A director at the Social Welfare Department has told the Lusaka Magistrates’ Court that former Minister of Community Development and Social Services Emerine Kabanshi allegedly accused the Department of trying to frustrate the engagement of ZamPost for the payments of the Social Cash Transfer scheme.

Kennedy Mumba, 47, said this was after he suggested that a contract, which is more binding, be drafted as opposed to signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), which was already proposed by ZamPost.

The witness also testified that a life was lost while trying to access the Social Cash Transfer funds from ZamPost officers.

In this matter, Kabanshi is charged with two counts of willful failure to comply with the law and applicable procedure or guidelines relating to procurement involving the Social Cash Transfer programme, but had pleaded not guilty.

Particulars of the offence in count one allege that Kabanshi between August 21, 2017, and April 26, 2018, in Lusaka, as a Cabinet Minister concerned in the administration and management at the a Ministry of Community Development and Social Services did willfully fail to comply with the law, applicable procedure and guidelines relating to procurement by extending the scope of coverage of contract number MCDSS/SP/10/2017 between ZamPost MCDSS to include three provinces and two districts under Social Cash Transfer programme.

In count two, it is alleged that Kabanshi, during the same period did willfully fail to comply with the law, procedures and guidelines relating to procurement when re-engaging ZamPost as payment service provider under contract number MCDSS/10/2017 for Social Cash Transfer programme following the termination of the said contract.

When the matter came up for continued trial before Chief Resident Magistrate Lameck Mwale, Wednesday, Mumba, said Finland and Ireland withdrew funding of the social cash transfer programme due to mismanagement of funds and the manner in which ZamPost disbursed the funds to intended beneficiaries.

He said in February, 2017, he was called by Kabanshi to her office for a meeting and he was introduced to ZamPost Master-General McPherson Chanda.

Mumba said he was at that time the chief social welfare officer in charge of the Social Cash Transfer programme.

He added that the director was Henry Nkhoma, but he was out of jurisdiction.

Mumba said Kabanshi told him that Chanda was in her office to discuss how ZamPost would disburse the Social Cash Transfer funds to beneficiaries as it was a government institution.

He said Chanda produced a document generated by ZamPost and suggested that the Ministry enters into an agreement with ZamPost so that it would disburse funds to beneficiaries.

The witness said he perused through the document and noticed that ZamPost had developed an MoU.

He said he explained to the two that any relationship of such nature needed clearance from the Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Finance.

Mumba said he further indicated that what was needed was a contract and not an MoU, but the reaction he got from the two surprised him.

“Mr Chanda said ZamPost did not need clearance from the Attorney General. He kept on insisting that the agreement was between ZamPost and the Ministry and what was needed was the Ministry to sign the contract,” he narrated.

Mumba disclosed that Kabanshi sided with Chanda, and that she was emphatic that they signed the document.

He said when he asked why ZamPost did not bid when they advertised for the disbursement of the Social Cash Transfer, Chanda said ZamPost was frustrated by the then director of social welfare.

Mumba said he disputed claims by Chanda, saying the said director could not interfere because the tender was open as there was an independent tender committee, which assessed the bidders.

He said when he pointed out the irregularities in the MoU, Chanda said it would be amended and resubmitted.

Chanda said the same day ZamPost resubmitted the draft MoU and made changes based on discussions they had earlier.

But he said he insisted on a contract as it was more valid and binding than an MoU, but then Kabanshi said ZamPost had already addressed the shortcomings and that they should expedite and actualise the payment of funds to ZamPost.

“I asked what was difficult for us to draw a contract, which would go through the right procedure. Kabanshi was not pleased. She accused the Department of Social Welfare of trying to frustrate the engagement of ZamPost,” Mumba said.

He said later a meeting was held in which a contract was drawn and handed over to the procurement committee who continued with the process.

Mumba said in August, 2017, the contract was signed at Pamodzi Hotel and that the first disbursement was prepared for ZamPost to pay the beneficiaries in Luapula and Western provinces.

He said in October, 2018, some beneficiaries complained of not receiving funds, but then ZamPost wrote letters to the Ministry and Department indicating that they had successfully disbursed the said funds.

The witness said when he went to the two provinces, he verified with the beneficiaries that they did not receive the funds.

Mumba said despite these irregularities, Kabanshi authorised the extension of the contract with ZamPost to cover Northern, Muchinga, North-Western and two districts on the Copperbelt, namely Mpongwe and Lifwanyama.

He said she authorised the contract despite being advised to seek advice from Ministry of Justice.

“She was upset that we were dragging our feet instead of extending the contract. The contract gave us bad encounters every time we were with the accused as she was emotional and upset,” Mumba recalled.

The witness also testified that a life was lost while trying to access the Social Cash Transfer funds from ZamPost officers.

“I recall visiting Samfya and Nchelenge districts in Luapula Province. I got saddened when I discovered that instead of ZamPost paying beneficiaries at designated pay points, ZamPost could arrive late, leave instructions for people to follow them at Boma ZamPost offices to get the money and paid very few people. The amounts beneficiaries were receiving against what they were supposed to receive were equally in dispute,” revealed Mumba.

“What saddened me most when I went in Samfya. We lost a life! A group came to Boma to receive funds. While following ZamPost, people who were paying funds, the canoe capsized and a woman died. ZamPost was supposed to make payments from the Island as it was a pay point.”

Trial continues on Friday.