Friday, April 20, 2007

Who owes Katumbi US $7 million?

Who owes Katumbi US $7 million?
By Editor
Friday April 20, 2007 [04:00]

When it was first reported that former information minister Vernon Mwaanga had told a press briefing in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) that the Zambian government owes Moses Katumbi US $7 million, Attorney General Mumba Malila was quick to clarify that the government owes Katumbi nothing.

But from the time DRC Katanga Province governor Katumbi stated that he is actually owed US $7 million by the Zambian government for the mealie-meal or maize he supplied in 2001, there has been deafening silence from Malila in particular and the government in general.

We feel there is every need for the government to make a clarification on this matter. US $7 million is a lot of money. At the current bank rate, US $7 million is equal to K28 billion.

Katumbi says he was contracted in 2001 by the government through the Ministry of Finance and National Planning to supply mealie-meal at subsidised prices to MMD parliamentary candidates and that he has got documents to this effect. This statement has not been challenged to date. So how should Zambians interpret this silence? Does it imply consent?

Evidently, Katumbi is owed money. But the question is, who owes him? Is it the MMD or the government? And how much is Katumbi owed? Is it US $7 million or much more than that?

These are the questions that beg answers from the MMD leader Levy Mwanawasa. It cannot be denied that the MMD has in the past used state money for party activities. In fact, we hear that part of Katumbi's debt was paid off using taxpayers' money even as late as 2002.

This is why our people deserve to know who owes Katumbi. But as things stand today, it cannot be disputed that this US $7 million is an MMD debt. If this is the case, why should the taxpayer be made to pay for MMD's activities that have nothing to do with state functions?

We know that this debt has put Levy in a very precarious situation because he cannot distance himself from it, despite the fact that it was contracted by his predecessor Frederick Chiluba who had great appetite for public resources.

Since Levy advocates transparency and good governance, we expect him to summon enough courage and come out in the open to admit that the MMD owes Katumbi money and clarify how much is outstanding. He should also explain to the public why the MMD chose to use the Ministry of Finance to purchase maize or mealie-meal for its parliamentary candidates.

Levy should further tell the public whether or not he endorses this criminal behaviour of using state funds for party activities. After that, Levy should state how the MMD hopes to pay back this money. K28 billion is a lot of money and we do not see how a party that is almost bankrupt can afford to settle it.

We heard during the presidential election petition that MMD's accounts were in red. We also heard Mwaanga narrating how the MMD used some money from Zesco and Office of the President to print campaign posters and T-shirts.

Traditionally, MMD has used very little of its own money legitimately raised from unquestionable sources in their campaigns. The bulk of the money that MMD has used over the years is from questionable sources, including the government coffers.

That is why corruption will not end in this country. We see many companies and individuals from the private sector busy outdoing each other in making hefty donations to the MMD, the ruling party. These donations are not for nothing. It is great investment on the part of the donors. The benefactors expect some rewards and favours in return; rewards such as government contracts and the like.

In the long run, it is situations like these that destroy democracy. Wrong people are voted into power or office not on account of merit but just because they have the fattest wallet, they have the mealie-meal to dispose off at give-away prices.

When democracy is compromised the result is what we are seeing today; mediocre leaders. People who have something to offer in Parliament but do not have the financial muscle are often rejected or not voted for.

But people who have nothing to offer, people who do not even know how to sing Zambia's national anthem are overwhelmingly voted for because they have manipulated our poor people with a few bags of mealie-meal and some pieces of silver. And instead of contributing to national issues discussed in Parliament, these ones just warm the seats. All they know is to shout 'hear! hear!'

However, if on the other hand the MMD does not owe Katumbi, the public would expect Levy to explain how the Ministry of Finance was used to contract this debt with Katumbi's Chani Fisheries. Who signed on behalf of the ministry? Can those officials involved explain that deal?

We know this is a catch-22 for Levy. And if he is not careful, he will be consumed by the same corruption that he is fighting. MMD cannot absolve itself from the corruption that has reigned supreme in the country for many years now.

Yes, Levy did not contract this debt but he is still expected to explain since he inherited everything from Chiluba as leader of the MMD. The only way out for Levy to isolate or divorce himself from this MMD scandal is to admit and condemn it publicly. In that way, he will show and demonstrate his honesty and sincerity in fighting corruption in Zambia.

It cannot be denied that Levy has tried to do things differently on this score compared to Chiluba. If the MMD are still using public funds for their campaigns and party activities, the magnitude cannot be as colossal as we witnessed in the Chiluba regime where they could even shamelessly divert K2 billion meant for road construction to fund a party convention.

However, this compliment to Levy is not to encourage the ruling MMD to continue using national resources for their party activities in a small way. Theft is theft. It doesn't matter whether one steals K2 billion or another K100, 000. If arrested, both of them will be convicted for theft regardless of the amounts involved.

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At 5:28 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr. K and others,

Mine is not a comment bu a question. In light of these developments i.e. GRZ owing Mr. Katumbi $7 million. Where does this put our Judicary who ruled in favour of Levy in the presidential petition case ?

Is there ever a possibility of revisting some of these cases just to set the record straight?

Just thinking out aloud...


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