International trade consultant Trevor Simumba says the admission by Finance Minister Margaret Mwanakatwe that US$1.2 billion was not a true cost of the Lusaka-Ndola dual carriageway project validated his research findings.

And Simumba has observed that the Ministry of Housing and Infrastructure Development is the biggest culprit of debt contraction outside the laws of Zambia.

In an interview, Simumba told News Diggers! that the Ministry of Finance was finding it difficult to accurately quantify and reconcile the debt figures for the country because ministries, such as the Ministry of Housing and Infrastructure, were getting loans without approval.

“Of course, if you try to talk to the Minister of Housing [Ronald Chitotela], he is going to dodge you, because he is embarrassed. But try to talk to RDA. It’s a scandal! Look, the President, through the Minister of Finance, has announced measures, which include suspension of projects that are below 80 per cent completion. They should carry out that exercise very carefully and transparently. For this particular project [Lusaka-Ndola dual carriageway], this road, the government should immediately move in and put a suspension, and review the whole project, bring in independent engineers and other professional auditors and let us come up with a proper cost. You know, we can’t have a situation where our government is spending US $1.2 billion just to do a road,” Simumba insisted.

“Mwanakatwe’s admission that the US $1.2 billion is not the true cost of the road validates all the findings that we had in the research paper. You remember, one of the key issues we mentioned in the research is that the Ministry of Finance is not being consulted, nor is it involved in a lot of these debt contractions, and in particular, the biggest culprit of debt contraction outside Ministry of Finance and outside the laws of this country was the Ministry of Infrastructure and Housing and also other ministries that were going ahead to obtain loans without the involvement of the Ministry of Finance. And so, this is what creates the problem and this is why the Ministry of Finance has found it very difficult to accurately quantify and reconcile the debt figures for Zambia.”

Simumba proposed that a new contractor be engaged after the review of the project.

“It is just unacceptable! And we stated it very clearly from before that [the cost of] this road is inflated and so it has a major bearing on the cost to the economy in terms of our debt sustainability. So, this project must be suspended and a review must be carried out very quickly so that we can come up with a very proper figure. And I believe that a new contractor must be engaged because these guys obviously are crooks because just who gave those figures to the government? Who gave that figure of US $1.2 billion? Who did that feasibility study, which engineering company did the project feasibility study to come up with that figure? Who does these engineering designs and costing? Because there must be some problem somewhere and it is a very clear-cut case of corruption, because if the Minister of Finance herself says that, ‘this cost is inflated’ then the ACC [Anti-Corruption Commission] surely must take and interest,” urged Simumba.