The Civil Society in Zambia has taken government to task following the theft of donor aid, which has led to the freezing of all bilateral support to Zambia.
NGOCC executive director Engwase Mwale says the Economics Association of Zambia (EAZ) still has a lot of work to do in offering candid economic policy solutions to the country if its leadership is not sure about the accountability status in government institutions.
This was after EAZ president Lubinda Haabazoka, who mostly strayed away from the topic of discussion during the News Diggers/OSISA organised public discussion forum, said his organisation is not aware whether or not the PF government is accountable in its management of donor aid.
And Alliance for Community Action (ACA) executive director Laura Miti warned that if Zambia tells the donors to go to hell, it is not the people at the top who will suffer, but the poor citizens who depend on foreign aid for their medical needs.
The three were speaking at the public discussion forum held at Chrismar Hotel in Lusaka, where members of the public also took turns airing their grievances with the manner in which government is abusing donor aid.
The organisers of the event had invited Ministry of Finance Permanent Secretary Mukuli Chikuba and his National Development Planning counterpart Chola Chabala, both of whom confirmed their attendance, but chickened out a few hours before the event, owing to “other pressing government programmes”.
Below is the shortened version of the discussion forum.
Dr Haabazoka, opening the discussion.
I came here to talk about the budget analysis, but I know a thing or two about donor funding. From 1964, donor funding came from the IMF when the IMF opened access to developing countries to access funds for their balance of payment when we adopted the accessible exchange rate. Unfortunately when we were given access to IFM funds, our economy started falling drastically and we all know that in 1991 we decided to leave the command economy in favour of the market economy. When we liberalised our economy, we saw a new type of donors coming in, we saw donors that were funding government and donors that were funding organisations. And government was free of debt and our government had the luxury actually to even tell off other interest that were trying to manipulate government policy at that level, to look somewhere else. Now the most dangerous part about donor funding is that donor funding has put us as a country crossroads where one part is sponsoring this side and the other part is sponsoring the other side.
As Economics Association of Zambia, we are in the middle of those crossroads and as a new board, we want to help stakeholders to say that this Zambia can only be developed by us. Talking about how much donor funding do we get, our role today would be saying let us stop getting donor funding, let us use the resources and that way we can develop because at the end of the day, there is nothing without strings attached. It will be very difficult for you to speak your mind. Those that have followed me will know that I keep on flip-flopping, today I have this position, the following day I have that position. That is not flip-flopping [but] that is going with the truth because whatever I do, whatever I speak, I do not get money from anybody. What I speak is what is in my head. And as we move forward as a nation, we need to say ‘government, let us stop receiving donor funding [and instead] let us get the resources from the Mines.
It’s unfortunate today [that] Zambia wants to be used as a battle ground between the East and the West. Unfortunately some of the things I cannot say on camera because they might look upset but I will tell you that when one side says ‘I am giving 60 billion into the country’ and another person says ‘even me I am creating a fund and I am bringing 60 billion’. Now imagine what is happening at micro-level, I know governments get a lot of funding and the USAID for example is very vital supporting those people that are on ARVs. So as Zambians we must learn to wean ourselves off this aid because USAID money today is there, tomorrow it might not be there. I know that there is no person that is going to be chanting [or] pushing an agenda without strings attached.
On Prof Lumumba
I have been following our fellow academician professor Lumumba who was denied entry into the country. I don’t want to say whether that is wrong or right simply because I don’t want you to put me in a group that ‘am I red or am I green?’ but we should be very careful with people we are dealing with and the kind of message that they would bring to you. I am telling you that these things run deep inside and after 50 years, there will be nothing below the soil because we were fighting the wrong battle, we were fighting each other and in the end, we will get money from the donors. You know we cannot be embarrassed by 2.5 million dollars. The whole country, how can we be embarrassed using Twitter? You know I grew up in Russia and I will tell you that in Russia, they well never allow you to demean them but they will allow themselves to demean themselves. They will not allow you to take part in the process of demeaning themselves but as Zambians, we have accepted and invited other people to demean us. People are saying that I have been paid by the PF. I want people to show me that account because I have not been receiving that money. I need to go and see where that money is going so that I can also buy myself a house. So Zambians can you please stop what you are doing. This country we need to fix it.
On Kwacha depreciation
Currencies that are commodity dependent have been falling against the US dollar. The US dollar has been gaining against major currencies. People that have certain agendas know that your currency is supposed to have a downward trend [and] so they helped to push it further down and that comes in form of a tweet. Somebody tweets to say IMF has pulled out, within a short period of time, a connected newspaper writes to say ‘there is tensed corruption in government’, the other minute, a stakeholder, very respectable stakeholder says ‘we are cutting aid because of massive rampant corruption when they know that they are housed right opposite cabinet office [where] they can quickly go there and say ‘I have this information.’ That is being responsible. But when you are getting your salary in pounds, do you care? Actually you want the kwacha to lose even more value. But I get my salaries in Zambian kwacha [and] so I’m very protective about my own currency.
