By Chris Zumani Zimba
In many countries, most citizens always welcome and support the move by their president, prime minister or king to dismiss top civil servants such as cabinet ministers or permanent secretaries on account of corruption, abuse of public office or fraud. But the latest dismissal of the Minister of Community Development and Social Welfare, Hon. Emerine Kabanshi by President Lungu over the social cash transfer corruption scandal seem not to be supported and welcomed by many critical Zambians and governance stakeholders which is both strange and unfortunate. From the lenses of political fairness, transparency and accountability, the speedy firing of Hon. Kabanshi over the British ignited social cash transfer corruption scandal fails to connect the dots of what many Zambians and Western donors expected from president Lungu as it does not answer the questions of how much public and donor money was abused, by who, when, where, on what and how.
From the expectations and comments of many Zambian political stakeholders, the first person to be suspended or dismissed was supposed to be the Permanent Secretary in the ministry as he/she is the administrative chief executive officer and not a Minister who is merely a political head. Other civil servants within the prompt suspension or firing range over this corruption scandal are departmental directors, assistant directors, finance personnel, procurement officers and other key staff in the Ministry responsible in managing the social cash transfer; that’s what the board of Zampost rightfully did-to suspend and punish the entire team of personnel that managed the funds.
Two weeks ago, the London based journal, Africa Confidential reported the UK government had suspended direct aid to Zambia due to corruption in the Ministry of Community Development and Social Welfare among other public institutions. It is alleged that millions of dollars meant to provide poorer families with direct grants (social cash transfer) were diverted and used to buy expensive vehicles and creation of shell companies, Africa Confidential adds. While the government spokesperson, Hon. Dora Siliya denied the aid freeze development, the British High Commissioner to Zambia, Fergus Cochrane-Dyet, immediately confirmed the aid freeze in a tweet, saying that the UK government has a “zero-tolerance approach to fraud & corruption”. Ireland, Finland and Sweden also confirmed their suspension of direct aid to Zambia for the same reasons.
In response and due to public outcry, President Lungu hastily ordered a quick comprehensive investigation into the matter and without delay dismissed the Minister of Community Development and Social Services, Emerine Kabanshi without clear or convincing reasons. Shockingly, many Zambian stakeholders ranging from the opposition political parties, civil society organizations, anti-corruption crusaders, good governance activists or social commentators are still cursing the president’s move instead of praising him; very strange and unfortunate for state house. Generally, it has been observed that the firing of Hon. Kabanshi was politically impulsive and lacked popular legitimacy as Zambians were not fully informed as to why one person was hastily fired while the investigations are still underway and the matter was already known by state house many months ago.
Although now rated as the ‘fastest’ anti-corruption action by President Lungu, many Zambians find the dismissal very disturbing as it seems like their government only listens to and respects the British and their government more than them as voters and citizens who have repeatedly called him to speedily act against corruption and abuse of public resources based on the auditor general or financial intelligence annual reports. While Lungu’s decision to fire his own Minister could be deemed one good step in the fight against corruption, it seems like many Zambians and donors expected the Head of State to give them a full dressed chicken and not boiled eggs or meshed vegetables.
Chris Zumani Zimba is a Political Scientist, Author, PhD Scholar, Lecturer, Researcher and Consultant