I don’t collect bribes, please use that one million to hire a very good lawyer – DPP
By Fanny Kalonda in Livingstone
I DON’T collect bribes, says Director of Public Prosecutions Gilbert Phiri
Phiri also said no one can tell him what to do with regards to either charging or not charging someone as he is independent and objective.
Speaking at the 2023 Zambia Anti-Corruption Conference in Livingstone organised by Transparency International Zambia, Phiri stressed the need to build a culture where people fear public property.
“I can tell you where I stand here that no one can tell me what to do with regards to either charging or not charging. I have to come to an independent and objective position. We are proceeding with this case or we are not proceeding. We are discontinuing this case or I am taking over this case. Those decisions are independently made,” he said. “I as a leader of the institution and the leadership team that I have must leave out these ethos. I must lead by example. My life itself should be an example. I must … corruption myself. I don’t collect bribes. I have never collected bribes. I am not collecting bribes. I do not intend collecting bribes. I don’t even solicit for bribes. Now you will hear there’s a cottage industry that emerges around the DPP. There are people that you run around or no the DPP wants 1,000,000 here and your case will disappear. Please use that one million to hire a very good lawyer because no case will disappear trust me.”
Phiri noted that unclean people in the public service will strive to pollute and weaken the system and ultimately collapse it.
“I must embody integrity myself. And all these safeguards that we’re talking about here is to reduce the opportunity for people to be corrupt. Even if they are innately corrupt, latently, patently corrupt, is why we have these policies. We know you’re corrupt, we know you are a crook but we are diminishing the spaces for you to be crooked or to dip your finger. Because we know when we look the other side you will dip,” he said. “You know at the NPA (National Prosecution Authority), we have taken a stance of zero tolerance to corruption and related vices. This was the same when I was at Anti-Corruption Commission. My office is unapologetic in this regard. Now what have we done to build this culture of integrity? The very first thing that we did was to establish an integrity committee this year that hadn’t existed since the institution was established. We know that we can have excellent and well crafted institutional policies with glossy covers but it is not these that will ensure that they exist an institutional culture of integrity. We know that. We recognise that in building institutional integrity, we have to take shot, small but incremental steps. We build a day at a time but all the time we must be moving forward. In doing so we’re deliberate about a few things.”
Phiri said there should be no sacred cows in the fight against corruption.
“When it comes to fighting corruption we must not flinch. We must not exhibit fear. We must be decisive. There must be zero and I mean zero tolerance to corruption and any related vice,” he said. “We can put in place systems and processes that are aimed at reducing to a bare minimum. …wastage of public resources however if we have unclean, excuse the use of the word filthy people in public service, they will strive in consented fashion to pollute and weaken the system and ultimately collapse it. There should be no sacred cows. Status in society should not be a factor of consideration. We need to be deliberate. We must be decisive. In Zambia we need to build a culture of respect and fear for public property. People must fear, they must fear public property. Our public service must only attract exemplary servants who have been properly vetted and who subscribe to a life of integrity.”
Phiri said the problem that “we have because I’m talking about prosecution and prosecution starts from investigation. We are talking about police. We are talking about Anti-Corruption. We’re talking about Drug Enforcement Commission. All this continuum prosecutorial tasks”.
He said a prosecutorial service that is working with full integrity in fulfilling its mission would exhibit independence and impartiality in performing its functions.
“We are expected to be free from any political and undue pressure and influence. Like I’ve stated and in the performance of our duties, we have to protect the public interest. Now can you teach people integrity? Can you teach them ethics? Can you teach them, can you teach these things? Or is it a question of, it’s either you have them or you don’t. Or there are people that are ready to do anything if someone is not looking? Now, a prosecutor that has no integrity will do damage to the criminal justice system,” he said. “Therefore, you know integrity building cannot be divorced from effective prosecution of cases. You cannot have one without the other. This is a symbiotic relationship between the two. For prosecutors to perform their key role in holding the rule of law within the criminal justice system it is critical that they conduct themselves with integrity and with a full respect for the ethics of their profession. They must not only maintain the honour and dignity of their profession but also conduct themselves professionally in accordance with the law and the rules and ethics of their profession. Exercising the highest standards of integrity and care to serve the public interest. Now why is this important? Why is this demand for prosecutors to act with the highest standards of integrity? Now you have to understand the role that prosecutors play in society and the power they wield. Because prosecutors wield the decision to charge and that decision to charge can be the difference between ruining someone’s life or allowing people to continue as before in life.”
