We are listening attentively to the answers that the government is giving to members of the public over the exposed expenditure on President Lungu’s trip to the United Nations in 2015.
Ironically though, the explanations from State House are making us increasingly confident that the data we published on March 14, is absolutely accurate. We are sure that even those taxpayers who had some doubts in our investigative report are now certain that money was spent on luxury activities and the State is covering up illegalities.
When Mr Amos Chanda, the State House press aide, featured on the ZNBC Sunday Interview, he told viewers that it was irresponsible for us to publish the New York trip dossier despite being told that the President never went on a boat cruise.
TV host Gravazio Zulu asked if it was possible that some civil servants were stealing public resources, Mr Chanda embraced the possibility that there could be thieves within the system, but ruled out the possibility of any theft.
“I may not go as far as asserting clearly with certainly that there is no thief, but I can tell you that it is not true that there was a boat cruise… If a civil servant, misguided by political motives, decides to malign the Head of State, and says things that he did not do, when you are a newspaper and you have been told this is not true, then it’s not true. If you are insisting, provide evidence that in fact cruise ship number what was hired. Most of those entries are incorrect, but I can’t go further because there is an administrative inquiry to assertion the authenticity of that thing,” said Mr Chanda.
“It is not always that we must send police to go and pick up these journalists, but when you have been caught napping, when you have been told that this story did not happen, you can’t pride yourself in narrating events that did not happen. When you are called out like that as a newspaper, you must have the decency to retract and apologise.
We have a lot of respect for Mr Chanda’s journalism credentials – having edited one of the biggest newspapers in the country and having led the Press Association of Zambia before joining politics – but on this matter, we disagree with his news judgment. In fact, judging from the contradictions in his statements, we are sure that he also disagrees with his own conviction. The journalist in him knows that our newspaper got it right by following procedure before publishing any investigative report.
Unfortunately, Mr Chanda’s current occupation discourages him from acting like a practicing journalist, and it is expected that he will step on our toes every time we publish the unwanted truth. We will not pick a fight, or lose our respect for the State House Press Aide who is merely doing what he is paid to do. However, it is still within our right to state where we disagree with him.
Mr Chanda is correct when he says a newspaper must have the decency to retract and apologise when informed that the story they published is inaccurate. But in his own words, he says, “Most of those entries on the bank statement are incorrect, but I can’t go further because there is an administrative inquiry to assertion the authenticity of that thing.” So which part of our report should we retract, since State House admits that part of what we published is accurate? What should we apologise for?
And how come the State is only concentrating on disputing that President Lungu went on a boat cruise, leaving all the other issues raised in the report? No one has said President Lungu personally went on a boat cruise, walking tours or shopping. But the fact still remains that members of his delegation did go on a boat cruise. According to the payments made, government also spent millions on other luxury activities.
But why is there silence on the other issues raised? Is it also in dispute that President Lungu travelled with a delegation of 68 people to China? Is State House denying that PF cadres were part of the New York delegation in 2015 and the State paid for them?
We are asking because the PF cadres who were on that New York trip have now ascended in the party hierarchy, and they have joined those who are rubbishing our investigative report; knowing very well that they are culprits. Why are they not disputing that they went to America on government expense? Are these the values and morals that State House wants our newspaper to emulate – running away from responsibility?
Our morals are as upright as our professional ethics. We insist that we made a good judgment call on the news report we published. An irresponsible newspaper would not have given State House three weeks to examine the document before giving a government position. We did not deny the State an opportunity to be heard on the matter.
So it would be unfair for Mr Chanda to imagine sending police to arrest us for publishing what he thinks is partly true. We write for very intelligent readers and if our report was full of malice without any truth, they would have detected our lies by now. Zanaco would have issued a statement, refuting the data as fake. But we wrote the truth and the truth is here to stay. It cannot be erased by an arrest.
And by the way, we didn’t know that it is actually State House that sends police to go and arrest journalists sometimes, as Mr Chanda was suggesting on ZNBC, we thought the police operate independently. If they came to arrest us, we wouldn’t have known that they were acting on State House instructions, but now we know.