Transparency International Zambia says civil servants who steal public resources deserve to go to prison to reform.
“It is only right that if civil servants who handle public resources like Mr Kapoko fall short of values relating to integrity, accountability and transparency, then they deserve to go to prison to reform. We hope the conviction and sentencing of Mr Kapoko and the other four will serve as a good lesson to the public service workers on the need to respect taxpayers’ money, public authority, and office,” stated Transparency International Zambia.
The conviction of Kapoko, highly welcome as it may be, will not stop corruption in government, let alone at the Ministry of Health. More needs to be done to end corruption at the Ministry of Health. This corruption did not begin with Kapoko and will not end with his imprisonment.
Corruption at the Ministry of Health is deep rooted. This is a ministry where a minister can easily, and without shame, ask for a bribe of $200,000 from a supplier of drugs in order for him to authorise payment of $1 million for medicines supplied.
For a long time, the Ministry of Health has been the easiest ministry to steal from by those running government to finance their politics and election campaigns. It is also a ministry where it is so easy for bureaucrats to engage in corruption. Kapoko’s theft is just a tip of the iceberg. He is actually very unlucky to go in. Anyway, it is usually clerks who get convicted for theft; senior people get away with it.
In May 2009 the governments of the Netherlands and Sweden announced they had suspended aid after a whistleblower alerted the Anti-Corruption Commission to the embezzlement of over US$2 million from the Ministry of Health by top government officials. “The misuse of Dutch taxpayers’ money is unacceptable,” said Development Cooperation Minister Bert Koenders in a statement, adding that Dutch aid would be put on hold until the Anti Corruption Commission and the Auditor General released the findings from their investigations.
At that time donors funded 55 per cent of Zambia’s health budget. At that time the Dutch government was the largest supporter of Zambia’s tuberculosis programme, contributing about €13 million annually to rural healthcare, preventing malaria, TB and HIV, and training medical staff. The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) had earmarked 88 million kroner (about US$12 million) for Zambia’s Ministry of Health before the scandal broke.
“SIDA will not accept any abuse of development money,” Charlotta Norrby, head of SIDA in Zambia, told the media.
Nothing came out of that. No one was arrested, prosecuted and convicted. But aid continued to flow.
Corruption is the very antithesis of patient centred care. Driven by greed, those in power divert crucial resources away from patients in need, which results in poor quality of care and worsening health outcomes.
There’s no doubt the Ministry of Health is one of the most corrupt ministries in Zambia.
The ministry is fraught with bribery and outright thefts of public funds, effectively undermining the population’s health.
Clearly, there is no silver bullet for ending corruption at the Ministry of Health. But there is no sensible alternative to ending impunity in the fight against corruption.
Effective law enforcement is essential to ensure the corrupt are punished and break the cycle of impunity, or freedom from punishment or loss.
However, this needs a strong legal framework and an independent and effective court system.
It doesn’t help for a corruption case to take ten years before being concluded like was the case with Kapoko.
There is also need to improve financial management and to strengthen the role of the Auditor General.
If corruption is to be curbed, there’s need to increase government openness, freedom of the press, transparency and access to information. Access to information increases the responsiveness of government ministries, while simultaneously having a positive effect on the levels of public participation.