As I have written before concerning the appointment of the new finance minister or any minister, I so write again: if the economic system is rotten to the core with corruption as the Zambian one is, the appointment of a most competent Auditor General without instructions to find out the reasons for the failures of previous systems and without holding accountable through dismissals like President Magufuli would have done or prosecutions, as President Mwanawasa would have done to act as deterrence to the new office holders, the celebrated appointment is much ado about nothing. Despite the numerous previous reports by the Auditor General about mismanagement, misapplication, corruption, wastage, etc of taxpayer resources, no one has been prosecuted and there has not been any directive to investigate the previous cases or to retrieve the resources but we are made to understand that this new Auditor General and his office will do things differently to clean up the system! Previous Auditor Generals like previous finance ministers were heralded in the same fashion and they promised a new slate but it was one step forward and three steps backwards.
Zambia has just dropped a slot in the Corruption index according to Transparency International from 35 to 34 and as the elections loom, Zambia will be subjected to unprecedented levels of corruption. You parachute a new Auditor General and expect him to clean up the system when the culprits are still in the same positions in which massive corruption was reported! This is insanity, according to Scientist Albert Einstein, “doing the same thing over and over but expecting a different result”. Zambia is plagued with insanity.
Ministers were arrested for corruption but they kept their positions even when the law is clear that they must be suspended at half the pay. The President invoked presumption of innocence which doesn’t apply under the circumstances as the person is not terminated and there are other competing objectives like preserving the integrity of the investigation and prosecution. Provincial permanent secretaries came before the Public Accounts Committee and they gave embarrassing and bumbling explanations about where resources went to and no one was held accountable. Even if there was a genuine case for prosecution, the record is that no one gets prosecuted so the system continues to be labelled a corrupt system. Can you blame anyone for this conclusion?
Resources are wasted and stolen in the ministries, partly maybe to anemic qualifications by the ministers and lack of oversight and accountability. This is to put it in the undeserved positive light but to make an important follow-up point. Qualification is extremely important for ministers as it is almost everywhere else. But under the current regime, can you count which ministers are qualified to do the jobs they are ministers for? When you compare some of these people to the first cabinets of presidents Kaunda and Chiluba, some of the current ministers are pygymies or midgets in their portfolios. President Edgar Lungu was first elected in 2015 just like Justin Trudeau in Canada and John Magufuli in Tanzania. Trudeau’s and Magufuli’s first cabinet appointments had known and quantifiable qualifications which matched their new ministries. In Zambia, it was a mishmash of appointments without much reference to experience or educational qualifications. It still is the case since there has hardly been any dismissals like has happened in Canada and Tanzania since the elections of 2015.
In Zambia, ambassadors and foreign service officials have been dispatched without any prior sustained formal training. A former wife of a President does not make an Ambassador. Police officers are dispatched to serve in foreign missions. Cadres are dispatched abroad without any training. What sustained training did former father Frank Bwalya or Hapunda undertake or Dr Kaseba Sata? Compare this to the times of the diplomatic postings of Mainza Chona and Vernon Mwanga. Compare ministers like Alexander Chikwanda and Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe to ministers like Chitotela and company. It is not like there are no qualified people or foreign service people. A lot of them are here and a lot abroad. Nigeria, Italy, Kenya, Cameroon, India, China etc recruit its citizens located abroad but not Zambia.
Is this the best Zambia can do? For a period of time there was no Auditor General when one is required constitutionally. And then the reports are not acted upon! Another agency with credibility is the Financial Intelligence Centre whose Board was disbanded and due to bumbling, a person with a criminal record had been appointed as Director. It’s reports like that of the Auditor General’s that are not acted upon. Now that agency when it produces credible reports which are not acted upon, is derided as having a political agenda and is slated for disbandment with the unconstitutional Bill 10, an opinion I hold for reasons I have given in my previous writings. Bill 10 is a disaster and is tantamount to bringing back the dictatorship under the one party state. This is the system you parachute in a new Auditor General when the whole system, from top to bottom, is sending messages of entrenchment of corruption and unaccountability. Give Zambians a break.
