A witness has testified how former minister Emerine Kabanshi warned directors in the Ministry of Community Development and Social Services of retirement in national interest if they did not extend Zampost’s Social Cash Transfer contract.

This is a matter in which Kabanshi is charged with two counts of wilful failure to comply with the law and applicable procedure or guidelines relating to procurement involving the Social Cash Transfer programme.

But she pleaded not guilty to the charges.

In count one, it is alleged that Kabanshi, between August 21, 2017 and April 26, 2018 in Lusaka, as Minister of Community Development and Social Services, wilfully failed 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 and her ministry, to include three provinces and two districts under the Social Cash Transfer programme.

In count two, it is alleged that Kabanshi, during the same period, wilfully failed 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 the Social Cash Transfer programme following the termination of the said contract.

In his testimony, former permanent secretary in the Ministry of Community Development Rev Howard Sikwela narrated that after complaints from officials and beneficiaries on the conduct of Zampost, the minister later opted to personally distribute other items under the scheme, alleging that ministry officials were frustrating government efforts.

“I told her the challenges we were experiencing with Zampost and how I told Zampost to comply. The minster was not happy with that report and indicated that the ministry officials were in the habit of frustrating programs of the government of the day and that ministry officials were working with the opposition to de-campaign the government of the day. As it were, I did not respond but again within a [short] period of time, on another day, after the minister came from a cabinet meeting, she called for a meeting, the PS, directors and senior officials in the ministry. In this meeting, she strongly came out and announced that from that day onwards, no one, except herself, should distribute cell phones, bicycles and motor vehicles, etc. vehicles and bicycles were under the Social Cash Transfer but the cell phones were under the Women Empowerment Programme,” Rev Sikwela testified.

He said this was after he conducted a fact finding mission where he found that some beneficiaries were made to wait for up to three days before they could access the funds, which was against the contractual obligation of Zampost.

“She further warned directors, through the permanent secretary to comply with her order to extend the Zampost contract or risk being retired in national interest. What followed was that she was emphatic that while she was aware that the contract had a provision to use Zampost facilities throughout the country, she went further to say we had frustrated the government of the day, that is ministry officials and the permanent secretary, by working with the opposition and that she would not entertain any further delay. Further, she told me to remind directors of the ministry because at the time, the three directors [I alluded to] had already been retired in national interest. She told me to remind others of what had happened to their colleagues. Your Honour, after she said that, I left her office with that issue of engaging Zampost and other issues,” Rev Sikwela narrated.

He added that in adhering to instructions, he authorized the disbursement of money to Zampost to facilitate payments to beneficiaries from Muchinga, Northern and North Western provinces as well as Mpongwe and Lufwanyama districts.

Rev Sikwela added that despite being the authorizing officer, he was simply acting on instructions from the minister who was the higher authority.

The matter has since been adjourned March 26, 2020 for continuation of trial.