“A Permanent Secretary in any Ministry is at the apex of the governance system. Before Permanent Secretaries are appointed, they are scrutinised by the various security wings of government and their qualifications are ascertained at that time. So, the Honourable member for Chiengi, if she can bring information to the Secretary to the Cabinet regarding Permanent Secretaries who do not have qualifications, I think this will be very welcome. But for now, I know that all Permanent Secretaries in the line ministries are trained and have the requisite qualifications for the job they are holding,” Vice-President Inonge Wina told Parliament last week.
We are afraid that the Honourable Vice-President was feeding the National Assembly with half-truths. Either she is genuinely ignorant about the state of affairs on this matter in her government, or she deliberately chose to misinform the House, knowing that no one was going to take her to task because MPs are usually asleep when she is talking anyway.
But we survived through her question time session and we were taken aback with the confidence she had in vouching for all Permanent Secretaries in government. The least she could have said, if she wanted to be dishonest, was that ‘government has a continuous qualification assessment process, which will flush out ill-qualified Permanent Secretaries.’
The question by Chiengi FDD member of parliament Given Katuta to Honourable Wina, demanding an answer on why government had not extended the verification of civil servants’ qualifications to Permanent Secretaries was very valid and deserved a more serious response.
The answer that Madam Wina gave was more worrying because she claims that before being employed, Permanent Secretaries undergo a vigorous vetting process conducted by the government investigative wings. Ordinarily, we would have questioned the capacity of these investigative wings that the Vice-President was talking about. But that is not necessary because even when these investigative agencies inform the appointing authorities that an individual who is seeking employment has fake qualifications, they still go ahead and give them top government positions.
Dear readers, allow us to stop beating about the bush and point to one such Permanent Secretary whom we know for a fact has dubious qualifications. We are talking about Bishop Edward Chomba, the Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Water Development, Sanitation and Environmental Protection.
In April this year, a renowned university abroad reached out to us, complaining that a senior Zambian government official was denting the institution’s image by claiming that he was a graduate from there when in fact not. This was regarding Dr Bishop Chomba who, apparently, is not actually a doctor as he claims to be on the CV that he submitted to government before being appointed.
His official biography says, “Dr. Bishop Ed Chomba is a double PhD Holder from Oxford University (Trinity College) in England and Princeton University (Woodrow Wilson) USA, who practices law in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and British Isles, except Scotland, and also in the East Coat and Mid-West of USA.”
So, we took the trouble of investigating the matter. We contacted all the universities and colleges mentioned above and they all disowned him. They actually asked us to report Dr Bishop Chomba to the police in Zambia for forging their doctorate, which was never conferred on this Permanent Secretary.
One of the responses from the universities read: “We have been asked about Mr Chomba’s credentials on previous occasions. We have no record of his ever having been registered as a student at Trinity College, Oxford. I am copying this reply to my colleagues at the University’s Research Degrees Office, who will be able to confirm that he has not been awarded any doctoral degree from the University. The College does not hold this information. The digitised College records that have been checked go back to the 1930s.”
After gathering enough proof and upon being satisfied that the learned doctor was not as learned, we approached him with facts and challenged him to explain why his universities were disowning him. His answer was simply that the universities he went to could not give out information about his qualifications to a third party, especially the media. He added that his enemies were using us to destroy him.
This investigation exposed Bishop Chomba as having fake qualifications and there were only two things that were supposed to happen next. Either he was going to take us to court for libel and defamation, or the President was going to relieve him of his duties. None of the above happened. The man is still drinking ‘warta’ with the Head of State and enjoying his salary earned by false pretence. Bishop Chomba told a few of his friends to complain to us that we were being unfair on him, but he had no guts to go to court to protect his integrity, why? Because he knows the truth.
This was not a complicated investigation and the universities are still out there for anyone who wants to enquire further. And since the universities told us that they had been asked several times about Bishop Chomba’s credentials, we assumed that probably the Office of the President also contacted them before us, and they submitted a report to State House recommending that the Bishop did not have the qualifications he claimed to have. But the Head of State went ahead to appoint the man as Permanent Secretary in a cardinal Ministry that receives massive donor funding, and subsequently making him the controlling officer of government funds as well.
Why did President Lungu appoint this man knowing that he was not whom he claimed to be? This is because the job offer did not look at his qualifications, but the work he did in helping PF form government. This is the case with so many other Permanent Secretaries in this regime. Some of them are clear conmen from the streets and they know nothing about government administration.
We are not alleging that Bishop Chomba is stealing money from the Ministry; neither are we suggesting that he a lazy man. Maybe Bishop Chomba is actually very good at his work in government; maybe he is one of the best performing Permanent Secretaries. So there is still time for the ‘learned doctor’ to clear his name and regain the respect that he perhaps deserves. But until then, the fact remains that he can’t explain where he got his qualifications. If the man has no defence for the allegations that he forged his qualifications, it is in order to say that government is harbouring a suspected criminal.
Government is not like a personal farm where you can decide who must be in charge of selling onions or who must manage the irrigation of tomatoes. Public office bearers are ultimately employed by the Zambian taxpayers, and these taxpayers demand that the people who must be in charge of their affairs should possess impeccable credentials, deserving of the government position they hold.
So, listening to Vice-President Wina lie to Parliament that all Permanent Secretaries are very well qualified made us wonder whom she was trying to fool. Even if she doesn’t admit, it is a fact that the PF government is full of fraudsters and cadres who just want to get rich from cutting corrupt deals. No wonder there is confusion everywhere you look in the civil service because those who must ensure there is professionalism are the ones protecting the questionable qualifications of cadres.