If I was a bush economist, I said it last week that the kwacha was going to rebound, what has the kwacha done now? Hasn’t it gained by a kwacha against the dollar? I said it last week and today it has happened. So am I receiving money from Amos Chanda? [or] am I receiving money from Davies Mwila? So we are innocent in this business and we are trying to tell you that we have done economics at the highest level. So when we talk you just have to keep quiet, watch football, support them and let us experts deal with these issues and that is what we want to bring in the Economics Association of Zambia. Fake chaps will come and say a lot of things but ladies and gentlemen, this is my vision. Mind you I also pay, my asset portfolio is well diversified. If the kwacha falls, I am one of the last persons to ever suffer because as an economist, I have highly diversified my asset portfolio.
On his lingual dexterity.
I like looking at Russia and there are some colleagues that are using Russia to decamping me and I want to tell them that I speak Russian very fluently, I speak Lozi, I speak Bemba, I speak Tonga, I speak Nyanja and I speak a lot of languages including Russian. And I think they can only speak either Nyanja or Bemba or Lozi or Tonga. Maybe if the they speak two [languages] they are very lucky but I speak all those languages. Today I have found a platform to hit back.
Joseph Mwenda asks Dr Haabazoka to stick to the topic of discussion:
I just want to go back to the president of EAZ. I think you have told us enough about how many languages you can speak, about how people are fighting to decampaign you, how diversified your asset portfolio is…
Haabazoka (interjects): And [I have also talked about] what is happening to the economy. I always worry with the Diggers because they only pick… and he is very good at that. There is one Zambia one nationa, no mention [from him]. Have you seen ah?
Mwenda continues: I was coming to that Doctor. Much as you have told us about those other things that you are concerned about. We would like to hear from you as EAZ. You have told us how much impact donor aid has on Zambia. My question is, do you think there is enough accountability of this donor aid on the part of government? I am concerned that you have not done justice to our topic today, that is why I came to ask this question specifically.
Haabazoka: Zambia as a country does not need any… but let me not say this because it is going to be the headline tomorrow. Whatever is being given to us is coming from us.. okay its donor because I don’t want to look radical. But whether there is accountability or not unfortunately I don’t know. The reason being, where I work, we do not receive donor funding. I have no access to government books. But we can go and look for the figures and sponsor another discussion forum with News Diggers, and if we discover that there was lack accountability, you will see how I will talk because I am not accountable to anybody.
Engwase Mwale expresses concern with EAZ’s position.
I believe that Economic Association of Zambia (EAZ) still has a lot of work to do in his country because the issue of ensuring that institutions of accountability, institutions that must provide the checks and balances to government; I think the need for strengthening and re-engineering these institutions is something that is very credible. One wonders as to whether we are in the same country, we read the same auditor general’s report, which year in year out raises serious accountability issues, misappropriation, misapplication. I think we need to come to a realisation that once we acknowledge a problem [or] a challenge as a country and we can collectively begin to look at it with analytical eyes and that will be one step for all of us to begin to resolve that. So the accountability challenges are there.
NGOCC highlights accountability challenges
Coming from a civil society perspective, US$1 million for each unit of fire tenders, I’m just giving live examples that are in the public domain, even if one is not an economist, I think that is one area that already we need to begin to question our accountability aspects. US$250 thousand for an ambulance that can actually be procured at US$50 thousand or so. We can still be able to bury our heads in the sand that Zambia does not have accountability issues? We heard recently what happened at the medical stores, in the public domain and we saw the withdrawal of donor aid, we can still be able to say we are not sure if we have accountability issues? We’ve seen suspensions and dismissals in the recent past from our government, the officers that we put in place to take charge of our aspirations as citizens, we can still doubt our accountability aspect? I think we need to be real, we need to be genuine as we engage and we need to ensure that we share information that will get all of us to ask the right question, to engage in the more professional way. And we always said that a problem once acknowledged, it’s a step towards resolving it. It is pointless in letting our government to do business as usual. We know that public expenditure is what is letting us into this debt issue. And that is why we hear a lot of donor aid coming in as project support, to precisely deal with some of the gaps that are not being addressed by our general economic development.
Donor aid is not just about the direct budget support, it is all the other assistance that comes into the country be it through government, through civil societies or non state actors and also through the private sector. So it’s important that we begin to articulate mechanisms of how any donor aid can come in and begin to benefit our development discourse. So it’s important even as we engage in this discourse to say ‘yes we may not need donor support or donor aid going forward but at the end, how are we utilising the 2.4 per cent or three per cent that we are getting will be put to its good use.
Laura Miti: Public resources going into private pockets.
