Burden of Zambian government, scandals and legal fees

Dickson Jere
Dickson Jere

In 1991 Zambia’s founding President Dr Kenneth Kaunda was voted out of office. The charismatic trade unionist Fredrick Chiluba succeeded him.

When President Fredrick Chiluba was elected, I celebrated! I was convinced that democracy would work again in Africa. Fundamentally though, a Kenyan who knew Chiluba on first-name-terms told me that the diminutive trade unionist was one of Africa’s best minds in labour relations. You see, trade unionism is founded on the principle of fighting for the improvement of living conditions of workers in society.

I liked Chiluba because I understood these principles to be at the heart of his political activism: a trade unionist as President would be seized of the urgent need to raise people’s living standard. Zambians felt the same when they elected Chiluba President. What happened thereafter?

Dickson Jere, the former spokesperson of ex-Zambian President Rupiah Bwezani Banda has written a book that offers valuable insights into statecraft. Trials and Tribulations of a Zambian Spin-Doctor (memoir) is a wonderful read. Banda was called from retirement at 70, to serve as vice president to President Levy Mwanawasa, after he collapsed and died while attending an AU Summit in Egypt. Banda succeeded him as President.

In a chapter, “dealing with scandals,” Jere writes that during President Banda’s three-year tenure there were three major allegations of scandals. And “they kept us occupied for the duration,” he writes: Firstly, impropriety by a member of the president’s family in a US$100 million arms deal; Secondly, privatization of Zamtel, a state-owned telecommunication company; and thirdly, embezzlement of US$ 2 million aid money at the Ministry of Health. Jere tells us in his memoir that he was taking a cold shower shortly before 6:30am one day when he noticed three missed calls on his phone.

It was “unusual” for the president to “call directly” and “early in the morning.” Jere returned the calls: “What are you doing about this story? It is a lie. I have never bought arms,” the President said rather angrily. Jere was caught off guard; his position required him to be thoroughly informed and be the first to draw the President’s attention to such matters. President Banda was going to fight back. When President Banda assumed office, he inherited court cases that had been instituted against Chiluba to recover money allegedly stolen during his tenure as president. Government sued the former president and his associates in a London court to recover money allegedly stole during his term. After a protracted court battle, the London court found Chiluba liable and ordered him to pay the government of Zambia US$39 million. Government also instituted criminal proceedings against the former president for theft of US$500,000. The court acquitted Chiluba of the US$500,000 theft charge. However, what I find disturbing is the amount of money paid to lawyers as “legal fees.”

In the London case, Jere informs us that Zambia government paid US$14 million to lawyers; 28 times more than the money it was trying to recover! Secondly, the government spent US$720,000 million annually on legal fees. I cannot put a finger on the number of court cases Kenya government is handling. Why hire private lawyers? How much money is Kenya losing in legal fees?


The Star Kenya

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