Since we published a dossier on how government spent money on President Edgar Lungu’s trip to the United Nation’s in 2015, so many things have been said about our investigative report. Some have applauded our work and encouraged us to publish more, while others feel we are a bunch of desperate journalists being used by the opposition.
As News Diggers! we are hardly moved by what people call us. What matters to us is sticking to professionalism; listening to the opinions expressed by individual Zambians who feel affected by the revelations we publish; including those in government leadership. In line with that, there are a few things that we would like to say in reaction to those who are questioning our agenda for publishing the dossier on presidential trips.
We are alive to the fact that a lot of malicious people out there are using different tricks to feed journalists with fake information so that they can unwittingly scandalise innocent people in government or eminent private citizens. That is why when a whistleblower shared the information on government expenditure; we took months verifying if the documents were authentic. Our findings were that the data was indeed real.
Having verified that, we sought to get a reaction from the government in order to have an objective and balanced report. When we availed the cash-flow data to State House Press Aide Amos Chanda on February 17, 2018, his immediate reaction was that whether the document was fake or authentic, President Edgar Lungu had never gone on a dinner dance cruise in New York or indeed anywhere else on his foreign trips. He added that, “it could be some people doing that and putting the cost on government”.
Even with that reaction from State House, we did not rush to publish our report because we wanted government to take some time examining the documents and tell us if the entries were correct or false. A week later, Mr Chanda told us that he had engaged Cabinet Office on the matter, but needed more time to look through the specific entries that were revealing expenditure on luxury activities. Two weeks later, we got back to Mr Chanda on the issue and he said Cabinet had instituted investigations because some entries on the cash-flow data had been found to be either inflated or doctored. He added that the Cabinet investigation “could lead to disciplinary measures”.
At that stage, we felt it was ripe for us to go ahead and release the story on March 14, 2018, having gotten sufficient reaction from the government. To date, we remain eager to publish the findings or explanation from Cabinet Office over the expenditure on the 2015 presidential trip to New York.
Considering that the State claims that the information we published was “possibly doctored”, we would like to urge Cabinet Office to publish the accurate cash-flow data on that New York trip in the state owned Times of Zambia and Zambia Daily Mail. That is the easiest way of disqualifying the dossier that News Diggers! published. We believe that Zambians will not buy a verbal dismissal from government saying the documents were fake, because even if they were accurate, we do not expect the State to admit having spent all that money on luxury activities.
We further challenge Cabinet Office to publish an accurate breakdown of money spent on the rest of the President’s trips and the delegation list, so that when a whistleblower takes ‘doctored’ documents to News Diggers or indeed any other media house, the public will have already known the truth. The amount of money spent on a President’s trip cannot and should not be a secret, especially if the said trips are made in the interest of our country.
Those in government need to understand that the money that is at their disposal does not belong to them. Every Zambian, employed or not, pays tax. Even those who live in the remotest parts of Shang’ombo do pay taxes to the State when they go to the market to buy groceries. Therefore, a responsible government must appreciate when citizens demand accountability.
To those in the Patriotic Front who accuse us of having an agenda against the Head of State, we would like to first remind him that in our report, there is nowhere where we stated that President Lungu went to dance on a boat cruise in New York because we do not have that evidence. The fact, however, is that we have investigated and can confirm that boat cruises were organised for some selected members of the Presidential delegation that travelled to New York in 2015. That truth is hanging on the neck of Cabinet Office and killing it will not be easy.
The responsible thing for President Lungu to do in order to exonerate himself from the scandal is to act decisively on the matter and deal sternly with culprits, failure to do that will encourage Zambians to think that he sanctions such wastage of public resources.
And by the way, it is laughable to hear senior government officials accuse News Diggers of being an opposition-sponsored newspaper. We have said it before that we are not here to take PF out of government, and neither are we here to advance the agenda of UPND, NDC, FDD, NAREP, or any other political party wishing to get into power. That is why we do not hesitate to express our opinion against leaders of the opposition if they do, or say something that is contrary to good governance. When President Lungu and the PF do what we think is right, we don’t follow the opposition noise and condemn just because we are a private newspaper, we take time to appreciate and give credit where its due.
The PF has access to State intelligence, and we are certain that if they consulted the system, they will be told that there is no such conspiracy link existing between News Diggers! and any political party. We cannot be foolish to go that path, knowing very well where it leads. Our agenda is to strictly and professionally inform the people of Zambia regardless of their political inclinations. We are here to tell the truth.
What is worrying us is that the PF doesn’t see anything wrong going on in the country. They are convinced that government is performing according to the expectations of citizens; and therefore, when we observe otherwise, we are perceived as enemies who hate President Lungu. The truth is that we are simple bearers of the news that those around the Head of State are scared to tell him. Things are not okay! That’s the news. Don’t kill the messenger; deal with the message.