By Elias Munshya
The most critical issue right now regarding lawyer regulation in Zambia is not about whether some lawyers have become kelenkas. The most egregious thing is that the regulator of lawyers in Zambia seems to have no plan and has completely failed to rein in its members. In its current form, the Law Association of Zambia has wholly failed to provide, to Zambians, lawyers that have the utmost integrity to serve our country. Indeed, the sacred profession of the law has now been overtaken by criminals, thieves, and kelenkas. And it is really not that these thieves have infiltrated the profession, but that the LAZ, as presently constituted, has failed entirely and miserably to bring order.
And so, the association has become a laughingstock. It cannot control its members’ appetite for a quick buck. The lawyers have become johns, pimping their trust accounts – a very sacred account- to the highest bidder. And so, a lot of money laundering and crime is going on in some of those trust accounts, and LAZ seems to be completely powerless to do anything meaningful about it.
Reports abound from both FIC and the auditor general. Lawyers’ trust accounts and general accounts are being used to launder money. Thieves are hiring lawyers to hide their loot. And even if this publicly available information is brought to the association’s attention, it does nothing meaningful with that information. Instead, it lets thieves walk. Everyday. Where else can the people of Zambia turn to if they cannot trust this sacred profession and its institution?
But the rot goes beyond mere trust accounts. Indeed, we have seen lawyers venturing into various businesses. Nevertheless, lawyers’ ethics do not end when a lawyer starts making bricks or liquidating KCM, as an example. The professional duty to be forthright, candid, and honest must follow the lawyer wherever that lawyer goes. But isn’t it the case that kelenka politicians have used several lawyers to start businesses and use those businesses to steal from the Zambian people? Some of the proprietors of the companies that did grievous harm to the people of Zambia were lawyers. And yet, when these acts of theft and professional sabotage were committed, LAZ was completely mute on these thieves.
How then can you explain what is going on? I hold a belela membership in this association. It is our association. It is an association that belongs to the people of Zambia. The LAZ Act does not belong to the Council of LAZ, it belongs to the people of Zambia, and our people have the right to find out why this council should tolerate kelenkas among its ranks. What should it take for LAZ to act against these thieves?
If LAZ, as presently constituted, is unwilling to assist the people of Zambia in stopping illicit inflow and outflow of dirty money – then the best thing the honourable members of this association must do is to ask the UPND government to disband this association and perhaps build a fresh one. For a professional association that cannot bring effective discipline on its members is not worth its salt or its onion.
The people of Zambia are tired of professional bodies that want to be and do everything but be professional. We cannot be directing our salvo towards the corrupt political establishment when professional bodies are being used to perpetuate the same rot, theft, and corruption. The institutions leading our country must account to the people of Zambia.
In the Law Association of Zambia – it appears like it is an association that has been created to protect its members even when they flout the rules, steal, and use their trust accounts to launder money. It is not an association that protects the public or the public interest. LAZ is perhaps the only organization with the statutory mandate to play a socio-political role in our country by being involved in politics and criticizing the government. And yet, to carry out this statutory duty – our association must adopt zero-tolerance towards theft, corruption, and the pimping of lawyers to launder money.
What has LAZ done? Or what will it do to its members named in projects that scammed our people? What will it do with lawyers who stole their client’s funds? Perhaps it will constitute a false hearing, do a “belela” suspension, and while we are all dozing, reinstate the thieves right back into the fold, to scam the next victims.
Is there hope? Of course, there is. But this hope lies with an association that is clear about its role. The association must have a fearless leadership that is willing to confront rot no matter the political status of those involved. We understand that those who are connected to the ruling party or to the political class go scot-free. How can our association live with itself, knowing full well that it will not hold its own members accountable? The association cannot discipline anybody or take away anybody’s licence because somebody is somehow connected to the politicians.
There is a hidden rule in professional associations. It is an unwritten rule of sorts. You do not rock the boat, and you support the association no matter what. While I only hold a belela membership as an associate member – I cannot stomach the idea of holding the government accountable when it is open season in my association. I cannot live with that kind of double-dealing. It is time for LAZ to look itself in the mirror and account to the people of Zambia why some of the association’s members have become trust account pimps!
Indeed, it should be emphasized here that not all lawyers are laundering money. But we have enough of them to tarnish the good image of the association. But the key here is that the association itself seem to be completely powerless to control the few that are bringing the association into disrepute.
Of course, “self-regulation” is the only standard for lawyer regulation in common law countries. But if some lawyers continue with acts of impunity against their professional responsibilities, what can the nation do? If lawyers won’t regulate and govern and discipline themselves, who will discipline, govern, and regulate them?
The author, Elias Munshya, can be reached at email@example.com