The leader of Zambia's main opposition Patriotic Front (PF) party is calling for a thorough investigation into the health of President Levy Mwanawasa to determine whether is he is fully fit to govern. Soon after the government reported that President Mwanawasa was in stable, but critical condition, Michael Sata urged the Mwanawasa cabinet to appoint a medical team immediately to travel to France to examine the Zambian leader. The government, however, dismissed Sata's pronouncement describing it as unfortunate and fraught with political malice.
President Mwanawasa is in intensive care in Paris where he was taken after suffering a stroke two weeks ago during an African Union meeting in Egypt. From the capital Lusaka, Zambia's minister for information Mike Mulongoti tells reporter Peter Clottey that the opposition leader's call is fraught with political undertones.
"In the first place, you would appreciate he is a politician. He is playing politics because he knows very well that under our laws a person for instance when employed in government, is allowed to be on full salary for 90 days before you can go on another 90 days of half-salary. And only thereafter, would there be need to ask a medical board to examine the suitability to continue in employment. The president has only been away for only two weeks or so. I do not think there is any need at all to begin to look into that area," Mulongoti noted.
He said the government has so far been functioning well, despite the absence of President Mwanawasa.
"In any case, the constitution provides for the vice president to act in the absence of the president. And so far, there is no vacuum that has been created," he said.
Mulongoti said the government has been disseminating information about the condition of the president when it receives it from the hospital in France.
"The government passes on the information as given to it by the medical authorities, starting from Egypt, and then the current status in Paris in France. And it would not be appropriate for government to create extra information, which would not be in the interest of the people of Zambia. So, at most and as possible, the information passed on to the people of Zambia is being received from Paris," Mulongoti noted.
He said there was need to keep some aspects of President Mwanawasa's health confidential.
"In any case, medical authorities always consider the privacy of the individual patient and the matters that are unethical would not be brought for public consumption because at the end of the day, the fact that he is president does not mean he ceases his right as a human being. So, as far as we are concerned as government, we pass on to the people of Zambia the information made available by the medical authorities," he said.
Mulongoti questioned the rationale behind people who wanted more information than the government is providing.
"If anybody would want to have information beyond that, the question asked is for what purposes? Because at the end of the day the medical authorities are giving information that we think is adequate to keep the people of Zambia informed about the status of the president," Mulongoti pointed out.
He denied the government is misleading Zambians about the current condition of President Mwanawasa.
"I think the information that is being given is intended to keep the people of Zambia aware that the president is alive and he is recuperating. And as to the specific medical details, I do not know whether it is to be shared with the general public because information given to you as a medical person, you would understand it different from a person who is not a medical person. So, as far as we are concerned, we are satisfied that the information being passed on is adequate for the general public to appreciate," he said.