President Edgar Lungu has suspended Ministry of General Education Permanent Secretary Henry Tukombe to allow for smooth investigations into theft of donor aid at the ministry, as reported by the Auditor General.

And Chief Government Spokesperson Dora Silya has disclosed that cabinet has instructed the Attorney General to interrogate the possibility of taking legal action against the Africa Confidential publication for peddling smear campaigns against Zambians; the publication that revealed the theft of donor aid last month.

Meanwhile, government through the Industrial Development Cooperation (IDC) is working out ways of restructuring the Times of Zambia Printpak and the Zambia Daily Mail to address the financial challenges at the two institutions.

Speaking during a press briefing Wednesday, State House Spokesperson Amos Chanda revealed that President Lungu had upheld the Auditor Generals recommendation to send Tukumbe on leave in order to allow for investigations to take place.

“I can confirm that His Excellency the President has approved the recommendation by the Auditor General that Ministry of General Education Permanent Secretary proceeds on administrative leave to allow for administrative investigations to take place. I can confirm to you that the Auditor General did author that report last week and made those recommendations. So when the President is labouring to say he’s going to stick by the rules and abide by the presumption of innocence of any individual, no one is going to push him to say this one has been suspended, tomorrow he’s going to jail. But even now am not saying that Mr Tukumbe has been found guilty of anything, the President has just approved that he goes. In fact, I can say the President has asked him to proceed on leave to allow for this internal audit which was instituted by the Ministry of Finance whose function it is to put internal audits in any government department,” Chanda said.

Speaking at the same event, Siliya who is also Minister of Information and Broadcasting Services disclosed that government was considering taking legal action against the Africa Confidential.

“Cabinet has instructed the Attorney General to interrogate very seriously the possibility of the people of Zambia and the Zambian government taking legal action against the Africa Confidential. Because the smear campaign it has perpetrated hurts the people of Zambia. Not President Lungu, it hurts the people of Zambia. Economy is about perception and when people continue to have a smear campaign against our country, it affects the economy of our country and who suffers? It is the people of Zambia. That’s why we have acted swiftly to say ‘let’s give the donors back their money,” Siliya said.

And in a discussion, Siliya and Chanda exchanged views about how displeased government was having with British High Commissioner Fergus Cochrane-Dyet over the tweet in which he confirmed his government’s suspension of aid to Zambia.

“You people covered a diplomat who said money has been abused through fraud and corruption. The Secretary to the Cabinet says ‘your Excellency there is actually no money stolen with regard to the DFID, that’s why we knew exactly where it was. And when I was in New York I was made aware of the [Daily] Nation newspaper making some revelation… you decided to believe the Africa confidential but I think the Daily Nation on it’s own went as far as producing a bank statement,” Chanda said

And Siliya added that: “I think it’s been quite of concern to the people of Zambia and government to see the change in tone by the British diplomat saying one thing and then it’s toned down. We’ve also monitored but I think that these issues are dealt with within the diplomatic realm and we have a Minister of Foreign Affairs who is active on this matter at the moment and hopefully sooner or later he will share with us these issues as far as they relate to the British High Commissioner. There are rules that relate to how diplomats behave.”

Meanwhile, Siliya disclosed that government was working on modalities to restructure the Times of Zambia Printpak and the Zambia Daily Mail in order to keep the newspapers in business.

“Clearly, online media has brought up a new dimension in terms of access to information. So the traditional media and particularly newspapers are suffering. And government has to admit to that fact, Daily Mail, Times of Zambia have to admit to that fact because unlike before where people used to get the news when you get out of your home and bought a newspaper, today you don’t have to. You sit in your house and read news on your phone before you read it in the newspaper,” said Siliya.

“So we do have to address the challenges at Daily Mail and Times of Zambia. Particularly Times of Zambia, its debt is beyond its assets, almost saying that it is insolvent. It’s a choice of should we continue to get money from hospitals, from schools to support the employees at Daily Mail and Times of Zambia or is there another way that they can be placed elsewhere so that the other sectors of the economy don’t lose out? I think these are the issues that the IDC is grappling with. There has to be total restructuring, first the business model, is it working or is it not? I know IDC is working closely with management at the two newspapers to say ‘unless we change the business model, we are going to sink’ who moved my cheese? If somebody moves your cheese, you have to look elsewhere or make your own cheese and this is the reality of the business environment where there is now technology.”