When it was revealed that over US$4.7 million aid from international cooperating partners towards the Social Cash Transfer programme had been embezzled, government trashed the expose as fake news manufactured by malicious media and doomsayers.
But this attempt to sweep corruption and theft under the carpet backfired soon after British High Commissioner Fergus Cochrane-Dyet disclosed that, in fact, his government had frozen all bilateral aid to Zambia owing to rampant corruption and fraud in government. The British went ahead to demand a refund of their money which was misused.
This embarrassing turn around of events sent State House into panic, leading to dismissals and unprecedented suspensions of civil servants. But to recover from the shame, government connived with State controlled private media to pull a fast one on the Zambian people. Screaming headlines were concocted to attack the integrity of the British Envoy.
These media houses, with the help of public newspapers and the national broadcaster, waged a vigorous propaganda campaign alleging that the British Envoy was hallucinating about the misused aid, because the money which the British were claiming to have been embezzled, was actually sitting in an account in ZANACO bank. They openly lambasted the British High Commissioner for ‘lying’ and exhibiting undiplomatic conduct.
The narrative that was given was that, although High Commissioner Fergus was going all over Twitter talking about money from the British Department for International Development (DFID) being embezzled, there was no donor aid that was misused because the “little” British contribution to the Social Cash Transfer programme was untouched and still in the bank.
State House and the Ministry of Information even went ahead to hold a press conference at which they announced that government had easily given back the British their money because it had not even been disbursed to the vulnerable recipients. This painted a bad picture of High Commissioner Fergus, as he was portrayed as a greedy envoy who did not want British aid to help the poor people of Zambia. They tried to paint him as someone who didn’t know what he was talking about.
As things stand today, the government of the Republic of Zambia has almost succeeded in convincing its citizens that the money which came from the British government, and was reportedly plundered, has been paid back in full. This is how foolish our government leaders think Zambians are. They don’t treat citizens like discerning human beings capable distinguishing the truth from misinformation.
Dear readers, the government has been lying about this refund. We know that many astute citizens already figured this out, but we want to correct the deception to those few who may find the facts around this matter a little confusing.
There are two cases here which the government has deliberately been mixing up in order to confuse citizens. Zambia received US$4.7 million from the various cooperating partners, including British, which was disbursed under the Social Cash Transfer programme in 2017. This money was channeled to ZAMPOST, the agency that government had subcontracted to distribute the funds to the vulnerable citizens across the country.
But after discovering that this aid was not reaching the intended beneficiaries, the donors to the Social Cash Transfer Programme, including DFID, suspended further funding and demanded a forensic audit into it’s usage. While this plunder was being investigated, the British government had a separate package of donor support towards the Social Cash Transfer Proramme in Zambia. Through the Department for International Development, Britain had sent a separate consignment of donor aid amounting to £2.7 million or about US$3.6 million. But DFID also discovered that their money which was sent for the poor has been allocated towards capital expenditure at ZAMPOST, so they also froze that account, awaiting postmortem results from the forensic audit.
According to the audit results, part of the social cash transfer money was used to buy luxury personal to holder vehicles for the managers at ZAMPOST, some of it was spent on building infrastructure while further reports suggest that some clever hands stashed some allocations into private offshore accounts. We also witnessed how part of this money was used to campaign for the President in Luapula, where cell phones and money were dished out to people.
It is at this point that the British decided to freeze all bilateral aid to Zambia until action was seen to be taken against culprits who embezzled Social Cash Transfer money. The donors collectively demanded that the misused US$4.7 million should be paid back. DFID also claimed back their £$2.7 million which was still siting in ZANACO bank, waiting to be misused.
So it is this £$2.7 million which has been easily paid back because it had not been touched yet. But the initial disbursement of US$4.7 million from DFID and other cooperating partners has not been paid back because culprits are still being identified and also the government frankly doesn’t have money.
This is the truth around this story. Money was plundered and President Edgar Lungu himself knows it. That is why he has gone on rampage terrorizing civil servants like a provoked black ant. The theft of both donor aid and government funds in this regime has reached unprecedented levels , and therefore we find it silly for anyone to condemn the British Envoy for merely saying what is already in public domain.
Instead of insulting High Commissioner Fergus, we must be thanking him for helping us point to where we must improve in our governance system. Donor aid doesn’t grow on trees, this envoy is answerable to British taxpayers for this support and he has the right to question any misuse DFID funds.
In our view, as citizens we must go further to ask questions around suspicious government expenditure under the umbrella of the ruling Patriotic Front. There is a question that we have repeatedly asked, which no one in government is willing to answer. We have seen millions of PF-branded school books and other related stationery being distributed to anyone who attends PF functions across the country. Where did the funding for this come from? No one has an answer. Was this part of donor money? We have every reason to suspect so.
What about the so-called Presidential Empowerment Fund? The Patron of this initiative Mr Chanda Kabwe has been taken to task in the past to explain where this money comes from, his bizarre answer was simply that the President donates part of his salary to empower marketeers. Uuuumm?? The same President who has given himself a salary increment had too much money from his pay to spend on donations? How does this make sense? We need honest answers. If this money is clean, and it is not from donors, let the PF publish any existing paper trail to prove that this money comes from President Lungu.