These gifts of goodwill usually take the form of souvenirs- to serve as reminders of the visits taken. It is our expectation that President Lungu when he travels, receives these gifts in the name of Zambia and Zambians, he is after all serving in a stewardship role on behalf of the people. It is for this reason that in other jurisdictions, there is an explicit requirement that all gifts are formally declared to an established office and gifts beyond minimal value are recorded and where necessary disposed of or retained for public use. It is our sincere expectation that if indeed the Government of the Kingdom of eSwatini bestowed this gift to President Lungu, they did this knowing fully well that he was there in his official capacity as Head of State of the Republic of Zambia. It is expected that there should be a formal record of this gift with the Government of eSwatini including the relevant departments dealing with land administration in that country. It is instructive to note that the Constitution and laws of eSwatini is clear that the King holds the land in trust on behalf of the people of the Kingdom of eSwatini. Similarly, even our local chiefs- hold land in trust on behalf of the people. Any gift of land therefore is done on behalf of the people.
However, it is apparent that this whole gesture of gift offering by the Government of the Kingdom eSwatini, does not seemingly conform to the common template of gifts and donations given to foreign heads of state and government. From the statement made by Hon. Siliya, the host government in eSwatini, went beyond the standard norm and instead of offering land to President Lungu alone, they equally offered Mr. Amos Chanda, the Special Assistant for Press, land as well. It is interesting to note that the presidential delegations to eSwatini have comprised Ministers and other government officials. Is there any explanation why Mr. Chanda was singled out for this offer of land? And how did the Government of eSwatini arrive at this decision to offer land to one of the many Special Assistants to the President or the key Ministers in the cabinet of President Lungu?
3. Title and ownership of land – recent information from eSwatini on the ownership of the land which is subject of discussion, has raised further questions and a potential diplomatic gaffe. Hon SIliya in her statement, categorically indicated that the parcel of land which offered had been processed for and behalf of President Edgar Lungu. Information reported in the media indicates that the land in question belongs to Inyatsi Construction Limited of eSwatini. Maybe Hon Siliya, missed out some details here- was the land in question transferred from Inyatsi Construction Limited to President Lungu? Does President Lungu hold title to this parcel of land? Further questions that are baffling are- did the Government of Kingdom of eSwatini offer a parcel of land owned by Inyatsi Construction Limited to our President? Isn’t this a form of land grabbing and an unethical conduct which should not be condoned by President Lungu? Yes, one should not look a gift horse in the mouth but it is not too much to expect that a reasonable person will take all forms of due diligence to ensure that there are no encumbrances on the land.
4. Kickbacks and bribery – unregulated gifts and donations are an easy conduit for corruption in the form of kickbacks and bribes. It has now become apparent that a number of kick backs and bribes for public contracts are being given in the form of land and construction of houses or other gifts of high value. This is a growing trend in many African countries, where a contractor or supplier of goods and service, sets up a Trust or Shell company for and on behalf of a Government leader. A contractor pays this Trust / shell company money which for all intents and purposes is a kick back and this Trust company then engages the same contractor to build a house or commercial property. This is usually in exchange for a huge public works contract granted to a contractor. We are also aware of situation where government officials even here in Zambia, visiting other countries are given gifts of high value including electronic goods like TV sets, computers etc and these are bribes or kickbacks which are not declared to Zambia Revenue Authority and to Government. Similarly, there have been reports of government officials receiving tailor made suits and other clothing, expensive watches and jewellery- which are kept as personal items. Evidently, this practice of receiving gifts and donations of high value which are not declared, has been going on with impunity and it is time that a stop was put to this.
5. Lifestyle audits – The focus of debate has shifted to the gift of land away from the intended purpose of the land, namely construction of a multi-million dollar mansion for President Lungu as the architectural drawings indicate. Hon. Siliya did not deliberately address this and yet what triggered Government’s confirmation of the gift of land was the leakage of the architectural drawings. The question is- did President Lungu commission Architects International of Swaziland to prepare architectural plans and working drawings for the construction of the said mansion? If indeed, this is the case, President Lungu should go a step further and indicate how he intends to build this property. It is important that our leaders live lifestyles that are commensurate with their official earnings. As Zambians, we are aware of the official earnings of the President and the onus is on him to help us understand how this feat of building this mansion will be achieved. Unless of course, the Government of the Kingdom of eSwatini is overly generous to offer both land and construction of the said property. Generally, it is time that authorities in Zambia carried out lifestyle audits especially among Politically Exposed Persons. There are far too many PEPs living large and well beyond their known official earnings and this is a matter of serious concern particularly in light of the quest by government to fight money laundering
Our specific demands:
1. We would like the Zambian Government to urgently give a comprehensive statement on this matter which has the potential to strain diplomatic ties, especially if it emerges that this was a private transaction which has nothing to do with the Government of the Kingdom of eSwatini. Additionally, we would like Government to give a full account of all gifts that the President and Vice President have received from 2015 to date. Government should not wait for another leak before springing into action
2. We want to challenge the Secretary to the Cabinet to state how his office has been handling declarations of gifts and donations made by Government officials. Is there a Register of these gifts and donations and can this be made public? How does Government dispose of the gifts and donations received?
3. It is evident from the discussion on the gifts and donations received by the President and senior Government officials, that our current policy and laws are weak and it is time that appropriate reforms are carried out. Government should urgently present a Bill to Parliament to operationalise Article 263 the Constitution as amended in order to ensure that all persons holding public office (and state office) shall before assuming office and leaving office, make a declaration of their assets and liabilities. We would like this declaration to extend to gifts and donations as well. Further, we would like to have an Annual declaration of assets, gifts and liabilities by a sitting President. We find it to be inappropriate that the President only makes a declaration of assets and liabilities, once every five years – only at the time of submitting nomination papers for election.
4. We want to challenge all those holding ministerial positions to ensure that their assets and liabilities are declared in accordance with the Parliamentary and Ministerial Code of Conduct. We have noticed a laxity in this area and it is important that appropriate sanctions are taking against those who fail to do so. Additionally, we would like to see a change in the office to which assets and liabilities are declared by Ministers. It is our considered view that the Office of the Chief Justice is not the right one to receive these declarations as it is NOT clothed with powers to verify these assets and liabilities. The growing concern in a number of jurisdictions is the potential by unscrupulous individuals to make advance declarations of assets that they do not currently have but which they anticipate to hold before the end of a particular period- including through acts of corruption. Verification of the authenticity of these self-declarations of assets and liabilities is therefore important