Thursday, April 19, 2007

Norway demands government accountability

Norway demands government accountability
By Chibaula Silwamba and George Chellah
Thursday April 19, 2007 [04:00]

WE do not want our taxpayers' funds to be stolen or abused, Norwegian Ambassador to Zambia Terje Vigtel said yesterday. And Patriotic Front (PF) president Michael Sata has accused Parliament of abusing its privileges by shielding suspected plunderers of national resources. Meanwhile, Sata wondered where President Levy Mwanawasa's fight against corruption stands amidst rampant thefts among public officials.

Commenting on the revelations of thefts and misappropriation of public funds in government ministries, departments and foreign missions, Ambassador Vigtel said his major concern was that the money Norway donated to Zambia should not be misused or stolen. "We always have to defend our Norwegian taxpayers' money that it is not misused or stolen. That is our very big concern," Ambassador Vigtel said.

He said there was a need to further strengthen institutions that fight corruption. "What I have observed is that you have institutions that are active; the Task Force on Corruption is doing a good job, the Auditor General - that office is active and Parliament is playing a role in fighting corruption," he observed. "What we want is to strengthen the institutions. We support the Auditor General's office and the Task Force on Corruption."

Ambassador Vigtel said Zambians should respect the office of the Auditor General and allow it to operate independently. "What is important is for people to respect the role of the Auditor General," he said. "In my country, the Auditor General is independent and we all have respect for the Auditor General. When they come we co-operate and allow them to do their work independently."

Ambassador Vigtel said there was need to increase capacity and competence of the office of the Auditor General. He observed that Zambia had abundant resources, which could be used for national development, but there was a lot of mismanagement. "You need to put in place systems to protect the resources. That is your biggest challenge," Ambassador Vigtel said.

However, Ambassador Vigtel observed that President Levy Mwanawasa's anti-corruption crusade had yielded some positive results. "We have seen some results, some cases are being exposed," Ambassador Vigtel said.

" There is a possibility of reducing corruption but the most important thing is to strengthen institutions to work and change the attitude of people."

And Sata has accused Parliament of abusing its privileges by shielding suspected plunderers of national resources.

"Dr Miti (Ministry of Health permanent secretary) and the Auditor General differed in public so why should the Secretary to the Cabinet's Joshua Kanganja explanations over the same transactions be held in camera? Why hold the sittings in camera as if you are discussing national security? Since when did theft become a national security issue? It's clear that Parliament wants to cover up these scandals like the K24 billion expired drugs," Sata said.

"...Parliament and State House are now conniving to protect some people."

Sata said parliamentary privileges to hold certain meetings in camera should not be abused. He said there was no justification for the Public Accounts Committee to have heard Kanganja in camera.

"Anyway, what do you expect when you have a Speaker who is protecting his job? Probably this explains why we need a better constitution to guarantee people jobs so that we reduce on such cases. One wonders why Parliament is protecting these people," Sata said.

"The money in question is our money, they are spending our money, it's not Chinese, Lebanese or MMD money, it's ours. Even the people who are dying due to lack of drugs in hospitals are our people.

Zambians need to be protected by institutions like Parliament." Sata urged Parliament not to intimidate the media particularly The Post. "Parliament is a culprit in blocking media reforms in this country. Mr. Mwanamwambwa should not even intimidate The Post. I know The Post and we differ sometimes and take each other to court but they are better than the government gazettes," Sata said.

"This Parliament has not been helpful to the governance of this country and it will be totally irrelevant."

Sata advised Public Accounts Committee (PAC) chairman Charles Milupi not to embarrass the committee. "Let him take his political inexperience elsewhere and not in the committee. Let him realize that it's the culprits he is trying to shield who are responsible for making Western Province being the way it is today," Sata said.

"Western Province is a Cinderella Province today because of those same thieves so what is he shielding? What's his constituency's (Luena) benefit when he shields people suspected to have stolen resources? I know what I am talking about, I sat on the PAC and they can go to the records see how hard we were on such scandals."

Sata said all those involved in the scandal should be investigated and brought to book. "Let Miti provide answers to all these issues.

It's now Levy in the dock because where is his zero-tolerance against corruption he has been preaching about? Levy has been saying that he was fighting corruption so where is the zero tolerance against corruption? Sata asked.

"Thank God its him in office when there are these rampant thefts by public officials. This is a serious scandal and we need answers, when where these drugs procured? Probably because of corruption you may just find that they were bought after they had already expired. It calls for serious investigations."

And United Liberal Party president Sakwiba Sikota said there was need for a thorough investigation in the K24 billion expired drug case. "Who is responsible for this loss and what would be done to whoever is responsible for this drug? We are not talking about drugs worthy K100,000, it's not something that can be just brushed off. We are talking about K24 billion here," he said.

He emphasized the need for the enactment of the Freedom of Information Bill (FoI). "People don't realise what this bill will do. With the FoI in place, institutions can get information of what things are available. There is need for transparency, anything that concerns public resources means that it's for the public," Sikota said.

"So the people who need to know about those public resources are the public. There is need for total transparency."

Sikota said the K24 billion expired drugs case needed a full disclosure and total transparency.

"What comes to mind is that K24 billion in an economy like ours is a huge amount. Every Zambian has the legitimate right to know the full extent of how it came to be. How such a huge amount of drugs will be actually left to expire and how we continue to pay for storage for something that is of no use," Sikota said.

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