A theft scandal has been unearthed in Central Province where officials are counter accusing each other of pocketing about K205,000 donated by the Chinese for the successful launch of the Jiangxi Multi Economic Zone, in November last year.

According to the News Diggers findings, Chibombo Council released about K18, 000 for services in preparation for the ground breaking ceremony at which President Edgar Lungu officiated, but on the actual day of the event, the Chinese firm paid K204, 801.87 cash to district council, money which has since disappeared.

Meanwhile, Central Province Permanent Secretary Chanda Kabwe was at pains to explain the whereabouts of the money when queried yesterday, insisting that the cash was used for it’s intended purpose, but failing to give a break down of the services paid for.

A whistleblower told News Diggers that Chibombo Council had already paid for the services in question leading to the launch of the Multi Facility Economic Zone, and wondered why the council had issued a receipt for the money which was never accounted for.

“This money was received on the same day of the event, long after the (Chibombo Council) had already released about K18,000 for the services. So when China Jiangxi said they had brought in a contribution of over K204, 000 Council Secretary Reuben Simfukwe and the Council Chairman James Ntalasha sent a junior clerk of the council to receive the money. So they didn’t use the accountant to properly receive the money, so they just issued a manual receipt acknowledging that they had received the money, but the two bosses did not surrender that money to the accounts at Chibombo Council. The clerk who received the money has also been told to keep his mouth shut, so he is not talking,” the whistleblower revealed.

“But people saw that these bosses got the money at the event, and they can’t explain where they took the money because it is believed that they pocketed it. The question is, if the money was donated to individuals and not the council, why was the receipt issued in the name of the council? You must ask the SC and his chairman to explain where they took this money. Already we have heard that Simfukwe is threatened to spearhead transfers for any staff who will be heard discussing the issue.”

According to the General manual Receipt number 1354454 dated November 20, 2018, the said Chinese firm paid the full pledged amount totalling K204, 801.87 to the local authority, money which never hit its accounts. But during the full council meeting which was held a fortnight ago, the council secretary and the chairperson defended themselves saying the money was not meant for Chibombo Council.

When contacted for a comment, Council Chairman Ntalasha pointed his fingers on the Central Province Permanent Secretary, saying Kabwe would know the whereabouts of the money because the Chibombo office surrendered the cash to the province, despite having received it on behalf of local council.

“There was not any time when the said Chinese firm donated money to the council, the money which is being referred to was donated to the province. That money was received by one of our accountants and it was handed over to the province. The province are the ones who came up with a budget which they presented to the Chinese firm and the Chinese firm in turn responded to that and the money went to the province. You can speak to the provincial permanent secretary and the provincial accountant. If they tell you that the council’s top management in Chibombo has pocketed that money, then you can come back to us,” Ntalasha said.

When asked why the provincial accountant didn’t receive the money, Ntalasha said only the Chibombo official was present.

“The way it was [is], it was supposed to be received by the province but because by the time the money was coming, it was little bit far but however just ten minutes after the money was received, the provincial accountant and the PS reached the scene and received the money. So I don’t know if in ten minutes there is any money which people can be able to share. But we understand that is politics, people are interested to defame other people’s integrity,” he explained.

“So what I expect is a complaint from the province. When the province says ‘we did not receive the money which we were supposed to receive’ then I will agree to say there is a problem, [and] not a person who was not the owner of the money, who was not involved, I don’t see where that complaint is coming from. That is the issue which is there. Otherwise you can put an inquiry, you can put an audit but the issue is as it is. The documentations are there and the province received that money.”

When asked why it was not the Chibombo District Council secretary who received the money, Ntalasha said the finance officers where out in school.

“When the money was ready, I was the one who was informed that the money is ready and I asked my council secretary to say ‘where is our district treasurer?’ I was told he is at school, ‘what about the district accountant who is acting as deputy?’ I was told he is also at school. ‘Now what are we going to do because yourself and myself cannot receive this money?’ who shall receive this money on behalf of the province?’ Then we said let us look for someone from finance, and they found one person in finance and he received,” said Ntalasha.

When contacted, Kabwe admitted that his office received the money, but struggled to give a proper trail of the transaction.

“I don’t know my sister if there was a donation of money or there was money for the service, I don’t even know which services people are saying were already paid for, I don’t know. I am sure [that] the companies that were hired to put up all the things for the event are available, they have not died. They are available for questioning if some people paid. I am sure those companies are still around within Zambia and some of them are from Lusaka. So maybe, I will tell you [that] I don’t know if there was any donation but I know that there was money for services. And I don’t know if there is anyone who is claiming that they paid for those services. I know that the money which was given for the services is what was used to put up that good event. I don’t know if other people have pocketed the money,” Chanda said.

“But maybe it will be a matter of investigation to know the truth [and] that is why when you called me, I wanted to invite you with the whistleblower who said money has been pocketed so that you can interview him and then he explains where money has been pocketed. Unless the companies which were there said we didn’t pay them [and that] we used their services but we didn’t pay. But I think the companies we invited to come and put up that infrastructure were paid. I am sure if people further want to do the investigations, my dear sister people are free to do an investigation but that thing will soon be in public domain because people come and audit the expenditure and they will come and look at all the retains and all the receipts and everyone who was involved.”

When asked which company paid the Provincial Office money and if his office issued a receipt of the money from the said company, Chanda could not comment any further, saying he was going to issue a statement after a council meeting.

“I think why I am answering is because it was to do with the province. What I will do is when I finish my management meeting, I can even issue a full detailed statement if that is what some circles want. We can do that and it can be on all public and private media, we can issue a full statement and I am sure we will walk towards that,” said Chanda.

“Of course some companies, we have not paid them because they didn’t finish putting up what we had requested them to put up. So I think their balance should be about K14, 000 or so which I know my colleague in the finance department would answer better. But what I am saying is there was no donation, there was money for the services and everyone who was engaged to provide a service to put up that successful launch were paid.”