First Lady Esther Lungu will next week lead a 25-member delegation on a two weeks visit to the United States of America where they are all going to receive four fire trucks donated to the Zambian government.

According to records obtained from State House, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is processing American Visas for 25 travellers, among them a bedroom attendant, cook, cleaner, waiter, about seven police officers, four journalists, three secretaries, two fire brigade officers, a communications officer and accountant.

This is despite the austerity measures that government, through the Minister of Finance, announced last year under which Cabinet office made a directive that non mandatory trips would never be approved.

“From now onwards permanent secretaries and below will not travel business class on any flights that are below three hours. They will all travel economy. Then there is what we call mandatory travel and discretionary travel. Mandatory travel is things like the UN, SADC, AU, the normal fixed calendar events, those will be approved. The non discretional is where people apply to say they want to go and visit this country for a study tour or something like that. So we are not approving those travels anymore. So you will see a drop in travel cost,” deputy Secretary to the Cabinet Christopher Mvunga told News Diggers in August last year.

But even though the Head of State is not part of the entourage, the First Lady is travelling to Los Angels with a President-like security, journalists and secretaries.

State House press aide Amos Chanda was unreachable for a comment and Local Government Permanent Secretary Amos Malupenga, who is also part of the huge delation, was unreachable to explain who had donated the said fire engines, but his minister Vincent Mwale said the programme had been sourced by the Office of the First Lady.

“I think the best office that was going to give you that information would be the Office of the First l=Lady, but what I know is that it’s a donation. I understand it’s a donation but because we are the beneficiaries, we are going to send our officers also to travel with the First Lady. So we are not buying the fire trucks, they are a donation. I think that the Office of the First Lady may have been the one that coordinated or solicited for this donation. I only know about it because we were written to, to second some staff who should travel and I think in that communiqué we saw that it was a donation,” Mwale said in an interview.

When asked how many officers from his ministry were travelling, Mwale said only two, as far as he knew.

“As far as I am concerned, it is the PS and one technical person just to ensure that they must understand the trucks, the specifics and things like that. So I think two people may be travelling from our side. So everything is being coordinated by her (First Lady’s) office. They are the ones that solicited, we did not solicit for them, and whoever is donating should be donating, I think because they were approached by her office. So we are only sending people because these are specific items which require expertise to check and so on and so forth. So it’s pretty much her making. This whole thing is not a local government one. She is not going in place of the ministry of local government or anything no, she is the one that is fully involved but we are only seconding people to go with her,” said Mwale.

Senior Private Secretary in the Office of the First Lady Florence Chawelwa confirmed that government was paying for the delegation, adding that security could not be compromised because it was a VVIP assignment.

“The first lady brokered support from an organisation called Los Angeles Lusaka Sister Committee. This committee was established in 1967 by Dr Kenneth Kaunda with the then mayor of Los Angeles. The partnership has been in existence for more than 50 years now and the organisation has done different projects in health, entrepreneurship education and water. So when the First Lady came into office in 2015, she was visited by one of the directors of the organisation because they have also been working with the former first ladies. So she went back and came back again last year to check on their projects and discovered the issue of our fires in the markets. So when she came for a courtesy call to the first lady, she promised the first lady that she would go back and mobilise for fire tenders so that they can be donated to the first lady,” Chawelwa explained.

The trip is being sponsored by government because these things are coming to the Government of the Republic of Zambia. And you know this trip’s sponsorship we don’t want to compromise ourselves as government for people to start sponsoring our First Ladies [because] next time you will hear that ‘no there was something happening.’ so some of the questions I think really boarder on integrity, security and so on.”

She said moving a VVIP like the First Lady needed a reasonably big delegation.

“Look we are moving a VVIP, there are issues of security and other issues which I can’t even divulge to you. So when we are moving a VVIP like you see even when presidents’ spouses like Mrs Obama and whoever has been in travel, they make sure that their VVIPs are well protected. So in terms of the delegation, I can’t even divulge into who is going with her but austerity comes from this office. So austerity has been taken care of. That I can rest assure you,” said Chawelwa.

According to State House records, the committee to receive four fire trucks for the Republic of Zambia is expected to travel on Tuesday next week and will only return to Lusaka on January 31, 2019.

Delegation list:

1. Amos Malupenga – Local Government Permanent Secretary
2. Florence Chawelwa – Senior Private Secretary
3. Agnes Imasiku – Communications officer
4. Wellington Mulambo – Chief fire officer at Ndola City Council
5. Robert Banda – Deputy chief fire officer at Lusaka City
6. Mwansa Mumba – Reporter at Zambia Daily Mail
7. Victor Mwila – Reporter at ZANIS
8. Doreen Nakapizye – Cameraperson at ZANIS
9. Thomas Nsama – Photographer at State House
10. Sandra Ngushi – Staff officer
11. Dominic Kabamba – Staff officer
12. Chimuka Chuulu – Staff officer
13. Musonda Sindazi – Staff officer
14. Lewis Mtonga – Staff officer
15. Christianity Kondolo – Staff officer
16. Christine Nakazwe – Staff officer
17. Cecilia Mwanza – Medical personnel
18. Musonda Chitunga – Cook
19. Chipo Chica – Waiter
20. Charity Chirwa – Bedroom Attendant
21. Clara Chomba – Cleaner
22. Mando Phiri – Accountant
23. Dorothy Musonda Chibwe – Personal Assistant
24. Mary Kafita Kaonde – Secretary