REGULATE PRESIDENTIAL GIFTS
By Gershom Ndhlovu
The nation has just been driven round the bend in the on-going Chiluba fraud case in which the former president claims that most of the money he used under the Zamtrop intelligence account came from well-wishers.
Now that the nation has learnt a lesson from that, it is high time parliament came up with legislation for leaders and senior government officials who receive gifts in the course of duty to declare them for the sake of transparency.
It is not too long ago that a similar issue arose with President Mwanawasa when one of his aides withdrew several billions of Kwacha from one commercial bank, money which was claimed to have come from well-wishers.
Chiluba could have received gifts from Raphael Soriano alias Katebe Katoto who was involved in the unfulfilled arms deal, from Gokul Binani, the failed RAMCOZ investor and all sorts of shady, fly-by-night characters, but for now, and perhaps in the future, he is not obliged to tell us who showered him with gifts which he, unfortunately, confused with state resources.
What should be borne in mind is that there is a thin line between a genuine gift and a bribe which constitutes corruption especially where it concerns a head of state and senior government officials who are in a position to give out contracts and other favours to those who are seen to be generous.
Those who have read the Vulture Funds judgment should be familiar with how Donegal officials donated money to Chiluba supposedly for use in the construction of houses under the PHI project. But whether that money went to the intended project is a matter for Chiluba to say. It is now clear that donations that Donegal officials made were simply for the purpose of dubiously milking Zambia out of huge amounts of money.
It is strongly rumoured that a former permanent secretary, now on the wrong side of the law, used to take brief-cases full of dollars to State House which probably ended up at Boutique Basille to kit the former president whose sense of haute couture defied logic in a nation in which 80 per cent of the population rely on Salaula, or madingimunwa as the Tonga call it.
It is only after cases such as the one involving the former president that the nation should put in place laws and regulations to prevent potential abuse tomorrow, next year and for generations to come. In fact, this is all the more reason why Zambia needs a strong constitution not just tailored to the whims and caprices of a sitting president.
It is not uncommon for African leaders who visit Libya and China to receive huge personal gifts from the leaders of the two countries who also extend free lodging and food for the visiting delegations. It is also not uncommon for businessmen seeking investment opportunities in Third World countries to give gifts to leaders of those countries. While it is not wrong for anybody to receive a gift, laws and regulations should be put in place for the declaration of these tokens given to leaders and government officials.
These gifts should be declared either through Cabinet Office, or better still, the Chief Justice to whom political leaders declare assets and liabilities on taking up of elective office. If such a law were enacted, even political parties should disclose the sources of their money so that the electorate know who gave what to which party to expose those seeking favours at some point in the future.
Such a requirement is standard in most advanced democracies where leaders declare gifts and freebies they receive while in office and if they exceed a certain value, they revert to the state. Obviously, what those who framed these laws in those countries wanted to avoid was the abuse being witnessed in Zambia in the Chiluba case.
The challenge now is for the gallant Members of Parliament to take up the matter so that posterity does not judge them harshly when a similar situation arises sometime in the future. –firstname.lastname@example.org.