By Michael Chishala
Why is it that in Zambia we seem to have a great affinity for doing strange things? As already noted by other commentators, the government of Zambia holds two contradictory positions by recognising Mr Miles Sampa as PF president whilst simultaneously withdrawing Mr Edgar Lungu’s benefits because he (Lungu) has publicly declared that he has returned to active politics and resumed occupying the PF Presidency. This raises some interesting matters in an ongoing conundrum.
- Does Mr Lungu declaring his return to “active politics” necessarily imply that his benefits should be withdrawn? Cabinet Office required a written letter from Mr Lungu stating that he had resigned as PF President (with the same letter attached) and was thus no longer in active politics for them to approve his benefits. So how come they apparently took a mere verbal announcement from Mr Lungu as a basis to withdraw his benefits?
- The Benefits of Former Presidents Act defines what it means to be in “active politics” as holding elective or appointive office in a political party or an intention to do so. Does Mr Lungu announcing a return to “active politics” mean he is now suddenly magically holding office as PF President again? We all know that the PF Presidency is an elective office which he resigned from in 2021. Is Cabinet Office not supposed to ask him for proof that he is now PF President for them to withdraw his benefits? Since Mr Lungu has not been elected again as PF president after his resignation in 2021, what is the basis of withdrawing his benefits? Did he write to explicitly forfeit his benefits? Are we continuing the tradition of lawlessness in the civil service that PF perfected during their tenure?
- The aforementioned Act has a very serious loophole on the definition of “active politics” by tying it to holding office or the intention to do so. What if Mr Lungu convinces his party that they should adopt him as PF candidate for 2026 but without him holding any official position in the party? According to the Act, he would be fully compliant, since he holds no position and does not intend to. But meanwhile he continues getting his benefits as former president at taxpayer expense as an opposition candidate while campaigning to be president again.
- In 2015, late President Rupiah Banda attempted a political come-back by getting a rogue faction of the MMD National Executive Committee (NEC) to give him an adoption certificate as the MMD candidate for the 2015 presidential by-election, despite Mr Nevers Mumba being the sitting president of MMD after being elected in 2012 and thus the rightful candidate. Mr Banda was technically not in “active politics” by not holding any position in MMD, but was to all intents and purposes clearly in “active politics”. Is there anything more “active” in politics than running for Republican president? There was no announcement from Cabinet Office that his benefits were withdrawn and this demonstrates the absurdity of the Act. Taxpayers are effectively sponsoring an opposition person running for president.
The official position of the current government on the question of whether Mr Lungu possibly defrauded government by apparently pretending to have resigned as PF President seems to be that they will let sleeping dogs lie. They have left it to any concerned citizen to take the matter to court, despite the admission that there is credence to the potential allegations. This is quite shocking and disturbing from a government that prides itself on following rule of law. Imagine someone else writes to government and ends up being paid taxpayer money under false pretences. Would BOMA similarly wink at that or would they investigate and possibly prosecute to the fullest extent of the law?
From the foregoing inconsistencies and absurdities, it is very clear that The Benefits of Former Presidents Act needs to be repealed. The current president seems to support that and the former president made similar sounding statements when he was in Plot One. Why should a poor country be building a ridiculous 4 bed-roomed presidential house costing millions for an old man with grown children who has already earned plenty of money as President?
A sitting president earns around K700,000 per year with all his expenses paid for as president, not counting other allowances. He thus probably gets not less than K4 million after one 5 year term (never mind two) but we are busy wasting tax payer money to make an already rich man live like a medieval king. That is a pure travesty of morality when the majority of Zambians are wallowing in abject poverty.
Michael Chishala is a Zambian analyst, blogger, and ICT Specialist. He has interests in Philosophy, Economics, Politics and Art. Email: michael [at] zambia [dot] co [dot] zm.