Active Citizens, Active Citizens, Africa, Civil Society, Headlines, Human Rights, Press Freedom

ZAMBIA: Chief Justice Accused of Collusion by Opposition

Kelvin Kachingwe

LUSAKA, Dec 16 2009 (IPS) - Chief justice Ernest Sakala has been accused of colluding with the president’s administration to protect high-profile people accused of corruption. But the Law Association of Zambia has rejected the charges as unfair.

The Supreme Court building in Lusaka. The objectiveness of the judicary has been called into question by the opposition. Credit: Brian Dell/Wikicommons

The Supreme Court building in Lusaka. The objectiveness of the judicary has been called into question by the opposition. Credit: Brian Dell/Wikicommons

The accusation follows a directive by Sakala that all high-profile criminal appeal cases involving plunder and corruption be heard by a panel of three judges, because they are complex and the records lengthy.

But Stephen Lungu, Law Association of Zambia president, says the attacks on the chief justice are unfair, considering his directive accorded with the law.

“I have read the articles attacking the chief justice. They are very unfortunate. We’re quite upset that such attacks can be attributed to the opposition leaders. The constitution allows the chief justice to appoint three judges whenever he considers it fit,” Lungu says.

Sakala vigorously defended his action in a letter to the opposition leader: “The law has been there for many years (allowing a panel of three judges). It has been used before me. It is therefore not correct that this is a new arrangement for hearing appeals. I haven’t introduced a new system. Above all, the measure has been taken to enhance the Zambian people’s confidence in the judiciary.”

One of these cases involves Regina Chiluba, wife of former President Frederick Chiluba, who has appealed to the High Court after chief magistrate Charles Kafunda, in March this year, sentenced her to three-and-a-half years’ imprisonment. She had been convicted on six counts of receiving stolen government funds to buy three houses, and stealing more than 3,000 dollars while her husband was president.

Frederick Chiluba himself was recently acquitted on a corruption charge by a Lusaka magistrate, and pressure has been mounting on government from civil society organisations to appeal in the High Court. But the government says it will not appeal, because the chances of the case succeeding are slim.

Hakainde Hichilema, United Party for National Development president, claims there is definite collusion between the chief justice and President Rupiah Banda’s administration in dispensing “unbalanced justice”.

“His admission that high-profile cases need a panel of judges is testimony enough that that there is collusion. At law, there should be no discrimination. He has created a dual legal system, one for the rich and the other for the poor,” Hichilema argues.

“The judicial system must take its natural course, and an appeal process is part of that. I have never seen a legal piece that says if it is a high-profile case then it justifies a panel.”

Sakala says the measure has been taken because the records of these particular cases are voluminous, and involve complex issues.

“The English adage is that ‘two heads are better than one’. Certainly three heads must be better than one. From the foregoing, I hope you’ll continue to have confidence in the judiciary.”

But Michael Sata, the opposition Patriotic Front leader, says while they appreciate the thinking of the chief justice, they are wondering why this is being selectively applied, and not to each and every case.

“Why these particular cases involving Regina Chiluba and Gladys Nyirongo (former minister of lands charged with obtaining pieces of land illegally) only?” Sata asks.

Hakainde says if the law is already there, then the chief justice is misapplying it, because he is saying “this case is high-profile”.

But Lungu says the continuous attacks on the judiciary by the opposition were dangerous. “It is dangerous for the opposition to continue attacking the judiciary, because it is eroding credibility and the people’s confidence in the judiciary. The politicians should have confidence in the judiciary, because they are the same judges they will go to if they have a case in court,” Lungu says.

Lieutenant-General Ronnie Shikapwasha, chief government spokesperson, says the statements by the two leaders were meant to intimidate the judiciary and the chief justice.

“There is no collusion between President Banda and the judiciary in the dispensation of justice, contrary to allegations by Sata and Hichilema. There’s no need for anyone to discredit the judiciary when the people making these statements will need the protection of the courts of law,” said Shikapwasha.

“No one has evidence that President Banda had a hand in the acquittal of (Frederick) Chiluba. The president cannot therefore be under any pressure, nor have a troubled conscience, as is being falsely touted by PF leader Michael Sata over the acquittal of the former president.”

Lusaka lawyer Sakwiba Sikota, who is also opposition United Liberal Party leader and Livingstone member of parliament, says the executive should protect the judiciary, because it cannot defend itself.

“There have been so many attacks on the judiciary, and I blame it on the executive,” he says.

Sikota, who is also a state counsel, says in calling for the protection of the judiciary he is not in any way saying things are moving in the right direction, as there are shortcomings such as delays in dispensing justice.

In September Lusaka High Court judge Munalula Lisimbi dismissed a petition to have Sakala and Supreme Court judge Peter Chitengi removed from office. Lusaka lawyer John Sangwa had challenged their stay in office because they had attained the age of 65, and been re-appointed without Parliament ratifying this.

Republish | | Print |