INFORMATION is power and information in the wrong hands can be used for very destructive purposes.
An impression has been created that the Chairman of the Mutembo Nchito Tribunal was compromised because he had met the President to seek his benefits.
No such meeting took place. The reality is that Justice Annel Silungwe had written to President Levy Mwanawasa about his terminal benefits. The letter had been passed on from one President to another and has now reached President Lungu.
Obviously somebody with access to classified information must have been privy to the letter and decided to use it in the present context.
That is why theft or abuse of Government information is dangerous. Sadly the Police seem reluctant to prosecute people who steal Government information.
A few months ago senior members of this newspaper were arrested and detained in police cells for allegedly publishing false information regarding the recruitment of police officers.
At court, the officers were made to pay K20, 000 each with three senior civil servants as sureties to secure their release on bail.
Thankfully the Lusaka High Court has outlawed the law under which the arrest and prosecution were effected.
In contrast Police have shown little interest in prosecuting the theft and subsequent publication of classified Government documents. This is in spite of the fact that the unauthorized disclosure of Government documents constitutes a serious offence, not only in Zambia but in most developed countries including the United Kingdom.
The United Kingdom Official Secrets Act 1911 which was transplanted into our Zambian laws states very clearly that “Any person who communicates any classified matter to any person other than a person to whom he is authorized to communicate it or to whom it is in the interest of the Republic to communicate it shall be guilty of an offence and liable on conviction to imprisonment for a term of not less than fifteen years but not exceeding twenty five years.”
That law was followed up with the official secrets Act of 1989 which penalized the disclosure of official information to anyone other than the person to whom he is authorized to communicate it.
The law does not contain any limitation as to the materiality, substance or public interest as a defence. To that extent Sir Lionel Heald, a former Attorney General wryly remarked that the act “makes it a crime, without any possibility of defence, to report the number of cups of tea consumed per week in a government department, or the details of a new carpet in the minister’s room..”
The law also penalizes the receipt of information or any information knowing or having reasonable ground to believe that the information was communicated in contravention of the law.
This means that the person communicating the information and the person receiving it are both liable for prosecution.
In Zambia one intelligence officer was convicted to 20 years imprisonment for passing official secrets to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
Laws must be applied equitably. There should be no segregation in the manner officers deal with suspects; otherwise, it is very easy to believe stories claiming that the cartel is actually in control of such areas.