NATIONAL Democratic Congress (NDC) president Chishimba Kambwili says Health Minister Dr Chitalu Chilufya is being unreasonable and pompous for refuting the Auditor General Interim Report on the utilisation of COVID-19 funds because the document emanated from a respected government institution.

Commenting on Dr Chilufya’s dismissal of the Interim Audit Report, which exposed a total of over K1.3 billion worth of COVID-19 funds that were misapplied, Kambwili urged Dr Chilufya not think that Zambians were “stupid” by trying to disregard the audit findings of the Auditor General.

“I want to say that I am extremely disappointed with Chilufya’s behaviour and I appeal to His Excellency, the President, to take disciplinary action against Chilufya. Chilufya must not think that the people of Zambia are stupid! If he can say that those figures, as explained by the Auditor General, are fictitious and a lie, why should a government institution lie against his Ministry? Why should a government department, like the Auditor General, give fake figures? Chilufya’s action, he has become so pompous and unreasonable! What I can advise him, let him simmer down and respect institutions of government. The mere fact that he was dubiously acquitted in that (corruption) matter does not make a clean person because that matter was not conclusive,” Kambwili said in an interview.

“Why should it be him? Because the issue of the Auditor General is an issue of a controlling officer; it is not the Minister, why should the Minister be the first one to defend the Ministry over issues with audit? The person who is supposed to defend the Ministry is the Permanent Secretary and the procedure is that they have to appear before the Public Accounts Committee to also give their side of the story in relation to what the Auditor General reported. But it is strange that the Minister can go and use COVID-19 updates to start rubbishing the Auditor General’s Report. I don’t think it is right for the Minister to do that.”

He said that Dr Chilufya was annoying Zambians more by disregarding the Auditor General’s Interim Report.

“The only thing is that Chilufya is guilty for what he has done! These are the people that are making PF look very bad in the eyes of the people of Zambia. Few individuals are making PF look bad, and Chilufya is one of them. My advice to Chilufya: don’t take the people of Zambia to be stupid! If you live in glass houses, don’t throw stones and don’t take the people of Zambia’s kindness for weakness. Chilufya, keep quiet! Don’t annoy the people of Zambia more,” Kambwili urged.

“The Auditor General’s office is a government institution mandated to check on the finances of the government. When they say: ‘this was wrong,’ the best people should do is to own up and correct the wrongs, not to come and attack the media, ‘no the figures in the media, some section of the media…’ What did he mean when he was saying, ‘some section of the media?’ Because that was reported by the Auditor General’s office. The media got the figure from the Auditor General.”

He added that Dr Chilufya was not the right person to disregard the AG report when he previously faced corruption allegations before being acquitted of the charges by the Magistrates’ Court.

“Ba Chilufya, power is sweet, but it must be checked. Power is not in perpetuity, please, for once, behave! Chilufya is one of the few Ministers that has made a lot of money from the time he became a Minister and that can be proved if you did a lifestyle on Chilufya. If you did a lifestyle audit on Chilufya, Chilufya will end up in prison! Chilufya has built a big lodge in Samfya (District); Chilufya has bought so many houses from the time he became Minister. The records are there at Ministry of Lands. So, let Chilufya not scare the people of Zambia,” said Kambwili, the former Chief Government Spokesperson and Roan PF member of parliament.

“These are the people messing up government; these are the people messing up Zambia on the international scene. How can a Minister be rubbishing the Auditor General? He knows, if he doesn’t agree with the Auditor General, why come to the general public; he should go to the Auditor General, through his Permanent Secretaries, and they should give their side of the story, not to come on the news and start rubbishing the Auditor General’s report. That is uncalled for. Chilufya should even be the last person to talk about issues of misappropriation, issue of corruption because Chilufya’s hands are foiled!”

During the weekly COVID-19 briefing, Wednesday, Dr Chilufya bemoaned the attempt by some sections of the media to blemish the fight against COVID-19 by misrepresenting audit data.

“It is at this particular juncture that I should bemoan the well-orchestrated attempt to blemish the fight against COVID-19 through misrepresentation of audit data. Our silence, as a sector, should not be misconstrued for guilt. The Ministry of Health has dedicated professionals, who have worked tirelessly and continue to work tirelessly to safeguard the country from the ravaging effects of COVID-19. And the fact that the way we are where we are today doesn’t mean it happened out of the blues, we are still fighting COVID-19 and health workers risk their lives, they are fatigued and there is a lot that we need to do for them and the least we expect are accusations of fraud. We take great exception and the right to appeal to all stakeholders to exercise restraint as renegade media and social media, renegade certain sections of the media and social media peddling falsehoods. We have seen screaming headlines, such as ‘Ministry of Health mismanages K1.3 billion.’ We have never received K1.3 billion from anywhere! You must have the money to mismanage it. So, it’s a shameful lie,” Dr Chilufya said.

“The Ministry of Health, working outside procurement guidelines, we have all the documentation, even if we are working within the public health emergency, we have ensured that we have worked within the law to ensure that emergency procurements are done and this is all meant just to protect the country from COVID-19. Drawing money from the Treasury without authority? That is incredibly shocking! The Ministry of Health or any other Ministry does not sign up on Treasury, it’s the preserve of the Ministry of Finance, and when the resources are drawn, it is with Treasury Authority. That we are fighting COVID-19 as a public health emergency then we are not following the law and all the relevant formalities are in place. These orchestrated attempts to blemish the fight against COVID-19 by not highlighting the successes of the fight against COViD-19, but just peddling falsehoods to decoy the public from the successes of the fight against COViD-19, must be frowned upon by all well-meaning citizens. The health workers out there, with their multi-sectoral partners, continue to work under very difficult circumstances, with their lives at risk and, indeed, when the saying goes: uwakwensha ubushiku, bamutasha ngabwacha (the one who drives at night is only appreciated in the morning). We need to really hold our hands and give solidarity to those colleagues, who are working at the frontlines.”

He insisted that the fraud allegations should be dismissed with the contempt they deserve.

“These screaming headlines of billions of kwacha being mismanaged must be discarded with the contempt that they deserve! And it’s important that we do not even distort the contribution that the media made to the fight against COVID-19 because the media has been partners of the government and the Ministry of Health in the dissemination of key messages to fight COVID-19, and the media have done an exceedingly good job in that state and we will not allow renegade colleagues out there to distort the good works of the media and the good intentions of the media,” said Dr Chilufya.