The stage has been set for the prosecution of Zambia’s former president Rupiah Banda on corruption charges after his presidential immunity was lifted by parliament in a raucous sitting in which the speaker was heckled and opposition members walked out.
President Banda was the country’s head of state for three years, from 2008 when he took over from President Levy Mwanawasa for whom he had been vice president, up to 2011 when his party, the Movement for Multiparty Democracy was defeated in presidential and parliamentary elections.
It is not the first time a former president has had their immunity lifted. Zambia’s second president Frederick Chiluba, who died in 2011, spent most of his post-presidency retirement defending himself from both criminal and civil suits after his immunity was lifted on allegations of plundering national resources leveled at him by the late Mwanawasa, the man Chiluba personally anointed to take over for him.
Among the allegations presented to the 158-member National Assembly on March 15, 2013 by Justice Minister Wynter Kabimba, who is also secretary general for the ruling Patriotic Front party, were that Banda and his family in 2011 reportedly spent more than 20 billion kwacha (370 million US dollars) on the purchase of election campaign materials, a sum that was personally handled and disbursed in cash by Banda and his sons. Kabimba said:
The GJIT [Government Joint Investigations Team] has now established that K21,907,847,170 cash was personally disbursed by Mr. Rupiah Banda and his family and that the MMD [Movement for Multiparty Democracy] never had such sums of money in its bank account at any time. During the period, Mr. Banda purchased bicycle spares and accessories from Atlas Cycles and printed fabrics from India at declared value of K371,908,000 with duty at K81,076,292 while 42 Toyota Hilux Vigo from Western, a United Arab based firm with valued [sic] at K1,869,840,000 and K892,434,129 as duty.
Similarly, materials including branded candy lollypops, 40 used Bedford Trucks, branded T-shirts, caps, badges, hats, balloons, hand flags, and flags were bought from various suppliers in the Emirates, United Kingdom, and China.
Underpinning the allegations against the former head of state, Kabimba further said:
Mr. Banda’s personal handling of such large sums of moneys and his activities constitute acts of money laundering and, or the presumption that the funds in question came from the national treasury as public funds for which he is liable to prosecution.
President Banda’s international lawyer, Robert Amsterdam, was quoted by citizen media website Zambian Watchdog, saying:
The removal of former President Banda’s immunity fails to pass the litmus test for legitimacy. Keeping in mind that this is the same government that only days ago fired live rounds into crowds of voters, the same people that have repeatedly arrested opposition leaders on bogus grounds, and the very same Justice Minister, Wynter Kabimba, who himself defiantly refused to answer corruption questions before the authorities, there can be little doubt about where the PF stands on matters of justice.
At the time of writing this report, the Zambian Watchdog was reporting that President Banda had been summoned to appear before the JGIT [Government Joint Investigations Team] on March 18, 2013, barely two days after his immunity was lifted.
Castigating opposition members for walking out of the house during the motion, Sidique Abdullah Gondwe Geloo wrote on Facebook page Zambian Eye:
It was highly irresponsible of you and I should add shameful that you had to start playing politics over RB's immunity removal proposition by not attending Parliament. Opposing for the sake of opposing only makes you look like losers that are plain adamant. Corruption is the GREATEST evil in Zambia, and no matter how much you hate the party in power, you should always support any move against corruption regardless of the motives. Any leader, including RB (I love RB, we rarely chat but are in good fellowship with each other) should be happy to accept the immunity removal so that he can prove to the world he wasn't corrupt.
Commenting on a story on Zambian Watchdog about the lifting of Banda’s immunity, a reader calling himself Maverick stated [individual comments have no links]:
[...] I was never a fun [sic] of RB during his short lived presidency and I’m all for prosecuting him if he indeed abused that high office. But can someone tell me: what did the country gain or benefit from lifting FTJ’s immunity and subsequently prosecuting him? Why can’t opposition MPs ask the government to tell the nation the gains achieved from that long winding prosecution of Chiluba up to and until his death? Equally how much was lost by the country through the expenses that came with the prosecution?
My gut instinct tells me NOTHING was gained, apart from fattening the bank accounts of some now fat public officers and enriching a Fraud Member of the public who benefited from FTJ’s misfortunates. So are we that gullible to go through the same expensive route as a nation to prosecute RB until his death, and enriching the same individuals in the process and adding the 3rd Seasonal person to enrich them?
@RockyChisupa: We NOW know Sata's immunity will be lifted after his tenure. So, why not avoid future costs of time and investigations by lifting it now?
@cathyphiri79: Who there is free from corruption really?
@lwangamwilu: Hon Muntanga: If MMD campaign money came from state, where is PF's by-election money coming from? They are suddenly rich.