Former foreign affairs minister Harry Kalaba says only the Accountant General can explain how government spent public resources during the 2015 New York trip.
And Kalaba says he used to get shocked as foreign affairs minister to see cadres arriving in certain countries whilst he was there on official duty.
Speaking on Muvi TV’s The Assignment programme, Sunday, Kalaba said only the Accountant General and his team could tell Zambians how much was spent on presidential trips.
“I was part of the delegation to China. When the President is travelling, there is always and accountant who is carried from Cabinet Office. Those are the ones who know the kind of money that they carry. Those are the ones who know what expenses they are going to do so the best person who should be asked on what happened, on how the managed to spend that kind of money are those were spending that kind of money and those that that money was spent on. They should be better off to tell us,” Kalaba said when he was asked to comment on a dossier published by News Diggers!
“The Chief Accountant at Cabinet Office should have queried how this money was spent.”
Kalaba said it was regrettable that so much money was spent on hiring Limousines for people in President Edgar Lungu’s delegation.
“I can’t put a finger on that to say ‘this was hired or that was hired’. It is not the Minister of Foreign Affairs who does that. I travelled quite extensively and I know that in most instances when you travel, only the president and the foreign minister are catered for by the host country. The rest, vehicles have to be hired. As to what type of vehicles had to be hired, I am learning now that they were hiring Limousines, very sad scenario for our country, very regrettable. A country which has got people living in poverty like ours cannot even afford to think and dream of a Limousine in that fashion,” Kalaba said.
He said he was bothered that he had no idea how much government was spending on trips whilst he was minister.
“What I am trying to say myself is, the K17 million sir, I don’t know how it was spent because I hardly see how money is being spent on the president when he is out. I am very bothered and I was alarmed. I didn’t even know that that’s the kind of money that was spent. The lack of awareness [of what was going on also] bothers me because you insist on policy and as foreign minister you go early, you are busy doing your meetings and the rest is being done by those that are charged with that responsibility,” Kalaba said.
“But again, it boils down to this point. Sometimes when we look at expenditure, it is prudent to say ‘he can’t spend this kind of money’. That is why when they are making the final lists, it is important to ensure that only those that are critical to the work that is going to be done get on that aircraft. But if you are going to have people of all sorts, people that are going to travel just to go and see places, Zambia will continue spending money like that and we don’t have that money to spend. I think that route has to be stopped.”
Asked to state approximately how much one presidential trip cost, Kalaba said, “It is not me who can answer that question because the trips vary. You cannot try to compare a trip that is going to take the President into New York and one which will take him to Swaziland, of course the expenses will be at variance and it is not a foreign minister or myself who was a foreign affairs minister who would account. But what I knew myself was, I stuck to principle. The time I was there, we made sure that we selected trips that were going to be beneficial to this country because Zambia as you know does not produce.”
And asked it was true that cadres were paid for using public resources, Kalaba said he could not confirm but he used to get shocked to see certain people arriving for official events.
“Again, to ask me is asking a wrong person because sometimes, you are in a country and you just see that even that person has arrived. You don’t know how that person has come and you leave it at that. The best person to ask that, the best person you should ask is the person that makes the final payment list about who should travel. They are the ones paying for those people,” he said.
Kalaba said it was unfortunate that politicians had infiltrated the civil service.
“Politicians have taken up the roles they should not have taken up. I was a civil servant myself for 12 years and as a civil servant, I exactly know that it is the civil service that should be able to manage those and the Secretary to the Cabinet should have a heavy hand on ensuring that these expenditures are controlled and within reach. But if you have a politician up there, if you have politicians who want to insist on also being civil servants, you end up like that, very sad scenario for a poor country like Zambia,” he said.
Meanwhile, Kalaba insisted that President Lungu’s trips were beneficial for Zambia.
“My views [on presidential trips] remain the same and the views are that the only person who should market us properly, on a serious basis must be the president and if we are going to have all kinds of people who are not part of government being taken on board, that is a different issue altogether that should be left for another discussion. But all the trips that he is making on behalf of Zambia, you know, it is high time that we as a people sometimes began agreeing that on certain matters, there is a position of being bipartisan. This is one Zambia one nation. To condemn everything, wholesomely sometimes is not right. It is good to take one incidence in its entirety so that you understand,” said Kalaba.