CORRUPTION is a global phenomenon that causes poverty, obstructs development and drives away investment.
As expected, Zambia, like other African countries, has not been spared from this scourge, which has debilitating effects on the economy and the welfare of the citizens in general.
Evidence shows that the phenomenon harms poor people more than others as it diverts critical funds from healthcare, education, agriculture and other public services.
It is against this backdrop that we totally support demands by stakeholders in the fight against corruption that the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) be given more clout to effectively fight this problem which is undeniably widespread in the country.
Indeed, the ACC needs more teeth to prosecute without fear or interference, otherwise left in its current state, the organisation could be likened to a toothless bulldog that has been failing to successfully prosecute high profile cases.
One of the ACC’s bottlenecks at the moment, in its quest to fight the scourge, is that it has no powers to prosecute cases directly without seeking consent from the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).
At the 2nd annual Anti-Money Laundering Countering the Financing of Terrorism 2017 Conference in Lusaka yesterday, stakeholders in the fight against the global threat resolved, among other things, that the ACC be allowed to prosecute directly without involving the DPP if corruption was to be wiped out.
Just as observed during the conference, investigations into corruption cases were at the moment taking too long to complete and mostly unsuccessful because the process were cumbersome which allowed perpetrators to hide evidence.
Given this legal setback and other flaws in the system, it was difficult for the ACC to investigate corrupt people with power or authority,
We therefore fully agree with stakeholders in the fight against corruption that the ACC should be given teeth to prosecute culprits without seeking permission from the DPP as this will make it difficult for corrupt powerful perpetrators to interfere with evidence.
So unless the laws that govern the operations of ACC and other investigative wings are amended to make them more aggressive, wiping out corruption will remain an uphill battle.
While there is talk about making the ACC strong, we should be wary about creating another problem that would promote corruption – the decision by Police to have traffic offenders pay fines through banks.
Our concern here is there is nothing to stop someone from offering a bribe to avoid a hefty fine through admission of guilt or at a fast track court.
The ACC will not be there on the roads, only a police officer. And given a choice, someone would settle for a bribe to avoid a full payment for the offence.
It is also true that some corrupt citizens working in public service institutions, including the police service, have taken advantage of the porous system to perpetuate the vice, which has become a part of their daily lives.
Persistent allegations of corruption against traffic police at road blocks, for example, have in most cases even been investigated by the ACC.
We therefore applaud the Police Service for introducing bank accounts for traffic offenders to deposit fines as this will help reduce corruption at road blocks.
But while we appreciate the initiative by the police, it is not a total safeguard against corruption at road blocks given the high fines.
We also agree with Transparency International executive director Wesley Chibamba that the system being piloted in Lusaka will not work effectively as some motorists will prefer to bribe a police officer with a K100 than deposit a bigger amount in the bank.
The bottom line is that the law should be amended to make ACC more aggressive to investigate and prosecute perpetrators without fear or favour.