State House Press Aide Amos Chanda says government was aware of the misuse of donor funds two months ago, but the President decided not to take public action because such move would have jeopardised investigations.
Speaking when he featured on a Hot FM live telephone interview yesterday, Chanda said President Lungu had now taken decisive action, which includes firing minister Emerine Kabanshi, after realising that the scandal had been exposed to the media and the evidence which he wanted to protect had become unattainable.
“The problem of the social cash transfer has been an ongoing problem which was made known to the government some months ago. The prerogative of the president to hire and fire a minister remains just that. He may at any time substitute a minister or any appointee at any time without any restraint, or without any reasons. With regards to the ultimatum he gave to the secretary to the cabinet, the president does have multiple sources of information [and] so when he takes corrective measures to fore store certain things happening, he may decide that even before the completion of an inquiry, he can take measures to correct the situation. And I must state to you that he ordered this inquiry four months ago but because its already in the public domain and causing a disturbance and what it is probably that he might have wanted to protect, the evidence and what sort, can no longer be protected; so he begins to take action immediately. So the timeframe that he gives does not constrain him from taking corrective measures at any point. He may continue to do so in the coming days, [or] in the coming weeks when the administrative inquiry is completed,” Chanda said.
“The government, especially the president does have access to a lot of information on a daily basis. There are certain actions that have been accumulating [but] that may not be announced. If there is an ongoing inquiry, an inquiry which the president reasonably suspects could actually result into a criminal inquiry, will it be sensible for him to go on the ant hill and announce that ‘we have now begun to investigate this K10 that is missing?’ if that K10 will result in fraud? You know that a criminal prosecution is possible, will it be sensible to announce on the first day of the inquiry that this investigation is taking place? Now that the newspapers have put it in the public domain and that which you wanted to protect is no longer attainable to protect, what then would hold the present from taking actions publicly? It is not true that the newspapers and the radio stations have caused the action. Of course they have disrupted certain things but again the government will not tell you what those pre-mature announcements [which] they have disrupted, but from that point when it was now clear that certain pieces of evidence that were being protected can no longer be protected because the matter is in the public domain. The president would have to act swiftly as he did.”
Chanda said President Lungu was disturbed to see the details of the fraud report.
“I can state that preliminary information given to His Excellency indicates US $4.3 million doesn’t reach the beneficiaries. I cannot say here that that money has been stolen, that money has been misapplied [or] that money has been misappropriated. What is very clear is that that money has not reached the intended beneficiaries [who are] the poor, because of some maladministration of the fund. We know from preliminary reports that it was misdirected to in some cases retirees, rehabilitation of infrastructure. If there is criminal culpability, again the investigative agencies will appropriately step in,” he said.
Asked why the President fired Kabanshi alone leaving the rest of the people in the ministry who could also be implicated, Chanda said the new minister would help sweep the ministry.
“That is why the new minister was tasked to make sure that she gets down to work and help the ongoing efforts to identify the problems. So the Auditor General is very key in this regard. The president did inform the ACC and DEC that he has taken administrative actions so they may wish to express interest and see whether any elements of criminal behaviour is there. So the clean-up continues. What I can’t say is whether an act of corruption has occurred here. We want to be logical, we want to be fair and ensure that only proven cases of malpractice receive appropriate action and we cannot begin to finger point,” Chanda said.
“But there is no sacrificial lamp. As I told you, the right to appoint or disappoint a minister is purely the preserve of the president in any case, if he chooses, he gives reasons for hiring and firing. There is no sacrificial lamp, for what? The president as you heard him say [that] there is no limit to how many substitutions he can make in government in order to make his administration function more efficient. The actions being undertaken are all intended to ensure that there is a restorations of this programme. Whatever government component contribution to the social cash transfer, will remain operational. It is our view that the donors will quickly return to finance this important programme. I am telling you that the government has been aware of all these things but the suspension [of aid] was not yesterday. What you saw yesterday and the other day is the sensational headlines but the action actually occurred two months ago.”