TRANSPARENCY International Zambia says is it strange that President Edgar Lungu is complaining and accusing the Anti Corruption Commission of targeting his ministers when he is the one who told the Commission to investigate his corrupt ministers who were depositing unexplained sums on money in their private accounts.

On Sunday, President Lungu accused the ACC of scheming to remove him from power by targeting his hard working ministers, while failing to investigate corruptly awarded government contracts.

“So those who are fighting corruption, where are they? I have always said that the fight against corruption is anchored on politics trying to get rid of government and those who are doing well. They know where corruption is happening but they don’t even dare to go there because all they want is to get Edgar Lungu out of power,” said President Lungu during a tour of Chifuba Market in Ndola.

But in response to a press query, Monday, TIZ chapter president Reuben Lifuka expressed shock at the President’s remarks, and reminded the Head of State that he is the one who said his ministers were corrupt.

“President Lungu should be reminded that the fight against corruption is not about him or his ministers, it is about eradicating an evil which has potential to destabilise the country’s socio-economic progress. Corruption is a thief of the future of many young Zambians, it distorts the political culture of a country where those who have access to illicit wealth use this to buy their way into power. The corruption we are all fighting and abhor, is the same one that made President Lungu in 2016, out of his own volition and without any public prompting, to make a public confession that his Cabinet Ministers were involved in corruption and were acting with gross impunity,” Lifuka said.

“President Lungu at that time, informed the public that some ministers were receiving huge daily bank deposits and were additionally involved in illegally acquiring land and property. Is President Lungu now saying his Ministers have changed their ways because he largely has the same cast of leaders that he was referring to as corrupt? The corruption we are concerned about is one that deprives Zambia of vital resources when a US$17 million contract to supply health kits is awarded in a dubious manner to an individual at great risk to the country. We have not heard President Lungu ask the ACC to investigate this public procurement or even demand that the whole transaction be suspended pending investigation.”

And Lifuka said President Lungu was intimidating the Anti-Corruption Commission by insinuating that investigative wings are using the fight against graft to remove him from power.

He stated that it was unfortunate that government was in the forefront of speaking ill of its own agency, adding that these were calculated actions to intimidate the ACC in a similar manner in which the ruling party maliciously attacked the Financial Intelligence Centre.

“As Transparency International Zambia, we have read with great dismay a statement attributed to President Edgar Lungu made in Ndola where he alleges and characteriSes the noble task of the Anti-Corruption Commission in fighting to eradicate society of corruption as political. We find this statement not only unfortunate but a deliberate attempt to intimidate public servants involved in investigating and prosecuting various allegations of corruption. President Lungu is both Head of State and Head of government and he wields enormous power, in fact his pronouncements are often considered as public policy. President Lungu through the treasury funds the operations of the ACC, and it is him who appoints the board of the ACC as well as the director general subject to parliamentary ratification, which is often guaranteed as his party has the majority of seats in the house,” Lifuka said.

“Therefore, the statement made on the ACC cannot be trivialiSed, it carries a lot of weight and has the chilling effect of diminishing the independence and professionalism of the ACC. In our opinion, these are calculated actions to intimidate the ACC in a similar manner to what we witnessed when the government and the ruling party maliciously attacked the Financial Intelligence Centre for the Trends Analysis Reports it was producing which did not paint those in authority in good light. It is unacceptable that government is in the forefront of speaking ill of its own agency. The ACC needs support and not condemnation, yes the agency has its own limitations and this need to be urgently addressed but this does not warrant the remarks made by President Lungu.”

Lifuka said President Lungu’s statement was an indictment on the institution which served to lower its dignity.

“We have always underscored the fact that high profile corruption cases usually involve those who wield enormous power or are connected to those who hold the reins of power. Investigative and law enforcement agencies therefore seek protection from the law and those in leadership in order for them to successfully conduct their work. In this instance, the ACC are left on their own to defend the honour and dignity of their work- therefore if the Head of State and Head of Government expresses such low trust in the work of the ACC, why should the ordinary Zambians do so?” Lifuka wondered.

“The ACC cannot publicly defend its record and the President’s statement is an indictment on the institution and serves to lower its dignity. Is the timing of this statement deliberate knowing fully well that the Financial Intelligence Centre is about to produce its Trends Analysis Report which may implicate a number of high profile Politically Exposed Persons?”

Lifuka observed that it had been a permanent feature of government to award outrageously inflated contracts for supply of goods and services to members of the ruling party.

“President Lungu points to inflated contracts for building market shelters and wonders why the ACC has not taken keen interest. We fully agree that there is a huge problem with public procurement which unfortunately has been used for political patronage. In most instances, these inflated contracts are given to members of the ruling party and it will not come as a surprise that the contractors for the market shelters in Bwana Mkubwa Chifubu and Mpulungu, belong to the ruling party. These contracts are being implemented in constituencies under PF Members of Parliament- is the President saying his MPs were sleeping on the job and did not identify these inflated contracts?” Lifuka wondered.

“But we want to remind President Lungu that he should not only express his anger and surprise at the inflated contracts at the three markets because this has been a permanent feature of his government. There have been several instances in the past where government has awarded outrageously inflated contracts for supply of goods and services to companies and individuals who are ill qualified for the tasks except that these are members of the ruling party. We have not heard President Lungu and his cabinet condemn this action and neither have we heard him call upon the ACC to investigate how party cadres with no experience and qualifications to undertake road constructions projects, for example, have ended up with these lucrative contracts.”

Lifuka said if President Lungu was concerned with the corruption in the procurement processes, the Head of State would have prioritised measures in fighting the vice.

“For the record, as TI Zambia we did question why the Zambian Government signed a Preferential Buyer Credit Loan Agreement with China Eximbank under which the bank is availed to the government a credit facility for USD232 million and the loan proceeds are to be used in the supply, delivery, installing and commissioning of a National Digital Terrestrial Television Broadcasting system in Zambia under Phase II and Phase III of the project, inclusive of upgrading television studios and setting up provincial studios, when there was cheaper option from Multi Choice Zambia Ltd for this exercise. We requested government to provide a breakdown of the US$232 million and what it was to be used for and nothing was done, not even ACC took interest in this matter,” Lifuka said.

“Other examples include the controversial US$210 million tender for the installation of Closed-Circuit Television (CCTV) camera on the streets of Lusaka awarded to Chinese firm Zhongxing Telecom Services (ZTE) to install CCTV around Lusaka streets as part of the Public Security Safety Network Phase III project or the Safe City Project. We did not hear anything from government or indeed the ACC on this matter. And there are many more expensive public contracts which have been awarded to those connected to people in the corridors of power and yet the Head of State has said or done nothing about them. We have been consistent in calling for a reform in the public procurement system to eliminate this kind of wastage of public resources. If need ,President Lungu was concerned about this, he would have prioritized such reforms.”

Lifuka lamented that corruption was rapidly turning the country into an unmitigated disaster and that the President’s statement demonstrated a lack of seriousness in the fight against corruption.