WHENEVER a donor country terminates aid to a poor country, the rich and the ruling elites don’t get affected. We can imagine that the warning from the Swedish government that they will cut donor aid to Zambia if scandals at the Ministry of Health persists has not moved anyone in government. They actually don’t care. But when that happens, it is the poor and vulnerable who pay the price.
Speaking during a virtual meeting last Tuesday, Ambassador Anna Maj Hultgård warned that her government’s relations with Zambia will not be able to survive if scandals continue to happen in the Ministry of Health. She said where she comes from, her government respects taxpayers’ money and her people expect that the aid that comes from Sweden reaches the intended beneficiaries in Zambia.
“We have a zero tolerance on corruption. We have systems in place with internal controls, but strong expectations of partners in terms of financial accountability. And I think the basis for this is our understanding that we respect taxpayers’ money, there is always a discussion within Parliament of our development cooperation. And any corruption matters will be discussed and addressed and in the Swedish media in general. And that is why it is in our best interest to have measures and guidelines in place. It was made very clear from our heads at SIDA headquarters that we will not be able to survive in our relationship if anything more of these kinds of major scandals would occur. I think it is very important for us to reach the poor and the most vulnerable,” said Ambassador Hultgård.
Those in government must not take this as a lone voice from Sweden. Our cooperating partners are all concerned with what is happening in Zambia. There is no donor country or agency that is not watching the developments happening in the Ministry of Health. There is no donor who can tolerate the mess that is happening in that ministry. Their money is at stake, they are worried. Whenever developments such as the recent happenings at the Ministry of Health occur, citizens expect action. Donors expect culprits to be found and punished. But we are not seeing that.
The very fact that there is not a single person arrested over the Honeybee scandal shows that we are not serious as a country in the fight against corruption and wasteful expenditure.
Let us take a moment and look at the actions and measures that President Edgar Lungu has put in place in reaction to the Ministry of Health situation. He has fired the Minister of Health and Permanent Secretary who was the controlling officer. A few other people have been moved here and there. But how has this helped in bringing the culprits to book? If the reasons for firing the top officials in the ministry was because they were involved in the scandals, why have they not been arrested?
Perpetrators of crime cannot slow down if they don’t see other wrongdoers being punished. Today you can fire one Permanent Secretary and bring in another one, but if the new one sees that the predecessor got away with merely a dismissal after embezzling millions of dollars, he too will initiate new deals where he can steal from.
These are the issues that our donors are worried about because the money that is being stolen is not little money. Today, plunderers are not stealing money to buy a house; they have bought construction companies that build houses for the government. They own hotels, hospitals, schools and manufacturing companies that supply services to the government.
Even if we brought in what we thought was a record breaking theft of Frederick Chiluba, what he stole in 10 years is today just a kickback from one Chinese contractor to one government official in PF. Today we are talking about hundreds of millions of dollars being stolen from the state coffers, with no arrests being made.
For many years now, the Office of the Auditor General has been publishing in its annual reports, millions of kwacha stolen by public servants; millions of kwacha misapplied and millions of dollars paid to contractors without any work being done. Unfortunately, these revelations and audit queries have achieved nothing other than being a treasured accumulation of government stationery.
There will be a few headlines in a few newspapers once the Auditor General’s report is out but after that, everybody moves on. Just like that, taxpayers’ money, donor aid is gone and life continues. Meanwhile, the criminals in the public service are getting fatter as they cling on power.
We have seen controlling officers summoned to Parliament, queried and rebuked for wasting public resources, but their answer is always “sorry for the irregularities, we promise to do better next time”. The following year, the Auditor General reveals double the misappropriation of funds in the same ministry and the new controlling officer throws the blame on the previous guy. The circle of plunder goes on and on without culprits being brought to book.
Not long ago, we saw videos of PF members dishing out money. One of the videos involved a Provincial minister, claiming the stacks of money they were flaunting to the public was given by President Lungu. Where is this money coming from? It’s from the same government tenders which are awarded corruptly. What a shame!