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News Analysis: Will Zambia's graft fight yield desired results?
Last Updated(Beijing Time):2012-01-08 17:05

The resolve to fight corruption by Zambian President Michael Sata was made known immediately he won last September's general elections.

Sata, fondly known as an 'action man' when he served as minister in former president Fredrick Chiluba's administration, soon after being sworn-in declared that he is "allergic to corruption" and that he is ready to "lose friends" in his quest to fight the vice.

So far his outbursts have been matched by actions. Since assuming office, the Zambian leader has only made two international trips, declaring that he will not be making "many international trips" like his predecessor Rupiah Banda who was nicknamed "John Walker" because of his frequent travel saying it is a huge burden on public resources.

He recently made headlines when he decided to pay from his pocket hotel bills after a meeting he held with Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe in southern Zambia's Livingstone city.

So far, the resolve to fight corruption has heightened with investigations on various deals of the previous administration currently underway. Some senior officials from the previous regime are currently being questioned.

Among those questioned include former finance minister Situmbeko Musokotwane, former mines minister Maxwell Mwale, former labor minister Austin Liato, former energy minister Kenneth Konga and former communications and transport minister Dora Siliya. Others are Banda's press aide Dickson Jere while the former president's sons are also being sought for questioning. Former vice-president George Kunda is also under probe while Banda himself is being shielded by the immunity former presidents enjoy in Zambia.

However calls have heightened for parliament to remove his immunity so that he can be prosecuted with his critics saying most of the investigations are pointing to him as the main architect of the abuse of public resources.

A number of properties have since been seized, including huge stacks of money which was buried underground at a farm belonging to a former minister.

While many have lauded the anti-corruption drive embarked on by the Sata administration, officials from the former governing party, the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD), have described the investigations as "mere witch-hunt".

George Kunda, the party's chairman for legal and former vice- president, told a press briefing early this week that Sata has embarked on a "selective and vindictive" corruption fight against former leaders because he is trying to consolidate his hold on power.

"The fight against corruption is certainly selective and vindictive. It appears the government will become more autocratic, intolerant, brutal as it consolidates its hold on power," the former vice-president said.

Another member of the former governing party has accused the government of using the fight against corruption to gain public sympathy and cover up for its inadequacy.

Sunday Chanda, a senior party member from northern Zambia, said in a statement that the corruption fight is nothing but a strategy which is politically calculated at distracting the general public from the key issues affecting their livelihoods.

"Now, using the fight against corruption to gain public sympathy and cover up for inadequacies of the current regime will not work because this is an out-of-date fashion strategy," he said.

The official has since warned that the fight against corruption is likely to fail because the current administration had failed to learn from what happened in the past.

His views have since been backed by a local non-governmental organization-- the Foundation for Democratic Process (FODEP).

The organization says the current fight against corruption will only be successful if the government took a holistic approach to deal with the vice in all areas unlike the current situation where only leaders from the previous regime are being targeted.

"The fight against corruption requires a holistic approach if it is to yield any benefits. Targeting only those from the previous government will not solve the problem. We need to deal with the past corruption, current corruption and prevent future corruption," McDonald Chipenzi, the orgnization's executive director said.

The worries stem from what happened during late president Levy Mwanawasa regime who embarked on a corruption fight by targeting officials from the previous regime.

The corruption fight assumed by Mwanawasa soon after winning the 2002 elections dragged on for years with little tangible outcome and according to analysts, the government spent more money in fighting corruption than the amount of money it recovered.

Sakwiba Sikota, a lawyer representing all the former government ministers who are being investigated, has described the investigations as "fishing expeditions" which will not yield any tangible results.

On the other hand, some opposition political parties believe that the fight against corruption will be in vain unless the government uses right channels to fight it.

While commending the government on its anti-corruption crusade, Zambia for Empowerment and Development (ZED) president Dr. Fred Mutesa believes that fighting corruption should not merely be a matter of accusing people without tangible evidence of the allegations.

The government, he said, should fight the vice in a more professional manner by allowing investigative wings to carry out their duties freely instead of politicians making unsubstantiated allegations.

But the government has warned that no amount of crying from former leaders will save them from being investigated.

Disputing claims that the current fight against corruption is a witch-hunt and selective, chief government spokesperson Given Lubinda said officials from the previous regime should just prepare themselves and that government will vigorously pursue those suspected to have abused public resources or engaged in corruption.

The government spokesperson told journalists during a press briefing that the government had targeted former leaders because there is reason to believe that some of them abused their authority, adding that investigations were being carried to ensure that they accounted for their actions.

A local non-governmental organization, the Democratic Governance and Human Rights Advocates (DEGHA), is happy that the fight against corruption has gained momentum under the new government.

"The year 2011 was interesting in the area of anti-corruption fight because President Michael Sata had rekindled the lost hope in the fight against corruption in our country. It is difficult in any country to fight corruption if there is no political will," the orgnization's national coordinator Gerald Mutelo said.

While the current regime has indeed shown political will to fight corruption, the question of whether this will result in a successful fight against the vice will be seen in the coming years before the next general elections in 2016.

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