Saturday, May 16, 2009

Corruption has worsened in Rupiah’s govt – Hakainde

Corruption has worsened in Rupiah’s govt – Hakainde
Written by Chibaula Silwamba and Masuzyo Chakwe
Saturday, May 16, 2009 1:52:35 AM

UPND president Hakainde Hichilema yesterday said he misses late Levy Mwanawasa because corruption has worsened in President Rupiah Banda's government. And Transparency International Zambia (TIZ) president Rueben Lifuka has observed that political will to fight corruption in President Banda's administration is not as strong as it used to be with president Mwanawasa.

Addressing a press briefing in Lusaka, Hichilema said the MMD was inherently and endemically corrupt.

"All these changes to the public procurement Act were purely to camouflage, the intention was ultimately that will allow them to procure government [goods and services] in a corrupt manner," Hichilema said.

"If you allow a government in your country during daylight to make such changes and you are quiet, then you are an accomplice to corruption. That is why you have seen the perpetuation of scandals. I think as an opposition leader I used to criticise Levy Mwanawasa; I miss Levy Mwanawasa as I stand here today. Corruption has worsened and it has become institutionalised through various forms."

Hichilema charged that the MMD government changed the public procurement Act in preparation to run a corrupt government.

He explained that the draft public procurement bill, which was agreed upon by all stakeholders had safeguard measures to prevent corruption but the government last year changed it.

"They decided amongst the things they wanted to do; I want to show you how this government crafts a change and sometimes goes to Parliament using the arrogance of numbers to pass an Act preparing for corrupt activities. They decided to change the governing board; stakeholders had said they would want a board of nine and a third of the board members coming from the private sector - independent citizens of different professions," Hichilema said.

"The MMD decided to increase the number phenomenon and brought about a governing board consisting of the minister of finance as chairperson, four ministers appointed by the President, one of whom shall be the vice board chairperson, preparing to run a corrupt government. Only two people from the private sector and the rest are from within the government. It's a huge mistake and it went through."

Hichilema urged members of parliament to repeal the public procurement Act of 2008 and replace it with one, which would uphold acceptable standards and principles of public procurement.

Hichilema cited the RP Capital and Zamtel saga in which former communications and transport minister Dora Siliya was involved as one of cases of bad procurement process.

"It was done because of corruption; it was because of an intention to get a cut that is why it was done. I ask Dora Siliya, I ask the Vice-President [George] Kunda who protected Dora Siliya and President Rupiah Banda to pay back the US $ 2 million that they authorized the RP Capital deal," Hichilema said.

On the Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) maize, Hichilema said President Rupiah Banda suggested that Zambians reconsider GMO food because of his relatives who were involved in the deal.

"[The late president] Levy Mwanawasa and the country had agreed that we are not ready to consume GMO maize for health reasons and when this matter came, who answered to support GMO maize? It is the President [Banda]. The President said let us review the consumption of GMO maize when the maize was already in the country and he went to suggest that can we create milling companies at the borders so that we can mill the maize at the borders," Hichilema said.

"That is why I said the President comments on maters where he has personal interests and possible gain."

He also said politicians in the government had no moral right to stop corruption because they were corrupt themselves.

"Reported theft of public funds in the Ministry of Health, yesterday's Post. Thefts of public funds are becoming a daily occurrence because the civil servants are seeing what the politicians are doing at the top," Hichilema said. "The politicians have no moral right to tell civil servants not to steal because the politicians are the ones perpetuating corruption. "

And responding to a question on the fight against corruption in President Banda's administration during a press briefing on the Anti- Corruption Commission's (ACC) uncovering of a K10 billion scam involving senior Ministry of Health officials yesterday, Lifuka asked President Banda to provide political leadership in the fight against corruption.

"To some extent we have seen that it is not as strong as it used to be with the late president Levy Mwanwasa and we strongly believe President Banda has an occasion in the next three years in his leadership to essentially lead the fight against corruption and ensure that the corrupt activities being reported are dealt with correctly," Lifuka said.

