Zambia: Hichilema fires top public prosecutor Shawa-Siyunyi

By Chiwoyu Sinyangwe
Posted on Friday, 21 October 2022 10:56

Zambian President Hakainde Hichilema in Kigali, Rwanda June 25, 2022. Dan Kitwood/Pool via REUTERS

President Hakainde Hichilema’s decision to dismiss Lillian Fulata Shawa-Siyunyi as Zambia’s Director of Public Prosecution - the country’s chief prosecutor - reflects his regime’s latest efforts at rejigging the fight against corruption.

Shawa-Siyunyi, who has been replaced by Lusaka lawyer Gilbert Phiri, has challenged her dismissal in the Constitutional Court of Zambia. However, according to most observers, it is highly unlikely she will be reinstated. Phiri, a long-time lawyer of Hichilema, was appointed to head the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) in June this year as part of the renewed fight against corruption and other organised crimes. Former Attorney General Musa Mwenye was also appointed to chair the ACC board.

Phiri will have to wait for parliament to ratify his latest appointment. Opposition from the members of parliament is highly unlikely given the overwhelming endorsement Phiri got for the ACC top job.

Hichilema overhauled the key investigative agencies and the judiciary early this year with largely popular appointments, which provided the much-needed impetus to the anti-graft crusade. They include former director general of the Financial Intelligence Centre (FIC) Mary Chirwa to head the Drug Enforcement Commission (DEC) and Mumba Malila, a widely recognised human rights lawyer and anti-corruption crusader as chief justice.

The appointments whetted the expectations of most people in Zambia who voted against Lungu and his Patriotic Front on many scandals of grand corruption.

Over a year after the ‘New dawn’ regime took over, the results are disappointing despite Hichilema pledging a “methodical” approach to fighting corruption.

Shawa-Siyunyi fallout

In 2017, Shawa-Siyunyi became the first Zambian woman to head the country’s prosecution authority. Very little was known about her prior to her controversial replacement of former DPP Mutembo Nchito, who was famed for high-profile prosecutions that included former presidents late Frederick Chiluba and the late Rupiah Banda.

Soon after succeeding former president Michael Sata, Nchito was controversially sacked by Edgar Lungu in very unclear circumstances. Multiple sources blame Nchito’s prosecution of Banda for the dismissal. Banda was instrumental in delivering Lungu’s inaugural presidential election victory in January 2015. Banda abandoned his MMD.

The DPP is constitutionally protected and the officer bearer enjoys the security of tenure of office. However, historically, Zambian presidents have shown reluctance to ‘inherit’ chief prosecutors. Very little was known about Shawa-Siyunyi’s character prior to her hiring, she rarely exhibited the independence that comes with the office of the DPP to promote public interest in the dispensation of justice. She was mostly seen to be a “useful tool in the hands of the ruling regime” and oppositionists frequently felt her wrath.

Hichilema went through maximum detention prison for 127 days in 2017 after his convoy refused to give way to President Lungu’s motorcade on a perilously narrow road in Western Province. Hichilema was later accused of plotting to overthrow the government.

Shawa-Siyunyi terminated the proceedings against Hichilema and five others after local and international pressure led by Commonwealth secretary general Patricia Scotland and then Lusaka Catholic Archbishop Telesphore Mpundu who feared tolerating offshoots of the abuse of power by the regime in a stable Zambia could spread to other less stable countries in the region and beyond.

Hichilema and his United Party for National Development (UPND) have not masked their dislike and disapproval of Shawa-Siyunyi.

Sources close to Hichilema say he had offered to appoint Shawa-Siyunyi to the High Court of Zambia, but she declined in preference to the Court of Appeal – the second highest superior court in Zambia.

Laissez-faire approach

Under her reign as chief prosecutor, the anti-graft crusade was mishandling high-profile cases, especially those involving government deals – a questionable drugs supply contract to public hospitals, speed cameras, fertiliser supply tenders, and inflated costs for infrastructure projects among other cases in which Zambia lost hundreds of millions of dollars.

To escape prosecution, a number of known former top government officials secretly signed ‘settlement agreements’ with DPP Shawa-Siyunyi. Effectively, they earned immunity from prosecution under her watch. The constitution gives her power to offer ‘settlement agreements’, but it should be in cases where there is full disclosure of the crime committed and suspects forfeit the loot to the State.

Following the changes in the investigative wings, the current regime has announced plans to review most of the cases involving ‘settlement agreements’ and outright mishandling of the prosecutions. However, that was not going to happen with Shawa-Siyunyi as the DPP.

  • Former minister of infrastructure Ronald Chitotela is the latest high-profile person to have been revealed as having paid $10,000 to avoid prosecution for being in possession of proceeds of crime that run into millions of dollars.
  • Former health minister Chitalu Chilufya had his case collapse after a key state witness told the Lusaka subordinate court that, in fact, the minister had not done any wrong and his money was genuinely earned.

Directors of the dodgy company Honeybee which was awarded the tender and supplied faulty medical kits worth over $17m are also claiming they cannot be prosecuted again after being set free earlier.

In October 2021, Margaret Musonda, a Zambian television personality close to former president Lungu, forfeited K65m ($57,900) she had stashed in a house in Lusaka’s posh New Kasama area. Musonda escaped prosecution after forfeiting the money to the state together with the posh house where the money was hidden in multiple Gucci travelling bags. Musonda is currently being tried on fresh charges of being in possession of alleged proceeds of crime, which include commercial farms, government securities and houses in the controversial Chinese ‘Kingsland City’ mixed development estate in Lusaka.

In April 2022, Shawa-Siyunyi aborted the prosecution of former Konkola Copper Mines (KCM), provisional liquidator, Milingo Lungu for allegedly illegally drawing K4.4m ($276,978) from its accounts. The move irked Hichilema. Lungu was fired and replaced with Celine Nair of KPMG Zambia as the Official Receiver for the ailing mining giant. KCM has sued, on fresh charges, Milingo Lungu, claiming that $59m was allegedly withdrawn from the company’s account. Most sources say funds drawn from KCM were channelled to the failed re-election bid by the PF in 2021.

Chief Justice Mumba Malila has introduced the Economic and Financial Crimes Court – a special creation under the subordinate court to expedite the prosecution of high-profile cases of corruption and financial crimes.

Going down with a fight

In April, various sections of the societies that included political parties, entrepreneurs and artistes filed 11 complaints before the Judicial Complaints Commission (JCC) against the removed DPP. Of interest was the complaint by DEC director general Mary Chirwa who alleged incompetence and gross misconduct in the manner Shawa-Siyunyi discharged her duties.

On 14 September, Hichilema said he was suspending Shawa-Siyunyi at the recommendation of the JCC.

Exactly a month after suspending her, Hichilema’s spokesperson Anthony Bwalya announced that the JCC recommended Shawa-Siyunyi’s dismissal. Hichilema subsequently fired her.

Shawa-Siyunyi has gone to the Constitutional Court alleging that the JCC exhibited open bias toward the complainants by excluding evidence perceived to be favourable to her.

She also claims that Hichilema’s refusal to grant her a waiver of her oath of silence in the discipline hearing at the JCC disadvantaged her.

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