Withdrawal of Lungu’s benefits is lawful – State

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THE State says it acted within the confines of the law when it withdrew Edgar Lungu’s benefits after he made a pronouncement that he had returned to active politics in defence of democracy.

Deputy secretary to the cabinet administration, Dr Oliver Kalabo said the State cannot be paying Lungu when he is engaged in active politics as the law ought to be followed.

He said the wording of The Benefits of Former Presidents (Amendment) Act is very clear as it provides that the pension and other benefits conferred by the Act shall not be paid, assigned or provided to a former President who is engaged in active politics.

In this matter, the former president has petitioned the State in the Lusaka High Court crying that government builds him a house in a location of his choice as an entitlement of a former Head of State.

On October 28, during the ninth memorial anniversary of late president Micheal Sata, Lungu made a speech that is now come be known as “The Grave Mistake” when he announced his comeback to the political arena immediately Miles Sampa replaced him as PF president.

Cheered on by a handful of party members and commanders, Lungu declared that he had returned to his previous position as PF president and vowed to rescue the PF from State-sponsored stooges.

Within the same period Lungu said he had left Stoppilla Sunzu’s Ibex Hill mansion which was being rented for him saying; he would not allow to be manipulated over the crumbs that government was giving him.

Barely a month afterwards, Lungu swallowed his words and pleaded with the Court to compel the secretary to the cabinet to reinstate his pension and other benefits and provide him with a furnished executive house built or bought by the State at a place of his choice in line with the law.

The former president explained that his return to active politics was not to challenge his successor President Hakainde Hichilema for the country’s presidency but only to restore democracy as well as guard against the shrinking democratic space in the country.

Lungu lamented that the withdrawal, of his pension benefits is not only punitive and unconstitutional, but also has the effect of gagging him from expressing or sharing his political views on National affairs in a democratic society.

But in an affidavit in opposition to Lungu’s demands Dr Kalabo said the office of the Secretary to the cabinet acted legally and within the law pursuant to the provisions of the former President’s Benefit Act Cap 15 of the laws of Zambia.

He said his office took due diligence to establish whether the sixth former president was participating in politics and violating the Benefits Act of former presidents.

Dr Kalabo said Lungu was written to on several occasions to clarify whether he was engaged in active politics following his political stunts but he was two-faced and maintained that he was not.

“Following a publication in the Zambia Daily Mail dated November 15 ,2021 indicating that the PF party wanted immediate change, the office of the Secretary to the cabinet in a letter dated November 25, 2021, wrote to the office of the sixth President and diligently inquired on whether the former president had continued to be the leader of the PF,”Dr Kalabo explained.

“Cabinet Office sought clarity on the allegation published in the Zambia Daily Mail stating that the position alleged was at variance with The Benefit of former Preaidents Act no. 21 of 1998 that clearly stated that the pension and other benefits conferred by the Act shall not be paid ,assigned or provided to a former President who is in receipt of a salary from the government;or engaged in active politics.”

He said on the same day , the office of the sixth President responded reaffirming the earlier position given by Lungu that he had resigned from active politics and from being the leader of the PF.

“However, the letter stated that the sixth President awaited handing over power to the person the party would elect in his place. In the meantime, the party vice president would continue running the party,”Dr Kalabo said.

He said videos were circulated on social media of Lungu’s political stunts but he remained insincere about his participation in politics and insisted that he had taken leave from politics and relinquished his position as PF president.

“On May 4, 2023, the Ministry of Home Affairs and Internal Security upon receiving a complaint from Miles Sampa in February 2023, regarding the leadership of the PFsought confirmation from the Secretary to the Cabinet on the resignation of the former President as party president,”Dr Kalabo said.

“By letter dated September 18, 2023 the Ministry of Home Affairs and Internal Security informed the office of the secretary to the cabinet that records at the officer of the Registrar of Societies and the application for notice of change of office bearers had maintained Edgar Lungu as their party President.”

He said the benefits of the former sixth president were only withdrawn when Lungu came out of his closet during Sata’s memorial last year and made it clear that he would take over in running the affairs of PF as party president.

Dr Kalabo said the withdrawal of the benefits is not contrary to the constitution or the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights(ICCPR).

“Sections 2 and 5(1) of the Benefits of Former President’s (Amendment) Act,does not fly in the teeth of theLungu’s Constitutional rights of freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and association and protection from discrimination on the ground of among others , political opinion as enshrined in Articles 20 ,21 and 23 of the constitution,” Dr Kalabo said.

He added that Lungu is not being discriminated against as he cannot equate an elective office of president to that constitutional office holders, judges, members of parliament, public workers and chief executive officers in the public and private sectors.

By Mwaka Ndawa

Kalemba January 10, 2024.

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