I think that our problem as a country is about total budget allocations and our sources of revenue. We are asking ourselves where the money in the national purse comes from and how it is used. Yes, we can live without donor money, but the problem that we see in Zambia is not about our sources from which we mobilise revenue into the treasury. It is that there is a hole in the treasury. Given that in 2017, the FIC report told us that the country lost about K4.5 billion in the reporting period, and the 2016 auditor generals’ report told us that K538 million was lost, the 2016 again auditor general’s report on parastatal and other bodies showed that K1.2 billion was not remitted to NAPSA. ZRA announced that one mining company evaded tax to the tune of US $7.6 billion if you add penalties. That is more than the whole 2018 budget as announced which was about K71.1 billion. We have a problem with how we use our own money. If we can be so reckless with monies that come from other jurisdictions, with money from other tax payers send, what are we doing with our own taxes which no one can withdraw?
On that note, I can agree with Dr Haabazoka that maybe we don’t need donor money. But when we say we do not need donor money, we should be accountable with our own money. If today Donald Trump woke up with a tantrum and suspended donor aid to Zambia, we would have a genocide in this country. So yes, we depend on the Americans to give us this help, but the truth is, we do have this money if we plan well as a country and we are accountable with our own resources. But right now, yes we can tell the donors to go to hell, but when we tell them to go to hell, who suffers? It won’t be the people at the top, it will be the people at the bottom.
ACA wants Zambians to keep talking
We should never underestimate the importance of talking. Actions start from talking, actions start from understanding and sometimes even just the venting is important. We do have to talk before we act. One of our problems in this country right now is that the country sees itself either PF or UPND. We as citizens need to stand together and tell whoever is in power that the most important thing is to improve our lives. If we can get citizens to understand that they are voting for themselves, they are voting for their lives to be improved. If that does not change, we have people even in 2021 doing the most ridiculous thing of voting PF down the line and UPND down the line. And that is how you get some really bad leaders.
Chansa, a concerned citizen
I would have loved if the government was here because one of the things that I wanted to talk about is this aspect where the government is not being proactive but they are being reactive. For instance we you look at the amount that we retained to the British Government. The first thing that started was a tweet that came from the British High Commissioner saying that ‘the money that we give the government is being misappropriated and that there is too much corruption.’ Now after that tweet, there came that confusion. Now my question is ‘if we have retained the money, why are we doing a forensic audit if the money was intact and has been found?’ To me, i think the confidence that we are trying to give to the outside world is too questionable.
Mwenya, a concerned citizen
It baffles me because the way the minister has come out today (Wednesday October 3rd) where she is saying ‘we have given back the money is like when we were kids, if you lose something in the house and you can’t go and sleep because your father said ‘you won’t sleep until you find the money.’ So you have got no choice but to find it, this is the kind of scenario that we have. For crying out loud please we are not kids. Those guys when they give the report to the president, [it means that] they have done their homework, the money was not there. And we have seen what has happened with the kwacha the past week. We are just concerned. I voted for them and I am regretting because I can’t even defend them.
Hector, concerned citizen.
Right now there is a US$350 million project that is going on regarding the Millennium Challenge [Account], and what are the donors building? Drainages, sewer systems… Are we not embarrassed surely? We are failing to do drainage system in this country yet year in and year out the Auditor General is telling us that our tax payers’ money does not reach the intended target. Where is the problem? Is it the donors or ourselves?
Chileshe Musonda, concerned citizen.
How do we strengthen our corporate governance institutions such as the ACC, the Judiciary, the Police. I am of the view that we will reach a stage in our country where it’s very critical for us to be very objective. Actually when you interact with people in the communities, they will tell you that ‘educated people have disappointed us.’ It’s like whatever we are doing, we are doing it with a political lens. We are scared that today if I speak out PF might follow me, I may lose my job. So what do we do, how do we strengthen these institutions? I know that deep down the heart of Dr Haabazoka, he has got the answers but because he is scared to come out in the open, he can’t speak the truth here. You can even see on social media that there are these arguments between himself and other economists who don’t agree with what he says. But it’s not just him, we have reached a stage where the media has become for lack of a better term useless that we depend on African confidential to understand what is happening in our own country. Our CSOs also you listen to statements that come from Young African leader Initiative (YALI) and you ask yourself to say are these guys representing us or what?
Mwenda: vote of thanks
Us as News Diggers have changed the approach, we don’t want this fight to be the fight for the media, Zambia doesn’t belong to the media, Zambia belongs to you [and] so it makes a difference when you come and air your views. We have access to the politicians, we call them, we talk to them, but you don’t have access to them. And that is the reason why we provide a platform for you people to come to this event, engage with the people that are governing you so that you can ask your questions and hear from them. Whether you leave satisfied or not should not be the fault of News Diggers or any media organisation. So we want to see as many of you coming to our discussion forums and we will try to make them as none-political as possible. It’s unfortunate that today we did not manage to get the permanent secretaries from the government side because we really hoped that they were going to come so that you could have chance to hear from them. Otherwise, thank you very much all for coming.