THE withdrawal of donor funding to the Social Cash Transfer has sent shivers in government, with President Edgar Lungu immediately dismissing community development minister Emerine Kabanshi, whom others say has been used as a scapegoat. And UPND leader Hakainde Hichilema says the PF have proved that they are crooks, cruel, thieves and corrupt to the core.
Meanwhile, Bahati member of parliament Harry Kalaba says the country’s top leadership must be held accountable for the syndicated grand corruption and fraud. British High Commissioner to Zambia Fergus Cochrane-Dyet on Monday tweeted that the United Kingdom had frozen all bilateral funding to the Zambian government owing to corruption and fraud. This was after the government, through chief government spokesperson Dora Siliya, indicated that the relations with the DFID, the major donor to the Social Cash Transfer, were still intact.
Later on Tuesday, President Lungu issued a statement through his press aide Amos Chanda, directing Secretary to the Cabinet Dr Roland Msiska to probe the reported abuse of donor funding meant for the Social Cash Transfer. The Head of State said he was as angry as the donors over the reported abuse of funding meant for the vulnerable.
During the opening of the third Session of the 12th National Assembly, President Lungu said the social cash transfer programme had been scaled up from 78 districts in 2016 to all the districts in 2017.
“The number of household beneficiaries has also increased from 242, 000 to 590, 000 beneficiary household. Further, the transfer amount per beneficiary household has increased by 28 per cent from 70 to 90 kwacha per month. Government will in 2018 increase the caseload of beneficiary households from the current 590, 000 to 700, 000 translating into 4.2 million individual beneficiaries,” President Lungu said without making mention of the reported abuse upon which an audit was commissioned.
On May 27 last year, President Lungu told donors not to dictate to Zambia who to arrest, daring them to take away their aid if they wanted.
He told journalists after visiting the Kala 48 Marine Barrack in Kawambwa that donors could withdraw their aid from Zambia but they would never withdraw the country’s dignity, claiming that the PF government was capable of improving the economy without external debt.
“Now they want to come and regulate our governance. They want to tell us who to arrest, who to prosecute, what matters our courts should preside over, that we cannot allow. Because of our economic dependency, people now think they can tell the Army commander what can and cannot do, what I can and cannot do. They want to tell the OP what to do! No, ‘we will withdraw aid’, they can withdraw aid if they want but they would never withdraw our dignity and liberty and as long as we have that, we will struggle to achieve economic freedom. We will do so by getting our Army to do the right thing; to become more productive, to defend and serve. And that is just an example,” said President Lungu then.
But after the withdrawal of aid by Britain, Finland, Sweden and others, President Lungu, who earlier downplayed the donors’ concerns, ‘complained’ about the misuse and confirmed being made aware of what was going on.
“Things have just started falling apart. The boss is scared; you don’t want to mess with donors. He knew about what is going on; he didn’t want to act because it was benefiting him and the party. But now ba madam Kabanshi has been sacrificed,” said a senior government source.
Confirming Kabanshi’s dismissal, Chanda said in an interview yesterday that directives have been issued to investigative agencies to act on donor fund misuse.
“Yes, the President has dismissed honourable Kabanshi and replaced her with honourable Olipa Mwansa Phiri, the member of parliament for Nyimba. The instruction to honourable Mwansa Phiri is to get on the ground quickly and help clean up the mess created in the administration of social cash transfer. That is the instruction to honourable Phiri. There is no statement on the departure of honourable Kabanshi but obviously you can read in between. And he has further directed punitive measures in the Postal Services. He has met with the chairman of the board of directors and instructed him to take quick, decisive action on anyone suspected to be involved in the misapplication,” Chanda told The Mast.
“He has met with the director general of ACC [Anti-Corruption Commission] and the acting Commissioner of DEC [Drug Enforcement Commission] and informed them of the administrative action that he has taken both in the Postal Services and in the ministry of community development and therefore, he expects that they will not unnecessarily delay any possible criminal investigations into any possible misuse of the funds. He has met with the Vice-President for the entire morning today [yesterday] to brief her on the decisions he has made and she was part of the meeting he was having with the heads of the governance institutions and investigative agencies.”
Meanwhile, Hichilema has described the PF government as thieves.
