LAZ silence on electoral corruption is a threat to the growth of democracy – Sunday Chanda

Electoral Commission of Zambia

THE decision by the Law Association of Zambia (LAZ) leadership and council to remain silent on electoral corruption has baffled a civil society group that has asked the James Banda-led group to own up or speak up.
Open Society Foundation executive director Sunday Chanda says the silence on an issue that is so cardinal to the growth of democracy and enhancement of transparency in Zambia is nothing but unprecedented in a bad way.
“It is regrettable that the current LAZ executive is standing up, not to fight corruption, but “for” corrupt suspects instead,” Mr Chanda said. “This (the silence on corruption) is a statement of fact and we challenge LAZ to dispute that there has been a shift in policy in so far as fighting corruption is concerned.”
He said the silence clearly points to the fact that some characters in the LAZ leadership are relations of former MMD ministers currently under probe for massive graft in the courts of law.
Mr Chanda said he hoped the silence “is not as a result of certain senior members of the LAZ executive being related to some former MMD ministers under probe for corruption”.
This is not the first time the LAZ leadership has been challenged to speak out against evidence of corruption in some parliamentary elections that led to the Supreme Court annulling them or barring the candidates from re-contesting the seats.
Home Affairs Minister Edgar Lungu has in recent weeks repeatedly challenged the James Banda-led LAZ to state their categorical position on ‘corrupt’ candidates re-contesting the seats but the response has not been forthcoming.
“We were very surprised that Mr Banda and team only chose to speak when the judiciary finally cleared the air and showed leadership by explaining that corrupt individuals could not file nominations,” Mr Lungu said.
He said: “To us (PF), this is testimony that LAZ or sections of LAZ support corruption…their silence on corruption has been evidently loud and up to now, we are waiting for them to speak on the matter or forever hold their peace. Corruption is a cancer LAZ must condemn and not condone.”
Mr Chanda has taken the discussion further and said, “We challenge LAZ to deny this fact (that some executive members have relatives and friends being probed for graft, hence the reluctance) or we will name and shame the members within the LAZ executive with links to these corruption suspects.”
He added: “We speak with confidence and courage when we say this because we know for a fact that the sudden loss of steam by LAZ in the fight against corruption is not a coincidence but a well-orchestrated scheme.”
Traditionally, LAZ has earned respect for greatly contributing to the fight against corruption, Mr Chanda said.
But since the ECZ barred former Malambo lawmaker Maxwell Mwale, Mulobezi’s Hastings Sililo and Petauke Central’s Dora Siliya due to evidence of corruption, LAZ has remained mute.  This prompted Mr Chanda to ask: “What has changed now? We urge the current executive not to destroy the enviable reputation this institution has built and earned over time. It will be reprehensible if the battle against corruption is made harder by renowned institutions like LAZ.”
Mr Chanda called on the current LAZ executive to “urgently” state its position on the fight against corruption or it risks losing its relevance in the general governance of Zambia.
He said LAZ has never been known to be “by-standers when important governance issues are being discussed.
“Therefore, let this not be the first executive to surrender this important body on the altar of expedience, partiality and cheap political patronage,” he said.
He appealed to “professional lawyers” to stand up and share the responsibility of combating corruption, saying a rebirth of LAZ is inevitable.
“Corrupt elements should never see shelter in professional bodies like LAZ and we trust that LAZ will rise to the challenge,” Mr Chanda said.
The High Court will today rule on whether ‘corrupt’ candidates can be allowed to recontest seats or not in elections set for September 5.
The LAZ president (Mr Banda), when contacted by phone, declined to comment on the matter and asked the Daily Mail to write him an official query. By press time, he had not responded to the query.