We tend to agree with petitioner Brebner Changala that the Mutembo Nchito tribunal should be held in camera, not only because the last such tribunal, instigated by Mutembo Nchito himself and his business partner Fred M’membe was held in camera, but also to ensure that the exercise is not turned into a circus in which witnesses are disparaged. This would discourage other witnesses, thereby undermining the exercise.
This would be achieved by negative media portrayal of the proceedings by caricaturing the witnesses in the manner that the Ng’uni lawyers were attacked in their person, rather than dwelling on issues in court. This would have the effect of creating a perception more favoured to the respondent who has the advantage of newspaper support.
It is very easy for the media to practice selective reporting and therefore convey a desired perception that may be totally at variance with the reality of what actually took place or indeed the quality of evidence that may have been adduced during the sitting. Sadly people believe what they read.
A typical example can be seen from the manner in which a very straightforward open speech by American Ambassador Erick Shultz was reported to impugn criticism of the current regime when no such criticism was conveyed by intention or indeed inference.
Few people would even know that the ambassador spoke highly of the President Frederick Chiluba regime which introduced the privatization of the Zambian mines which brought “large amounts of foreign investments into the mining sector, which created jobs both directly, in the sector, and indirectly in related industries’’.
The ambassador even said Zambia and its multi-party democracy were on the right side of the democractic enterprise.
Such positive sentiments would of course never grace the columns of some publications, which are determined to vilify, deprecate and at best erase any positive attainment and values of the Chiluba regime.
The ambassador went further to talk about the difficulties the current economy is facing by stating that as commodity prices started to fall and at the same time that government spending began to increase, the result was an increasingly fiscal situation in which the fuel shortage, mining tax impasse and the depreciating currency were all a manifestation of the situation. The ambassador took holistic and historical perspective to discuss current crisis and, like any diplomat, did not in any way attack Government and yet the impression from some media reports would seem to suggest that he actually did so.
If anything the ambassador commended Zambia for recommiting itself to private sector-driven growth and reduction of state control.
If any criticism was indeed intended it was his proposal that if Zambia was to achieve enormous economic potential, the Zambian Government needed to reduce Government spending, thereby reducing domestic interest rates and allowing the private sector to drive growth. A clear and straightforward presentation was given a negative twist and invariably critics latched at it to suggest that the American government was criticising Zambia.
This is the greatest danger that faces an open tribunal.
Open and well meant testimony will be twisted in one way or another to project a picture that will undermine the work of three eminent former chief justices, who are more than well qualified to preside over this tribunal.
That is why we agree that the tribunal should be saved from media drama and be left to work in an atmosphere bereft of intimidation and fear.