FORMER Minister of Community Development and Social Services Emerine Kabanshi has told the court that she had nothing to do with the extension of the scope of coverage of a contract between Zambia Postal Services Corporation (ZAMPOST) to include three provinces and two districts under Social Cash Transfer programme.
Kabanshi has equally denied re-engaging ZAMPOST to disburse funds under the social cash transfer program after the contract was terminated.
She told the Lusaka Magistrates’ Court that the acting permanent secretary then, wrote to the post master general telling him about how the re-engagement was going to be done.
In this matter, Kabanshi is charged with two counts willful failure to comply with the law and applicable procedure or guidelines relating to procurement involving the Social Cash Transfer program.
In count one, it is alleged that Kabanshi between August 21, 2017 and April 26, 2018 in Lusaka, as a minister concerned in the administration and management at the Ministry of Community Development and Social Services, willfully 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 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 willfully failed to comply 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.
The State closed its case in December, last year, after calling 11 witnesses to testify in the matter.
And in January this year, Chief Resident Magistrate Lameck Mwale found Kabanshi with a case to answer and put her on her defence.
Opening her defence, Wednesday, Kabanshi who gave unsworn evidence, first started her defence by telling the court the functions she had in the Ministry.
“Your honour, my functions in the Ministry are Constitutional. My main function is to give direction on the policies and strategies that are in the Ministry as allowed by the highest office, which is the President. The other functions are to present bills in Parliament and other legislation that come from the ministry. Those are the two main functions,” she said.
Kabanshi said the person who was charged with the functions of administering and managing the Ministry was the permanent secretary.
She added that the permanent secretary was the head of administration for the ministry.
“He is the controlling officer. The permanent secretary is the one who makes sure that everything is followed and all the actions and activities are done according to laid down procedures in the Ministry,” Kabanshi said.
Regarding the testimonies by the State witnesses, Kabanshi said in 2017 there was an audit in the Ministry that was ordered by the Ministry of Finance after discussing with her.
She added that it arose because the social cash transfer program had never been audited before and it was being scaled up from 392,000 beneficiaries to 700,000 beneficiaries.
“We discussed with the Minister of Finance who later wrote to me that as per our discussion, the Ministry of Finance was going to audit the program in all the districts where it was being implemented so that we understand the challenges and the problems that were there in the implementation process,” Kabanshi said.
“So they started auditing social cash transfer program in January 2018. They finished everything in June 2018 and the reports were taken to cabinet office who constituted a technical team to look into the results that were coming from the audit and deal with them.”
Kabanshi said to her knowledge, the terms of references were produced by the same technical team which was to find out how the money was moving from the Ministry to the post office, and from the post office to the beneficiaries.
She explained that the said technical team comprised of workers from the post office who included the post master general and his team; the permanent secretary from the Ministry of Community Development and the directors; as well as the permanent secretary from the Ministry of Communication and the officers.
Kabanshi said there was also a team from Finance that undertook the audit; the secretary to the cabinet and the deputies who were sitting and looking at the problems that were there between the post office and the Ministry and whether they could resolve them or not.
She said the audit brought out the issues of the disbursement of the money and payments.
Kabanshi however, said while they were still sitting, the contract between ZAMPOST was terminated.
She told the court that as a minister responsible for policy direction, she called the permanent secretary to advise that it was better that they concluded the job which was being done at cabinet office, prepare a cab memo and share what was pertaining on the ground with cabinet and after that the decision could be made.
“And that’s how they reinstated the contract,” Kabanshi said.
She added that the said contract was terminated without her knowledge.
Regarding the charge of her allegedly extending the scope of coverage of contract between ZAMPOST to include three provinces and two districts under Social Cash Transfer programme, Kabanshi said she had nothing to do with the extension.
She said the extension of the contract was neccessited by the need that arose in the ministry to extend.
Kabanshi said the acting permanent secretary wrote to the Attorney General to be guided on how they could do that and that the Attorney General responded in a letter addressed to the PS and gave advise on how to go about it.
“What I have to say to this court is that if I was the one that was charged with the functions of implementing the extension of a contract, the Attorney General would have addressed the letter to me and giving me advise on how to go about it,” she said.
“I had nothing to do with those extensions. I wasn’t part. I have never been part of the drafting of the contract. I don’t even know what is in the contract. What I mean by that is that the contents on how to go implementing that contract is all the preserve of the technocrats. And they are the ones that made it and they signed.”
Regarding the second charge that between August 21, 2017 and April 26, 2018 Kabanshi willfully failed to comply the law, procedures and guidelines relating to procurement when re-engaging ZAMPOST as payment service provider for Social Cash Transfer programme following the termination of the contract, the accused said there was no re-engagement that was done during that time.
She sad to her knowledge, the re-engagement which was done in the Ministry was on August 8, 2018.
Kabanshi said there was a letter that the acting permanent secretary wrote to the post master general telling him about how the re-engagement was going to be done.
After Kabanshi concluded with her unsworn evidence, the defence called another witness after which they indicated to the court they would call one more witness who will come and testify on March 25, this year.