Transparency International Zambia (TIZ) has condemned First lady Esther Lungu’s trip to the United States of America, where she travelled with a 24-member delegation to go and receive a donation of four fire trucks.

In a statement, TIZ executive director Wesley Chibamba said the trip was a waste of public resources, as the fire trucks could easily have been received by Zambia’s Ambassador to the United States, Dr. Ngosa Simbyakula.

“Transparency International Zambia wishes to advise the Zambian government to avoid wasteful expenditure of public resources, especially that which is done legally because it attracts no sanctions. Legal wastage of public resources includes undertaking unnecessary trips as a way as carrying unnecessary huge delegations on such and other trips, people with no bearing whatsoever on the purpose of the trip. The story carried in News Diggers! tabloid about the: “Committee to receive four fire trucks for the Republic of Zambia” makes very sad reading for any concerned Zambian. If the story is anything to go by, then we wish to condemn in the strongest sense this irresponsibility by the government towards public resource management,” Chibamba stated.

“Honestly, how does the whole lot of a First Lady set out to go and receive a donation in the United States? Where is the Zambian envoy to the United States? Even in the worst scenario where this becomes permissible, a 25-man delegation? And receiving a donation for 15 days? How does that work? And all this happening when there are ‘austerity measures’ in place? Clearly, it seems our ‘austerity measures’ do not apply to a selected few Zambians.”

He said despite the rise in wasteful expenditure of public resources as revealed by successive Auditor General’s reports, government has continued spending recklessly on trips.

“According to the Auditor General’s reports, wasteful expenditure increased by 219 per cent between 2016 and 2017, from K3,587,000 in 2016 to K7,865,000 in 2017. Ordinarily, this should have been a red flag and a point of concern for the government where efforts should be focused to reduce wasteful expenditure. But as if to spite the tax payers, that is when authorities are authorising such trips as Mrs Esther Lungu carrying 25 people to go and receive a donation for 15 days. As an organisation, we have been categorical on these trips and not so long ago we had requested that the Auditor General undertakes a special audit of the presidential-related travels and the associated imprest and other resources allocated. We are still maintaining that call to the office of the Auditor General. We believe public resources should not go to waste for political patronage or to please political cadres who have no business associates to these trips,” Chibamba said.

“TIZ has always advised government against spending lavishly at the expense of the Zambian people. To put it bluntly, this trip was unnecessary. A receiving ceremony could have been held in Zambia with the American Ambassador in attendance. Or the Zambian Ambassador to United States could have received the said donation. The delegation being carried is bloated. 25 people to receive four fire trucks over a period of 15 days, as if Zambia has not had enough fire truck scandals. Even if the subject trip may be legal, it is still a wastage of public resources. Zambia is a poor country with a lot of competing interests. These funds could have been channelled towards more urgent national needs.”

He advised President Lungu to provide leadership and stop the reckless expenditure of public resources.

“We further appeal to the Republican President Mr Edgar Chagwa Lungu to provide leadership and ensure that effected austerity measures are actually implemented and respected by all. He should be the first to condemn such wanton mismanagement of public resources. We believe fiscal discipline and prudent financial stewardship should start with the President and this includes those who act in his capacity, including the First Lady. As a woman that, like her husband, ought to demonstrate the same level of fiscal discipline expected of him,” stated Chibamba.