"I think there are occasions for him to start, one of them being active response to what is being raised by the Auditor General. We want to see him and his administration respond to cases raised in the Auditor General's report with timely action and ensure that those that are found wanting are not allowed to continue to the public sector."

He urged President Banda to equally deal with the situation where people were giving themselves loans through unretired imprest.

Lifuka said President Banda needed to develop that discipline or inculcate the sense of discipline in the public sector.

He said President Banda was in an advantageous situation to lead the fight against corruption by using his presidency and people would be able to judge him by the stance that he would take at the end of his term of office.

Lifuka said TIZ greatly appreciated the timely action by the ACC in unearthing a scam involving over K10 billion in which officials in the ministries of health and local government were implicated.

He said the scam was symptomatic of how entrenched corruption had become in the fabric of society.

"If ever Zambia needed evidence that corruption has become systemic and endemic, the reported scam should serve as a vivid reminder. The callousness and recklessness exhibited in this scam is shocking as it is worrying," he said.

Lifuka said the mandate of the Ministry of Health was such an important one particularly that this involves saving human lives - people in desperate situations and yearning for treatment or medical help of one kind or another.

He said it was amazing and unwarranted how some public officials entrusted with the affairs of the nation embezzle even the little public resources available for national development.

Lifuka called on the ACC to thoroughly investigate this issue and ensure that it succeeds in the courts of law.

He said the culture of impunity among some public servants was worrisome, as it would seem as if some public servants had allowed the greediness of heart to steal from the poor people - some of whom were relatives of these same unscrupulous people.

Lifuka said additionally, it came as a surprise that such acts took place without the detection by senior officials like the controlling officer in the Ministry of Health.

"The sums involved are too big to go unnoticed and this clearly points to weaknesses in internal controls. The question that needs to be asked is how much more has been stolen, not just in the Ministry of Health but possibly other ministries and government agencies? It is frustrating to note that only this week, the government proudly announced the release of significant amounts of resources from the cooperating partners and yet we continue to witness scams of this magnitude which indicate that as a people, we are doing little to guard jealously public resources,' he said.

He said it seems the Auditor General's reports had little effect in curbing incidences of embezzlement of public resources and it was time that the government in particular asked itself tough questions on this inglorious state of affairs.

Lifuka said the government should not shield alleged plunderers and corrupt persons by simply moving them from one ministry to the next, as these had no place in the public sector.

"There should also be no selective approach of creating sacred cows in this fight. The rate of exposure of corrupt dealings and activities in the public sector is gradually reaching alarming proportions and it is time that the leadership did something about this," he said.

He said corruption would not be fought through mere public pronouncements and political rhetoric.

Lifuka said corruption required a firm approach.

"Any person alleged to have obtained even a one ngwee which belongs to the public, should feel the full weight of the law. We want to remind not only the government led by President Rupiah Banda but the church, the NGOs, trade unions, media, political parties, farmers, private sector, students and every Zambian - young or old - to join and help deal with this cancer - which is insidiously eating away the future of this nation," he said.

He said as TIZ, they considered the move by ACC to uncover K10 billion scam to be important and threw a challenge to the general public to remain alert and vigilant and report all suspected acts of corruption to the relevant authorities.

Lifuka said TIZ wanted to believe that this K10 billion scam involving officials from the Ministry of Health could be one of the many financial scams involving public officials holding different portfolios in government.

"Therefore, we challenge the ACC to do more to probe further in the operations of various ministries in government to ensure transparency and accountability. We also challenge President Rupiah Banda to institute a forensic audit of not only the Ministry of Health but also all other ministries that are corruption -prone," he said "His predecessor - the late president Mwanawasa did at one point take pragmatic action which included the closure of the Ministry of Lands to investigate allegations of corruption- we would to urge President Banda to equally take whatever steps necessary to get to the bottom of these scams. The time to act is now. This fight should not have sacred cows."

ACC public relations manager Timothy Moono on Wednesday disclosed that the commission had unearthed a corruption scam in which over K10 billion government funds suspected to have been corruptly obtained from the Ministry of Health.

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