Irish Ambassador to Zambia Séamus O’Grady says Irish Aid will not resume support to the social cash transfer until issues of accountability are resolved.

And Ambassador O’Grady says the high levels of poverty and inequality in Zambia are frustrating.

In an interview on the sidelines of the Irish Embassy-hosted media breakfast to commemorate 40 years of its existence in Zambia, Ambassador O’Grady said there was growing concern about accountability among donors.

“Well, unfortunately we were part of the number of donors that contributed to the social cash transfer and we stopped our support for that last year, at least for the moment. We were disappointed and yes not just in Zambia. There is a growing concern among donors around accountability. Some of this is driven by our own constituencies back at home you know there are some people who say why give money to African countries when we have needs at home, we defend that but any instance of donor funds being misappropriated and I must say that it’s not exclusively that there is just misappropriation in government, we have also given money to NGOs that has been misused,” he said.

And when asked whether Ireland planned to continue funding the social cash transfer, Ambassador O’Grady replied in the negative, saying such support would only be reintroduced once there was proper accountability.

“Not this year but hopefully in the future when some of the issues around it are resolved, I would hope so. We believed in the social cash transfer as a good program, we believed it has a big impact on poverty and I honestly believe that there were many [beneficiaries], we were disappointed but I think government were equally disappointed at what happened there you know, about the funds and probably a lesson for all of us as regards what happened. So I am hoping that the relationship will be re-established but it has to be one where we have absolute certainty that funds given for the purpose of giving to the poor people reach poor people,” he said.

Ambassador O’Grady said his country wished to continue supporting institutions like the Auditor General’s office which were trying to bring about some accountability.

“We have one of the areas we have supported for some years, the Office of the Auditor General, so I think we would like to support institutions in Zambia that are trying to ensure greater accountability because donors want to help Zambia, that’s the thing, we don’t want to punish Zambia in any way and we also know that if we stop funding, it’s the poor that suffer so it’s very important that we have full accountability for funds because the funds we give are from the Irish taxpayers, they are not the funds of the ambassador or of the government, they are Irish tax payer funds and we must get accountability,” Ambassador O’Grady.

And asked what challenges the embassy had faced in its 40 years of existence, Ambassador O’Grady said it had been hard to watch the growth of the Zambian economy slow down.

“There are challenges, the first challenge is that the Zambian economy, the growth has been uneven here. Probably, Zambia still remains very much an economy dependent on copper and I think some of the economic growth that we thought would continue from the early 2000s hasn’t continued at the rate it should have. The other area that we see, [that] we are probably frustrated by like many [others] is the continuing high levels of poverty and inequality and trying to dig down and find out what are the real reasons for this,” he said.

Ambassador O’Grady also said Zambia had a lot of work to do in order to become a full participatory democracy.

“I think also we came during the one party state system. I think we were here over the period, I still think some of the paths to being a full participative democracy, there is still some work to be done on that but we realize that Zambia is still a relatively young country, you know there are young people coming through all of the time. I think Zambia has a right future,” said Ambassador O’Grady.

And speaking at the same event, Gender Minister Elizabeth Phiri thanked the Embassy for its support.

“I am pleased to state that since the opening of the Embassy of Ireland in Lusaka, in 1980, relations between our two countries have continued to mature and strengthen. On this special day, allow me to take this opportunity to commend the Irish government for its unrelenting support to the people of the Republic of Zambia and various key sectors of the economy such as agriculture, education, health, social protection, good governance and gender,” said Phiri.

According to the Irish Embassy, it will, in celebrating 40 years, throughout 2020, bring Irish music, art, theater, sport and film to Zambia.

It will also welcome representatives of the Zambian government to Ireland for the first political consultation between the two countries.