Lies have short legs; Ambassador Fergus has outrun govt lies

We would like to start by congratulating the British High Commissioner, His Excellency Fergus Cochrane-Dyet, for coming out strong to confirm that his government has effectively frozen all aid to Zambia as a result of rampant corruption, fraud and embezzlement of donor aid.

We are specifically glad that the High Commissioner refused to sweep the corruption frustrations under the diplomatic carpet, because we needed someone at that high level to confirm what we have been reporting about. There are many foreign diplomats accredited to Zambia who feel doing what the British Envoy did is disrespectful to the host country. They watch their taxpayers’ donor money stolen and misused by officials at Ministry of Water Development, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Education; but they stay mute.

Even when we report the truth that donor money is being squandered, our distinguished diplomats do not want to agree with us; they would rather deal with the matters away from the press. But that is exactly what this PF regime wants. They want you, the diplomats, to help them clean the mess when they steal. So, when you remain quiet, you give them confidence to rubbish anything we publish.

In the eyes of this PF government, there is no private media house that reports the truth about corruption; we are all liars. Whatever we expose is regarded malicious and sensational. We reported the theft of drugs at Medical Stores, and we were dismissed with an aggressive rebuttal from the Ministry of Health for ‘misleading the public’; until the Global Fund itself came out to confirm the theft with a demand for a US$1 million refund.

Just look at how the Chief Government’s Spokesperson madam Dora Siliya rubbished the Africa Confidential report, which we extensively quoted and re-published. Honourable Siliya said there was no donor aid that had been frozen, adding that the British support through DFID was intact and still coming through. Citizens were made to believe the Minister, while condemning us, together with our Africa Confidential colleagues, as professional misfits who were bent on alarming the nation with false reports.

Dear readers and foreign diplomats accredited to this country, our government leaders have been caught pants down on their lies – not by the Africa Confidential report or by the News Diggers
’ story – but by the British High Commissioner. The UK Envoy has shown us that, indeed, lies have short legs. If he had opted to stay quiet on this matter, Honourable Siliya would have gotten away with a lie and there was not going to be any statement from President Edgar Lungu. Now, they are scampering in all directions like rats under a burning shrub, but there is nowhere to hide.

It only took one well-crafted tweet from the British High Commissioner to say, “Yes, this media report is correct that we have frozen all British aid to Zambia because we do not tolerate fraud and corruption”. In a fruitless attempt to put out the fire, President Lungu issued one of the most desperate press statements ever and followed it up with the dismissal of Minister Emerine Kabanshi.

“Four months ago, I ordered an administrative inquiry into suspected misuse of the Social Cash Transfer funds. I regret that a comprehensive report was only submitted to my office on 14th September, 2018. I have given Secretary to the Cabinet Dr. Roland Msiska one week to take decisive action to curb all malpractices in the administration of the Social Cash Transfer programme,” said President Lungu.

“I have further directed that the Minister of Community Development and Social Services, Hon. Emerine Kabanshi, along with the Minister of Finance Hon. Margaret Mwanakatwe, must continue with their engagements with donors to assure them of the remedial measures government has been undertaking since suspected cases of misuse surfaced earlier this year. Following my dissatisfaction with the pace of the ongoing administrative measures, I have directed for quicker forensic audits by the Auditor-General and other relevant government internal audit systems. We need to get to the bottom of this for the benefit of our people.”

How can a Head of State say that, ‘I have instructed the ministers to engage the donors and give them assurance that we are taking measures?’ Why send ministers and not him as Head of State engaging with the donors? Clearly, this is a statement from the President confirming that he doesn’t care about fighting corruption and he doesn’t value donor support.

In our opinion, it is not by mistake that President Lungu is directing the Secretary to the Cabinet to take preventive measures, instead of directing the police and ACC to arrest the culprits who were named by the Auditor General in this fraud case. The Head of State is shielding criminals because he shares common traits with them; they belong to one club. Firing Kabanshi or the Post Master does not prove anything; we want to see prosecutions in court so that the donors can know who else benefited from this theft. Don’t leave us speculating why you fired these people.

And Mr Lungu, sir, the reason you are seeing that theft report now after requesting for it four months ago is because no one believes that you can fight corruption. You are in the forefront calling for evidence of theft, but whoever does so risks their job. This is what you did to the Financial Intelligence Centre, your own government institution. You lambasted the FIC boss Mary Tshuma and unleashed criminals to hound her out of office, simply for telling you how money was being stolen and stashed away. As things stand right now, we wonder if the FIC will release a trends report next year.

Doesn’t it make President Lungu feel stupid to realize that the Auditor General’s office reported this fraud directly to the donors a year ago, and left him in the dark until last week? He must ask himself, “why?” And the simple answer is, because of the animosity that his administration, especially State House, shows towards oversight institutions.

It is too soon for us to forget how this regime treated former Auditor General Ron Mwambwa who had to resign after suffering endless humiliation at the hands of high-ranking government officials. Mwambwa found it very difficult to do his job without interference. We recall instances where even the Solicitor General would criticize the Auditor General during parliamentary committee hearing. We recall instances when government officials and the Patriotic Front leadership would rubbish his reports as highly sensational meant to excite the public.

So, Your Excellency, sit down! There is nothing you are talking about with regards to the office of the Auditor General speeding up its audits. You don’t have any respect or interest for that office. If you had, you would have already appointed a new substantive Auditor General and have him or her ratified quickly so that he/she gets down to work.

The office of the Auditor General operates with a substantial amount of donor aid because cooperating partners depend on it to know how their money is spent in Zambia. Right now, President Lungu has kept the institution headless, and he will be expressing shock when he hears that donors have frozen aid to the AG’s office. Is that a President who is fighting corruption or fighting for corruption?

In our view, expecting President Lungu to fight corruption is like asking a coffin-maker to pray for a dying patient. He will do it to please the relatives, but his honest prayer will never be heard in public.

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