Zambian president's personnel purge raises concern

AP News
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Posted: Oct 06, 2011 10:59 AM
Zambian president's personnel purge raises concern

In just two weeks in office, Zambia's president has replaced the country's police chief, top anti-corruption official, central bank governor, state utility CEO and scores of lower-ranking public servants.

President Michael Sata portrays many of the changes as part of a campaign against graft in the southern African nation. But some Zambians worry the man they call Mr. King Cobra is striking at his political enemies.

"There is so much corruption that this country stinks," Sata, speaking with the bluntness that earned him his nickname, said this week as he swore in Martin Malama as his national police chief.

When Sata replaced Godfrey Kayukwa, director-general of the Anti-Corruption Commission, with Rosewin Wandi, a woman, he said women were less corrupt than men. In the run-up to elections last month, Kayukwa refused to investigate corruption charges involving the awarding of the ballot paper printing contract to a South African company.

Sata has also brought in anti-corruption fighter Max Nkole as the top civil servant at the Ministry of Home Affairs, which oversees police, prisons and immigration. Nkole, a respected former policeman who once served as chief of investigations for the U.N. war crimes tribunal on Rwanda, led the Zambian Task Force on Corruption created by the late President Levy Mwanawasa. Mwanawasa's successor, Rupiah Banda, dismantled the task force amid speculation he was trying to block high-profile corruption investigations.

Sata lost three presidential polls before his victory over Banda in September ended two decades of rule by Banda's Movement for Multiparty Democracy party.

Sata's personnel changes since coming to power included the dismissal of 72 district commissioners who were vocal supporters of Banda's party.

Zambians have seen such purges before. When the Movement for Multiparty Democracy ousted Zambia's first President Kenneth Kaunda and his United National Independent Party in 1991, all the chief executives of state-owned companies were forced to retire along with their deputies. Top army officers also were replaced, as were senior editors at state-owned newspapers.

Father Charles Chilinda, a respected Catholic priest, has called on Sata to exercise restraint and show forgiveness. He said that though the new government has every right to probe corruption allegations, proper procedure should be observed.

"If certain issues to do with corruption have to be followed let them be investigated, but let us not dwell on witch hunts and finger-pointing," Chilinda said.

The Law Association of Zambia also has called on Sata to respect the rule of law, saying in a statement that that was at the center of good governance and should be a cornerstone of any credible democratic government.

Along with his staffing decisions, Sata has raised concern by returning Finance Bank Zambia Limited to its owners. The bank was recently sold to First Rand Bank of South Africa after former President Banda questioned its practices and ordered it seized from its shareholders.

The tangled case has political implications. Finance Bank chairman Rajan Mahtani had sided with those prosecuting the late President Frederick Chiluba for corruption and abuse of office. Sata fell out with Chiluba in 2001 in a succession struggle within Chiluba's Movement for Multiparty Democracy. Sata left Chiluba's party to form his own Patriotic Front.

Under Banda, Mahtani was briefly jailed on drug charges.

Opposition leader Charles Milupi said Sata should have allowed an investigation to be completed before stepping in.

"We all know that he constituted a commission of inquiry into the sale of Finance Bank to First Rand Bank of South Africa. So why did he have to hand it over to the Mahtani family in a matter of days even before the inquiry was started?" Milupi said.

The central Bank of Zambia said the national currency, the kwacha, slipped as much as 3.8 percent following Sata's Finance Bank announcement.

Labor leaders and ordinary Zambians, though, had been concerned about the bank's sale to South Africans, saying Finance Bank was an indigenous institution that served rural communities and employed many Zambians.

"Finally the truth has prevailed," Mahtani declared after the reversal of the sale was announced. "I am happy the 1,000 Zambian jobs that would have been lost in this transaction are now saved."

Sata had campaigned as a champion of working-class Zambians.