Our brave warriors in Eastern Province who specialise in hunting underground game meat will tell you that when you are about to pull the tail, the jacked-up rodents burst out at explosive speed in an attempt to avoid capture. At this stage, the mouse is in a state of panic and in its confused state, it may end up running right into the feet of the salivating huntsman.
This is the panic we are seeing in our brothers and sisters working in Non Governmental Organisations that have been cited for fraud. Instead of exonerating themselves, FODEP, YALI, SACCORD and others are throwing statements which may implicate them further, and annoy the public in the long run.
We have heard the leadership in YALI claiming that some malicious people are orchestrating an evil campaign against their organisation. But which people? The donors? We don’t think so. We have also heard those in charge of FODEP demanding that they are availed the preliminary audit report that found them wanting. But is this not the same strategy that the Ndambo Ndambo-led ZNFU executive used before they rubbished the findings that were availed to them?
We would like to express our displeasure in the arrogance exhibited so far by the accused. We would like to remind our affected civil society institutions that this matter is of great public interest, and as such, Zambians have every right to demand answers from those who have been reported to police for committing crimes.
We understand that some people have made speculative comments and malicious statements against the accused; but all these deserve to be respected as concerned citizens who are rightfully expressing their displeasure. There is no need to throw back shade at them.
We say this because we strongly believe that there is merit in the claims that have been raised by the donors. We don’t see how the entire British Council could report such a claim to the police without conducting a thorough, forensic audit of the recipients’ accounts. There is serious smoke here and it’s just a matter of time before the fire becomes visible.
In fact, it is not UKAid alone which is staggering from plunder. It is just that the British Council has refused to abort; otherwise many donors who provide aid to the Zambian government and civil society, have been impregnated with fraud. Ask USAID, DFID, GiZ, JAICA, SIDA, MCA and many other donors, if they are satisfied with how their finances are expended, they will tell you many stories about how frustrating it is to help the poor in Zambia. Money meant for water projects is spent on advancing political programmes. When the donors ask, they are told to leave the country if they want. Some of these cases are simply kept away from the police and the media to avoid diplomatic incidences.
What we are trying to say is that there is no single recipient of donor money who can claim to be squeaky-clean in Zambia. Some are just good at covering up their theft, while others simply go unpunished. We live in a crazy world where unfortunate thieves go to prison, lucky ones get rich, and experienced ones ascend to powerful political positions and rule the victims.
But going back to the Zambian NGOs that have been cited for fraud. Our view is that, much as we have the right to demand answers, we must not sentence them before according them an opportunity to face trial. We must show magnanimity by declaring them innocent, at least, until proven guilty. However, to demand this indulgence from the public, a few things have to be done.
We do not believe that everyone in the Forum for Democratic Process is a thief. It is also not possible that all employees under the Young African Leaders Initiative could have convened a meeting to discuss how they were going to embezzle donor money. In the same vein, the Southern African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes is a big organisation with many employees, a majority of whom have no access to finances. These cannot be punished or condemned along with those who are guilty.
Therefore, it is only in order for those in charge of finances at the affected NGOs, together with their top leaders to step aside and pave way for investigations. This will allow the investigative wings to professionally find the culprits among the innocent and bring them to justice. These are the people who must be named and shamed, not the entire organisations.
This is not to suggest that they are guilty, but they have to show the public that they are not immune to accountability. If they are innocent, they shouldn’t worry, but demonstrate that they lead organisations which are transparent. Once the erring officers have been identified and arrested, then they can proudly go back to their positions to continue providing checks and balances to our highly corrupt government.
For now, however, we demand that new credible voices take up leadership positions of these NGOs so that we do not kill the already weakened civil society voice in our country.
In the absence of that, there is nothing that the public will hear from YALI, FODEP or SACCORD. At the moment, these organisations have been brought into disrepute and no matter how much they speak against President Edgar Lungu and his government; Zambians will be hearing deceit and hypocrisy.
If they choose to stay in their positions at the height of this scandal, they must also accept insults from citizens whom they will be poisoning with bad breath every time they speak.