What impact can the new Auditor General have when corruption festers like maggots in a pit latrine? Just look at the following statistics, indisputable from Kelvin Bwalya Fube’s recent book:1. Purchase of 42 fire tenders at $42 million when the actual value is $10.5 million and excess untraceable difference is $31.5 million; 2. Digital migration $273 million, actual fair value $144 million, with excess difference of $129 million; 3. Sata toll gate cost of $4.5 million while actual price is $1 million, difference of 3.5 million; 4. KKIA cost of $375 million, actual price is $300 million, with pocketed difference of $75 million; 5. Lusaka-Ndola Dual Carriageway $1.2 billion, actual cost is $500 million, difference is $700 million; 6. Copperbelt C400 Roads Project costing $418 million, while actual cost is $300, excess is $118 million; 7. Ndola Airport cost of $395 million, while actual cost is a mere $300 million with someone pocketing $95 million; 8. Security Wings Housing Project at cost of $275 million, with actual cost of $200 million and overtop of $75 million, and, 9. Lusaka L 400 Roads Project cost of $300 million, with an actual cost of $200 million, with a difference of $100 million. And it goes on and on.
The Auditor General cannot and will not be allowed to control or impact the embedded corruption through porous tenderprenuerships. He cannot disturb this corrupt feasting where people who were on some streets recently have built houses resembling universities within a short time and some people who couldn’t buy a beer for a friend are now distributing food and donating materials worth thousands and thousands of Kwacha in an unexplained orgy of corruption.
There is an attempt to shed off what some of these people won’t explain if and when the day of accounting comes. Did you ever hear of Mandela donating bags of cement? Have you ever heard of Magufuli donating food and cooking oil? No matter how you look at it, a President, a first lady or a minister does not have these things to donate for free. They get them as free gifts on perhaps a quid pro quo or oblique motives or corruptly and then donate them for political gain. Why can’t gifts pass through a government agency with transparency afore recognised? With possibility of being audited as to origins and modus operandi! This practice is a conduit of corruption and must be stopped like yesterday. This practice is never heard of in democratic countries under the rule of law. This open corruption is abominable. The underlining currents enabling this bonanza are shady and not innocent. There is no transparency in these processes. The Auditor General won’t stop that rot. Nor does the office report on this accompanying corruption to the already known and existing corruption.
The new Auditor General no matter how competent he is cannot reduce the debt burden that is shooting north of $18 Billion. This debt is fuelled by corruption assembled in the reports. The Auditor General can’t control the undigested tax regimes especially mining tax that have been changing like train wrecks. The Health Care Insurance Act was implemented without any discussion with major stakeholders, which will see government employees earning reduced salaries during the current episode of economic crises. Some monies from Toll gates are stolen. The Auditor General cannot affect the price of fuel at the pump since the so-called Saudi deal was purely an election gimmick in 2016. The Auditor General cannot affect youth unemployment. The Mulungushi textile plant remains a ghost despite it being highlighted during the last election as a conduit of future massive employment. I pity the youth with all their education who can’t find jobs despite the promise that a million jobs would be created.
The Auditor General won’t affect the economic woes of this country. The economic woes, the unemployment rate in the country, the price of oil etc are hugely partly due to corruption reported in the Auditor General’s reports where no one is held accountable. Zambians have to be further squeezed financially to make up the shortfall resulting from corruption.
The euphoria about the new appointment of the Auditor General is curious because previous ones were greeted with the same accolades and anticipated resurgence of new paradigms. What happened? They couldn’t control those corrupt activities reported in the previous Auditor General and Financial Intelligence Centre Reports. When you swim with human eating sharks, you are going to be swallowed.
The Auditor General knows what happened to his predecessors and is coming at a very bad time when the new proposed constitutional amendments Bill 10 if enacted will strip away all manner of levers of accountability from the people, the judiciary and parliament and concentrate most powers in the hands of the President. And ministers lying in public that the objectionable aspects of this Bill have been dropped when they haven’t. The President and the Minister of Justice insist on ramming this Bill through the throats of Zambians. The President hardly agrees that there is corruption, maybe faintly, the President hardly agrees that Zambia is in deep economic crises, maybe faintly. It took time to appoint a new Auditor General. Why? He wants to disband the FIC. Why? Corruption impetus. Corruption is calling. Give me any other reasonable explanation. No one has been held accountable. Give me a reasonable explanation as to why? The owners of certain houses! Remember the episode? Why?
With this matrix of factors, the appointment of the new Auditor General is much ado about nothing. It is a band aid approach because no other pieces have been moved around, they remain intact, warts and all. The new Auditor General cannot control the depths of corruption, sine qua non of which Zambia cannot get out of its quagmire. New damning reports will be issued and no one will be held accountable because the system remains the same. Show me any system that has ever self-cleansed itself.
Dr Munyonzwe Hamalengwa teaches Law in Law School.