A RELUCTANT finance minister Bwalya Ng’andu has signed off the release of K450 millionK450 million government special funding towards the coronavirus intervention.
But sources say there is heightened discontent among Cabinet ministers who feel COVID-19 has become a cash-cow for presidential aspirant Dr Chitalu Chilufya and lining up pockets of PF-aligned ‘tenderpreneurs.’
Cabinet sources say it seems President Edgar Lungu has a parallel team of medical experts who are detailing him exactly what is happening and that there is consensus that Zambia is not hard-hit by the pandemic.
“Hence the President is talking about a new normal; that let’s accept COVID-19 as we have accepted malaria, TB, HIV/AIDS, among other diseases. That let’s see how to live and do things in the presence of the coronavirus because if we don’t, everything will grind to a halt – the economy will choke unnecessarily,” sources said.
“Now the President’s position is unsettling Dr Chilufya and his cartel. He (Dr Chilufya) wants to do mass-testing in other provinces when there’s no need. What is required is targeted interventions and not cross-country interventions. But that’s how he wants to justify gigantic funding.”
Sources said Dr Chilufya invokes the President’s name in all manner during his briefings to shut up “all others”.
“Following intense Council of Ministers meetings chaired by Vice-President Inonge Wina, a huge funding package towards the corona intervention was tabled. But the finance minister argued his point, raised serious issues of transparency and accountability. Finally, ministers agreed to a reduced figure, for now, of K450 million,” sources said. “But there’s serious fear that we are using this pandemic to plunder national resources because the bulky of the money will be going to cadres. There’s fear of plunder of COVID money at Ministry of Health with Dr Chitalu Chilufya controlling the procurement process. And so far contracts for supply of medical materials, including test kits, have been awarded to known PF cadres and those aligned, first among them Kennedy Kamba and Anthony Mumba.”
The sources questioned about the pricing and quality of the items to be supplied by such individuals, especially that Medical Stores Limited is not involved in process.
“Now with the world in lockdown, where are these going to get these kits? What about the quality of those medical supplies? Was there a tender floated/advertisement towards such? The worry is some donated items can come back as supplied materials by these questionable suppliers,” sources said.
“The Anti-Corruption Commission and Auditor General should take interest on what’s going on at the Ministry of Health before it’s too late so that corrective measures can be taken.”
The ACC already has an open docket on Dr Chilufya over corruption allegations unrelated to COVID-19 matters.
They said the concern is that the Ministry of Health under the leadership of Dr Chilufya “is now using COVID-19 pandemic to enrich companies connected to known PF cadres and sympathisers”.
“Above all, the minister is using the pandemic to pursue his political interests. He has become… he’s using a lot, the President’s name to intimidate those with genuine questions about the way things are going on. He has no respect even for the Vice-President. He has amassed a lot and most of Cabinet ministers, including provincial ministers now are being made to be his parrots on a number of issues,” the sources said. “Recently, finance minister and Dr Chilufya, during a virtual Council of Ministers conference meeting chaired by the Vice-President, exchanged very harsh words. Dr Ng’andu was very categorical that there’s need for accountability on resources for this COVID-19, both donated by well-wishers and foreign institutions/partners, and resources from the treasury. He urged for proper accounting for some US $100,000 from some international bank so that when called upon…there won’t be problems. He also questioned the budget that came from the Ministry of Health stressing that there was no justification – so bulky of that was thrown out. Hence only K450 million was approved on condition that there should be a team to critically analyse its utilisation.”
Sources said at that point, Dr Chilufya attempted to correct Dr Ng’andu – that he didn’t have correct information because there was no such money from a donor and asked for an apology.
During the heated exchange, Dr Ng’andu remarked: “That’s being very childish. An apology for what? No! I was talking to the donor just yesterday….”
“It was very tense. It took the Minister of National Guidance (Reverend Godfridah Sumaili) to intervene to calm the situation. But there’s a general feeling that there’s no accountability in the Ministry of Health concerning resources coming from donors and the government,” the sources said.
“You see COVID has become a cash-cow. They’ll start scaring everyone. They want to confuse people with cumulative numbers but what about the recovery rate? They want to use the opportunity to plunder. In the Cabinet circles the term is COVID PLUNDER! There’s heightened discontent among Cabinet ministers… The President is watching, watching the space. Dr Chilufya is frequently using the President’s name to shut up all others as COVID-19 is giving him unrestricted publicity. This pandemic is a blessing in disguise – he’s over-playing it. Only Dr Bwalya Ng’andu has the guts to raise issues of accountability, the rest are parroting Dr Chilufya!”
They said President Lungu feels there is need to open up the economy but cautiously, after analysing the case record for Zambia.
Sources noted that from the first two cases (a couple that travelled to France) and “Pakistan Group”, the bulky of cases involved medical personnel.
“Even the deaths, four recorded so far, all had underlying issues. There are very few numbers from the communities,” said sources.
When contacted, Kamba, the Lusaka Province PF secretary, dispelled assertions that he has been awarded a contract to supply medical equipment for the coronavirus.
However, he wondered why he should not be awarded a contract since he is a businessman.
“There is not aorta of truth in assertions that my company was to supply medical supplies for COVID-19 to the Ministry of Heath,” Kamba stressed.
He challenged those peddling the ‘lie’ to name the company and what he was scheduled to supply.
“I am not aware about that, what is the name of the company? Maybe I don’t know, let them give me that information. Ask them what is the name of the company that has been awarded to supply,” said Kamba. “They cannot just be alleging without mentioning the name of the company that I am using. There is nothing, there is just insinuations, nibukachepa ubo (that’s gossip), unless if they have information, then avail it to me…the name of the company, what am I supplying otherwise I don’t know anything about that. Let them give you the correct information, not bukachepa as if they are provoking someone. That is provocative and if there is tangible information let them bring it on the table. And even if that is the true, bushe abalecita supply ni Kamba eka [is it only Kamba supplying]? Even if it’s true, Kamba cannot do business with the government? Those are provocative statements, unless they have information let them give the members of public the information and the members of public will judge. What is wrong with Kamba being given a job if there is any job of any business.”
And Mumba, the Kantanshi Independent member of parliament, when called initially said he’s in a meeting finance minister.
Later he called back and said he was not aware of any contract.
“Me, I am not aware of any contract for…are you referring to my brother’s company or what? My company, stating that a contract has been awarded, what medical equipment?” Mumba asked. “Can you get more details and communicate with me because I am not aware. Which medical equipment are these? No, I am not aware. Maybe you are referring to my brother’s company.”
Asked if his brother had tendered for supply of medical materials, Mumba responded in the affirmative, “yes.”
Mumba however said it would not be difficult for one to supply the said medical materials because they are products that are locally produced.
“It depends, there are products that are local, manufuctured locally and that’s why I am pretty interested if you tell me what products they are. Face masks can be made locally, if you look at fumigation which was being done two weeks ago, those are products you can find at Livestock Zambia so some products are local,” said Mumba. “And perhaps from the business point, if we get the business and if Zambians are the ones getting these businesses, then it’s good for Zambia. The beauty about that is that the money will remain in Zambia. If you look at all the government projects, if you look even today the indebtedness, if you talk about domestic debt, it’s foreign companies that came to bid in Zambia because of the way our ZPPA Act is structured…the ZPPA Act was introduced in the early 80s when IMF and World Bank were doing programmes for us and we adopted that. We are not a manufacturing country, we are basically a trading country and depend on imports and that’s why your question is important because when the world shut down then how are you trading?”