“PF must go now, they have proved that they are crooks, cruel, thieves and corrupt to the core. This rot must stop now. We have noted the action taken by the UK and other government’s suspension of funding, over the PF corruption and fraud as stated in the AGs report. This social cash transfer programme for which funding has been suspended will affect the poorest of the poor, and not the men and women in PF who drive black tinted land cruisers costing millions of dollars,” stated Hichilema who added that it was only morally upright that in order to save themselves as PF leaders and the country, the entire PF team must step down forthwith.
“The PF and Mr Edgar Lungu cannot stop this corruption because they are direct beneficiaries but what is more heart-breaking is for them to plunder donor funding meant for the old, women and children who have no other means of survival. Social services have suffered because of debt, and even the little aid we have received is now being swallowed by debt if not stolen. This is just plain cruel. This must end people of Zambia.”
And Kalaba, the former foreign affairs minister who resigned on January 2 on the back of corruption in government, stated that the country’s top leadership must be held accountable for the syndicated grand corruption and fraud.
“The United Kingdom has been Zambia’s all-weather friend since Independence and has provided budget support for many years. Now we understand that they have frozen aid funding to Zambia, after our government admitted that $4.3million (£3.3million) meant for education, health and nutrition, as well as the Social Cash transfer which benefit a lot of poor families had gone missing on account of corruption and poor attitude to public accountability in the current administration. The whole world is asking how the country’s debt has escalated from US$1.2billion in 2008 after the HIPC debt forgiveness to almost US$16 billion in 10 years which is obvious to the naked eye,” Kalaba stated.
“I have always asserted that the under-current to this debt accumulation has been the evident lack of accountability, abuse of office bordering on corruption and over-payment of shoddy contracts, but more detrimental has been the obvious lack of national interest by government officials to safeguard national resources in pursuit of greedy and personal gains and this same arrogant attitude is now being directed towards aid funds which for this carefree team of leaders provides the opportunity of low hanging fruits. The UK’s decision has also incited Ireland, Finland and Sweden who have also suspended aid funding to Zambia. Many more donors may follow suit because most of our bilateral donors have adopted a zero tolerance to corruption and yet we continue to burry our heads in the sand, claiming all is well.”
He stated that the freezing of the aid will further compromise the ability of the vulnerable and incapacitated households to have a decent meal a day and hence drive them into worsening abject poverty.
“My heart goes to the women and children of Zambia who are at the receiving end of this sad development which has put a dent on Zambia as a country and on us collectively as a people, at a time when our people are struggling to have decent livelihoods because of insatiable greed and our leader’s cold indifference concerning their plight,” Kalaba stated.
He stated that President Lungu had continued to be faint-hearted about corruption and continues to tolerate and embrace those with the unmistakable scent of corruption.
“I urge His Excellency the President of Zambia to have a heart for Zambians for a change and to control and stop the corruption by respecting the constitution, policies and institutional frameworks that prevent, expose and fight corruption. This county is not short of policies and regulations to fight corruption as intimated in the President’s speech to parliament the other day. This Country is only short of elected leadership that has a political will to fight corruption. The tools are there but who to use them?” Kalaba wondered.
“With our current debt burden at almost US$16 billion, bilateral aid may be the only available resource to lubricate the social services engine. Zambia will be required to maintain a debt service of at least US$2.26 billion annually for the next twenty years to be anywhere near liquidating the country’s current indebtedness. This represents close to 32.4 per cent of the total annual national budget. We know that the country has already exceeded the US$585 million in annual debt service and this figure will rise with the Chinese loans that had 4-5-year moratorium (grace periods). The country’s foreign exchange earnings, 70 per cent of which are still generated by the mines, who earn north of US$5 billion, only contribute 6 per cent (US$300 million) to the country’s treasury in taxes and royalties.”
He stated that the true burden of debt servicing was being carried by the ordinary Zambian with income that is not generated from the country’s mineral wealth but from their sweat.
“Please Mr. President; let’s not add to these miseries by toying with aid funds through weak institutional frameworks and arrogant, carefree, public servants. The litmus test to measure government’s commitment to tackling our debt crisis and strengthening oversight institutions will reflect in the upcoming budget for 2019 to see to what extent the budget will bear reductions in unnecessary expenditure and funding of the Auditor General’s office,” stated Kalaba.