(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Lawyers say "rule of law" threatened by sacking of DPP

[Zambia] Levy Mwanawasa, MMD president.
ZAMNET

The Law Association of Zambia (LAZ) said on Tuesday it was concerned over the government's apparent "lack of regard" for the "rule of law."

LAZ's comments came in the wake of President Levy Mwanawasa's move to dismiss the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Mukelabai Mukelabai, allegedly unconstitutionally.

The row between Mwanawasa and Mukelabai erupted shortly after the trial of former Zambian president Frederick Chiluba, charged with stealing millions of dollars from state coffers, kicked off last month.

On 9 January Mwanawasa revealed that he had received anonymous letters claiming that Mukelabai had been seen attending meetings with Chiluba's co-accused, the former Security Intelligence Service chief, Xaviar Chungu.

The British Broadcasting Corporation reported that Mwanawasa had told journalists the allegations that Chiluba's corruption trial was deliberately mishandled were so serious the DPP had to go. Mukelabai, who denied meeting the former intelligence chief, has refused to leave.

LAZ president Michael Musonda asserted that the association did not wish to get involved in the details of Mwanawasa's wrangle with Mukelabai, but were challenging the dismissal, with the intention of protecting the DPP's office.

"Whatever the reasons for wanting Mukelabai out, the president has to adhere to the provision of the constitution (Article 58), which states that the DPP can only be removed if he is found incompetent or unable to perform the functions of his office, by reason of infirmity of body or mind or for misbehaviour, by an independent tribunal appointed to investigate any claims of incompetence," Musonda explained to IRIN.

"He cannot be removed on the basis of allegations contained in anonymous letters. We are demanding that a tribunal be appointed at once to investigate the allegations," Musonda added.

This demand has been echoed by Mukelabai.

Zambian Minister of Information Mutale Nalumango said the president had not taken any position on the appointment of a tribunal. "He has not said whether he was for or against it. The setting up of the tribunal is the president's prerogative," she said, adding that Mwanawasa would make his position known in the next few days.

Intially well received, Mwanawasa's anti-corruption campaign has since hit trouble, with Chiluba's trial repeatedly being delayed. Political analyst Fredrick Mutesa said Mwanawasa "was under pressure to deliver".

Chiluba, along with Chungu and several former ministers and senior officials, has been charged with 168 counts of theft totalling more than US $40 million.

Zambia is one of the poorest countries in the world, with life expectancy at under 40 years. More than 80 percent of Zambians live on less than a dollar a day.

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