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January 14, 2014

Zambia Law Group Demands Justice Minister Resign

by Peter Clottey

The Law Association of Zambia has called for the resignation of Justice Minister Wynter Kabimba after a tribunal was established to investigate him over abuse of office.

James Banda, president of the law association, says the justice minister needs to step aside to ensure there is no political interference that could undermine the integrity of the tribunal’s inquiry.

“What will happen is that there would be officials from the ministry of justice who will testify against [Kabimba],” said Banda. “In a situation like that, obviously you cannot rule out that there would be intimidation or witnesses might feel uncomfortable to testify against their boss, especially if they see him every day at the office. It will be a very difficult scenario for those persons from the ministry of justice to go and testify,” said Banda.

Kabimba is also the general secretary of President Michael Sata’s ruling Patriotic Front (PF) party.

Zambia’s supreme court recently concluded that Kabimba used legal advice from the solicitor general’s office to influence the court to nullify the seats of opposition lawmakers so by-elections could be declared that favor the ruling (PF) party.  

A lawmaker and some civil society groups then petitioned the supreme court to form a tribunal to investigate the justice minister after accusing Kabimba of abuse of office and breaching his oath of secrecy, in which he declared to serve the interests of all Zambians irrespective of party affiliation. 

Kabimba welcomed the formation of the tribunal and promised full cooperation.  Banda praised Kabimba’s decision to cooperate with the tribunal, but says he should resign ahead of the inquiry.

“This is a serious matter which borders on abuse of office which is a criminal offense and the appointment of the tribunal itself is indicative that this is a serious matter which everybody should take seriously,” said Banda.

“The only way such an atmosphere can be created is where you have the person being investigated not being anywhere near position of influence which might seem to affect the proceedings of the tribunal.”

Banda says President Michael Sata could fire the justice minister to set an example of good governance.

There is however, no provision in Zambia’s constitution that forces a minister to go on leave pending an investigation. Only the president can make such a decision, according to Banda. 

But supporters of the justice minister dismissed the resignation demands saying he has yet to be convicted of any crime. They also contend that the minister should be allowed to continue doing his job since the tribunal is an independent body, which could not be politically influenced.

“We appreciate those comments and views by people,” said Banda. “Justice is more about perception.  [But] what if witnesses show up and testify in a way that is very suspicious and the facts on the ground speak differently?

"To allay all those suspicions, what is best is always that proceedings should move without any perception that there is intimidation of witnesses, or intimidation of the tribunal," said Banda. "That’s our view.”

Clottey interview with James Banda, President Zambia Law Association