Seven Civil Society organisations (CSOs) have demanded that government provides an in-depth explanation over a dossier published by News Diggers! exposing extravagant expenditure of public resources on international Presidential trips.

At a media briefing at CCZ in Lusaka yesterday, Oasis Forum, ActionAid, Alliance for Community Action (ACA), Civil Society Initiative for Constitutional Agenda (CiSCA), PAN, Women for Change and ZCSD said it was high time the Church started to pray with eyes open to see what is happening because praying with closed eyes would lead them into being misinformed.

Speaking on behalf of the other CSOs CCZ secretary general Fr Emmanuel Chikoya demanded that government explains and investigates each of the matters listed in the dossier and that the public be provided with an in-depth explanation.

“On Wednesday, March 14, 2018, News Diggers newspaper published a story which suggested that there is rampant abuse of public resources during Presidential international trips. The claims in the story were very concerning that is why we are here today to express our joint concern at what is coming across as a critical abuse of public resources by the current administration. The News Diggers dossier which included expenditure paid from a government account for luxury items such as boat cruises and shopping expeditions, a highly bloated delegation list that included individuals with no identifiable government business on the trips, joins a long list of of matters in the public sphere that require urgent explanation by government,” Fr Chikoya said.

“These matters suggest that there is very poor prioritisation in the use of public resources by government and at worst, runaway corruption that treats public money with recklessness. In this regard, we refer to the purchase of 42 fire trucks for $42 million by the Ministry of Local Government; the Purchase of 50 ambulances by the Ministry of Health at the cost of $288,000 million each; the intention to sell NRDC to AVIC international without consultation and against public opinion; the astronomical size of and inclusion in Presidential delegations of individuals with no identifiable duties on international trips; the digital migration process that has been reported to be many times more expensive than any other on the continent; the non payment of money accrued by the 96 ministers when the stayed in office illegally as ruled by the Constitutional court; the weak internal control systems in government that result in shocking amounts lost as again reported in the Auditor General’s report and the general and routine overpricing of goods procured by government.”

Fr Chikoya challenged government to state which parts of the dossier were true and which parts were false.

“This requires in-depth investigation of specific issues but more importantly, an overhaul of public resource management systems. We therefore demand that each of the matters listed [in the dossier] be investigated and that the public is provided with an in-depth explanation of the extent to which claims in the public sphere are true. We would like to emphasise that it is not the duty of the public to provide evidence to the state when matters of accountability are raised. Rather, it is the duty of duty-bearers to provide full information on questions raised, and to institute disciplinary and criminal procedures when required,” he said.

NGOCC board chairperson Sara Longwe addresses journalists during a joint press briefing by civil society in Lusaka on March 19, 2018 – Picture by Tenson Mkhala

“On behalf of the Zambian people, we demand that all the people that flouted financial regulations in any of the cases [as suggested in the dossier] be disciplined and resources be recovered. Going forward, clear guidelines of who can be included on a Presidential delegation at tax-payer cost are set out. The stage at which the investigations into the 42 for 42 scandal by the Anti-corruption Commission is made public; all processes towards the sale of NRDC be halted until full information on the transaction is shared with the public. On this, it is the view of the civil society that NRDC should not be sold; a report on investigation and prosecution of individuals named in the Auditor General’s reports be published and the ‘blacklisting’ of any service providers named in the Auditor General’s report to prevent them from accessing any more contracts.”

And Fr Chikoya said it was unacceptable for government to be spending resources recklessly when the country was in a state of financial emergency.

“It is no secret that Zambia is facing a critical budget deficit and debt burden that determines that there is very limited resources available for critical services such as health, education and water. We are worried that limited resources available for service delivery are not reaching the poor. In short, the basic needs of the poor are not being prioritized in the use of available resources and therefore, are not translating into very achievable improved lives and quality of services for all Zambians. At a time like this, it is unacceptable that even a ngwee of public money would be misused. We therefore call upon Zambians to rise and demand accountability, starting from the local level and going up to the highest office of the land. We encourage citizens to be protective of government money because it is our money and it determines the quality of services that citizens, especially the poor can access,” Fr Chikoya said.

Meanwhile, Fr Chikoya regretted that the Church had been closing eyes in prayer for far too long.

“I think the challenge that we have, especially from a Church perspective is that we have been closing our eyes in prayer for too long. It is high time that as Churches we opened our eyes and prayed and see what is happening. Because if your eyes are closed, you are misinformed and your prayers will be misdirected and so, the role of the Church is to ask and I think it is high time even local Churches begun to summon ward councilors and tell them on behalf of community the challenges that people are facing. We need to know what is happening, why don’t have medicine in the clinic? In some compounds like Kalingalinga people have no water, they are carrying 20 litre containers of water all the time. Why should we have such sceneries still repeating themselves? And if we are going to be excessively taxed, why should this continue?” wondered Fr Chikoya.

And ACA executive director Laura Miti called for consented efforts to make the PF government accountable.

“Being a President of this country is the best thing that can ever happen to someone because Zambians ask no questions, they let you be. But what we are saying is that that needs to end and if we need to protest, yes we will protest because it is true that they [those in government] will ignore our demands, they will ignore this press briefing, they will ignore the dossier, they will ignore everything. So what next? We need to show them that we are tired. Not only are we tired, we are hungry, our schools are broken, our health is broken. So if they want to live a good life, let them equip UTH for us, that’s all we are asking. Do a little bit for us as well, you cannot take away everything and go to cruise, hire a limousine, you name it. So what am saying is that Zambians need to rise up in whatever way possible to stop this waste,” said Miti.

Zambia Conference of Catholic Bishops (ZCCB) secretary general Fr Cleophus Lungu speaks during a joint press briefing by civil society in Lusaka on March 19, 2018 – Picture by Tenson Mkhala

Meanwhile, Oasis Forum spokesperson Fr Cleophas Lungu called on the media to start working towards protecting the interest of the public and not a political party, like it had always been for some media institutions.

“For once, we have had a story which is investigative from News Diggers! Where are the rest of the media houses to follow this story to the bottom of the truth, including our esteemed public broadcasters. Remember, ZNBC, Times of Zambia and Zambia Dailymail are public broadcasters, which means that whenever a matter of public importance is raised, you are supposed to protect the interest of the public and not a political party. This that we are talking about here is a question of public resources which must be protected. So our call is for the media to bring out the truth whenever questions of this nature are raised,” said Fr Lungu.