By Butler Sitali (ERB director at time on inquiry).
I have for a long time restrained myself from commenting on the Commission of Inquiry which was instituted to inquire into allegations of corruption in the procurement of fuel by the Energy Regulation Board (ERB). In view of the comments attributed to Mr Wynter Kabimba SC who chaired that Commission of Inquiry , and others who have called for the publication or release of the Report of the Commission of Inquiry , I feel it is now opportune for me to comment on the matter , and add my voice to those calling for the release of the Commission’s report .
As the person who was heading the ERB at the time of the Kabimba led Inquiry, I find it strange that public resources could be spent on such an undertaking, only to keep the resulting report ‘secret’. Equally troubling were the deliberate drip-drip leakages of the portions of the Report to some media houses in which some government officials, who were not given the opportunity to see the Report, were accused of corruption in the procurement of fuel. These accusations and insinuations have persisted, with the latest coming in the wake of the recent fuel shortage.
Clearly, unless the Report is made public it would seem that those who were privileged enough to have authored or seen the Report might continue making all manner of accusations against some innocent people. It is therefore only fair and just that the Report is made public so that the public can read for themselves and arrive at whatever conclusion that they may.
Without prejudicing the findings in the Report, it is important to remember that in the euphoria that characterized the PF triumph in 2011, two of the six members of the Commission, namely Mr Charles Mushota and Mr Hang’omba Hang’omba, were Mr Kabimba’s brothers- in- law while another member was the CEO of an entity regulated by the ERB – a situation which presented a serious conflict of interest. Further, some ‘witnesses’ gave their statements on oath while others did not – it would be interesting to see whether the Commission attached similar weight to statements on oath and those given without being sworn. At the hearing, the Management team which I led was denied an opportunity to make a statement or make any presentation – we were curtly told by Mr Kabimba that we were there to just answer questions which would be put to us by the Commission members. A very unusual way of proceeding, if you ask me. But then it is said that before a court of foxes, chickens cannot expect a fair hearing? After all, our law said that the Commission was free to determine its own procedure.
When constituting the Commission of Inquiry, then President Michael Sata (MHSRIP), had announced that the Report of the Commission of Inquiry into the ERB would be made public. During the Report hand over ceremony at State House , President Sata, surprised everyone when he described the Report which had just been handed to him as too technical – without having read it ! This necessitated the constitution of a Technical Team which was tasked to study the Report and produce a Report on the Report. That was the last we heard of the Report of the Commission of Inquiry into the ERB.
Given the hullabaloo with which President Sata set up the ERB Commission of Inquiry , which was preceded by the dissolution of the ERB Board, the lack of proper closure on this , and possibly other Commissions of Inquiry has been a depressing, if not typically anti-climax.
It is underwhelming that it had to take a fuel shortage for Zambians to remember that there had been a Commission of Inquiry on the ERB and procurement of fuel whose findings have never been made public.
I share some of the views expressed by those who, in the wake of the recent fuel shortage, have commented on the current fuel procurement method and particularly that Government should not be the one procuring fuel – the current arrangement where Government is the one buying fuel was meant to be a short term stop-gap measure following the sudden pull out of Total from Indeni. It seems what was supposed to be a stop- gap measure has turned into a permanent mandate for the Department of Energy.
While ironic, it is very encouraging that having been a member of the PF’s ‘A’ team which saw no need to make the Report public for almost 4 years, Mr Kabimba is now calling for the Report of the ERB Commission of Inquiry to be made public. The transparency demonstrated by President Edgar Lungu on the Report touching on Justices Katanekwa and Sukuntu is in sharp contrast to what Zambians had become accustomed to – and gives hope that the Reports of several other Commissions of Inquiry, including the one on the ERB, which were instituted under the late President Sata, might see the light of day.
Depending on the contents of the Report, and provided we rid ourselves of the party politics which so often render us irrational, the Report could present an opportunity for an honest discussion on this very important matter . Like it or not, fuel imports are perhaps the greatest challenge facing our economy. But if we have the will, we will find a way of dealing with this challenge. So let us make that Report public.
Captain Butler A Sitali (rtd)
The Author was the Executive Director and CEO of the Energy Regulation Board at the time of the Wynter Kabimba chaired Commission of Inquiry into allegations of corruption in the procurement of fuel by the Energy Regulation Board in 2011