Phiri said there are a lot of demands on public prosecutors because they perform a crucial role society.
“They are termed as gatekeepers of the criminal justice system. Without them you cannot have prosecution and … of crime because they are the ones that appear before the judge to argue the case and this is the way society has designed the system. So the demands on the prosecutors are many and they are quite daunting. They are not only required but are expected to apply the law to criminal cases. Prosecutors are principally responsible for representing the interests of society at large. Now aside this primary duty, they are also required to protect the rights of the persons involved in criminal proceedings including accused persons and it is an expectation that they will respect the human dignity and fundamental rights of these accused persons,” he said. “They also have other duties and these duties include those suspected of crimes and witnesses. Prosecutors are therefore expected to respect accused persons rights some of which are, for example, the right to remain silent, the right to a public trial within a reasonable time, to the presumption of innocence until proven guilty, to a full access to adduce as evidence in court…”
And Phiri said the NPA has been reviewing its prosecution manual and plans to make it public so that people understand how they arrive at the decisions to charge.
“It’s not an exact scientific process but it is an objective process and it is important that the public understands it. Therefore, a prosecutorial service that is working with full integrity in fulfilling its mission will exhibit independence and impartiality in performing its functions. This is one of the things that we strive for to ensure that we are truly independent and we are impartial. We are expected to be free from any political and undue pressure and influence like I’ve stated and in the performance of our duties, we have to protect the public interest. Now this issue of independence and impartiality is key because prosecution services are accused of being politically manipulated and influenced.
I can tell you where I stand here that no one can tell me what to do with regards to either charging or not charging. I have to come to an independent and objective position. We are proceeding with this case or we are not proceeding. We are discontinuing this case or I am taking over this case. Those decisions are independently made,” said Phiri. “So independence and impartiality are essential means to prevent and combat corruption within the prosecution services because this way you reduce opportunities for corrupt officials to interfere in investigations and in the criminal action itself.
Now I hate to disappoint you but the prosecutor’s role is not to win convictions at any cost. But to put before the court all available relevant and admissible evidence necessary to enable the court to determine the guilt or innocence of the accused person. Now I know that prosecutors feel the pressure and the pressure comes from all angles. The pressure to convict or to go for convictions at any cost and that’s where corruption comes in. I know the pressure comes from the victim, the victim’s family, the media, the general public, other prosecutors and so on. This pressure can lead to what we term as conviction psychology which is over-emphasis on obtaining convictions at the expense of seeking to do justice. To avoid this, prosecutors are required to achieve a delicate balance of all these competing interests. We punish severely and we frown upon behaviour that is against the institutional ethos. This is not exactly a norm in public service. There appears to be an unspoken rule in the Zambian public service that people have jobs for life irrespective of incompetence and decadent behaviour.
Unfortunately, we cannot and I’ve been unable to fraternise with this ideology. Secondly, we are working at improving conditions of service and work. The environment where our staff work is cardinal especially for a prosecution service where temptation is rife. Thirdly, we aim at building a work environment where supervisors are in daily contact with the prosecutors. We have inculcated a culture of having morning briefings so that the workforce is in constant liaison with supervisors and issues of common interests addressed. Fourthly, we believe in capacity building. We want to exploit all avenues and that’s why we have enacted and executed different memoranda of association with Basel Institute of Governance, Attorney General Alliance Irish, rule of law, among others.”- The Mast