ABOUT 71 officers have been suspended at the Ministry of General Education in connection with the disappearance of donor funds meant for maths and science, The Mast has learnt. The PF has been diverting donor funds to activities that are beneficial to the party, sources have disclosed.
The Africa Confidential last week reported that massive fraud has taken place at the Ministry of General Education, bigger than the Social Cash Transfer theft that involved US$4.3m.
It stated that the total amount embezzled was not yet known but sources in the investigation say it is on a “far greater scale” than the other frauds uncovered.
“A bigger corruption scandal in the education ministry involving potentially tens of millions of dollars is under investigation, we hear. [President] Lungu has not commented on Africa Confidential reports that massive fraud has taken place in the Ministry of [General] Education after a manipulation of the internal payments and procurements system. A government-led audit has been taking place in secret,” stated the AC.
“This is another reason for DfID’s suspension of bilateral aid. The total amount embezzled is not yet known but sources in the investigation say it is on a far greater scale than the other frauds uncovered. The row over the departmental frauds has drawn attention to the debt crisis, about which government officials are also in denial.”
Impeccable government and diplomatic sources say DANIDA and SIDA pumped in millions of dollars for the improvement of mathematics and science in schools but that the money has been misappropriated.
On September 18, Sweden confirmed, “SIDA is freezing support over suspected misuse of funds within Social Cash Transfer programme in Zambia. Finland, Great Britain and Ireland are also suspending their support. Sweden supports cash transfers to the poorest and most vulnerable in Zambia through the Social Cash Transfer programme. Increasing evidence suggests that cash transfers is an effective means to combatting poverty. The poor and vulnerable get increased possibilities to make economic decisions over, for instance, minor investments in their household or towards increased productivity in their farming, buying more nutritious food or to pay for school fees. A high proportion of the beneficiaries are women.”
Sweden explained that after strong suspicions concerning misuse of funds within the social cash transfers, “Sida and the other donors have frozen the use of funds. Problems within the programme were discovered during the spring of 2018, but not until August were there suspicions of misuse of funds.”
It stated that: “The Zambian Office of the Auditor General is making an investigation into the matter and Sida is carefully following the developments. There are not yet any reports on the amount suspected to have been misused. The agreement between Sweden and the Government of Zambia on support to the Social Cash Transfer programme, covers a total of 165 MSEK for the years 2016-2018. Out of these 130 MSEK has been disbursed up until now.”
165 million Swedish Kronas is equivalent to US$18.66 million, meaning Sweden has already disbursed US$14.70 million.
Senior officials in the Ministry of General Education, according to sources, have been cited and are being investigated over the misappropriation of the maths and science funds.
Senior government sources told The Mast the funds were diverted to Ministry of Infrastructure.
“You ask [general education minister David] Mabumba about this; I know he’ll not say anything because he is being put to task to explain the misuse. We are being made to use donor funds for some of these projects that they brag about; the roads, etc. This is exactly the same reason the UK has frozen funding to the Social Cash Transfer scheme because what the PF would do is use that money even in by-elections on instruction from the higher authorities,” said the senior government source.
“A lot of people are under investigation and this one (scandal) is way bigger than the SCT (Social Cash Transfer). Nobody ever thought this would be discovered. There’s a lot of panic in government.”
Diplomatic sources have disclosed that the EU were also contemplating pulling out on bilateral aid to Zambia.
When contacted over the suspension of staff, Ministry of General Education spokesperson Nondo Chilonga refused to comment.
“What did the minister tell you? Just follow what the minister has said [concerning this matter] because I am actually with him. We are in Western Province…” Chilonga said.
After this reporter told Chilonga that Mabumba on Tuesday only commented on the massive fraud that had taken place at the ministry and not on the people that had been suspended, Chilonga said: “Just follow what the minister has told you. We are in Western Province right now. We came on Sunday. I am not at the office so I can’t comment on anything.”
Permanent secretary Henry Tukombe also refused to comment on the matter.
“Sorry, I am in Western Province. Let me just finish my programmes. Call the other PS, not me,” said Tukombe.
Mabumba, when reached said he did not know anything.
“What do you want me to say madam? I am not in Lusaka so the PS…PS Tukombe is with me here in Western Province. How do we comment on things we don’t know? We have got an official way of communicating. And we don’t want speculations. We communicate through National Assembly, through official press briefings in the ministry. I am not in Lusaka so it’s very hard for me to comment on the matter. We have an official way of giving information to the public. When we issue something, it has to be official. If there is anything like that, at the right time, it will be known to the public. I am not in Lusaka and I can’t comment when I am not in the office. The best people who can answer are our friends who are in Lusaka. If you spoke to PS Tukombe and he says he cannot comment, there is also PS Phiri, who is in Lusaka right now, us we are out of town. I am not in town and I don’t like speculations,” insisted Mabumba.
Dr Felix Phiri also refused to comment and asked this reporter to send a press query instead.
“What you should do is when you are communicating with government over such matters, you write; write to the ministry, then the ministry will respond to you,” Dr Phiri said.
When told that Mabumba had referred this reporter to him, Dr Phiri said: “Yes, but what you should do is write…write…write then the spokesperson will respond to you with an appropriate response to the query that you will write.”