The Ministry of Education has suspended 80 members of staff over allegations of fraud involving undisclosed amounts of donor funded money. The exact figure is yet to be ascertained but is believed to be in millions of dollars.
Those suspended are from accounts, transports and administration departments and it is believed the number is likely to rise as forensic investigations continue.
Suspension letters were received this afternoon from the Permanent Secretary Administration and offices of the suspended staff have been locked.
Impeccable government sources close to the investigation who spoke on condition of anonymity, say that most suspended staff were signing acquittal vouchers without verifying disbursements of money from the cashiers, who it is believed were working under the express instructions of the Permanent Secretary Technical, Henry Tukombe who it is heavily suggested was the ultimate beneficiary of the scam that is said to have been going unabated for a long time. Tukombe has however not been suspended.
The United Kingdom and most Nordic countries have suspended aid to Zambia over allegations of corruption over donated money meant for social security services meant for the poor people. There are reports that German and possibly the US may follow suit.
Last week, Africa Confidential, a London based publication, reported that the fraud and corruption in the social cash donor money is nothing compared to the scandal brewing at the Zambian ministry of education.
President Edgar Lungu on 19 September fired Minister of Community Development and Social Services Emerine Kabanshi and the post master general who are at the centre of the fraud in payments for the country’s poorest families after donors froze aid.
But Africa Confidential said a bigger corruption scandal in the education ministry involving potentially tens of millions of dollars is under investigation.
It said Lungu has not commented on Africa Confidential’s reports that massive fraud has taken place in the Ministry of Education after a manipulation of the internal payments and procurements system. A government-led audit has been taking place in secret.
The row over the departmental frauds has drawn attention to the debt crisis, about which government officials are also in denial. Africa Confidential has reported that some $489 million had been set aside for debt repayment in the first half of 2018, but a government statement claimed this was false, citing $342 million as the true figure (AC Vol 59 No 18, Bonds, bills and ever bigger debts). The government figure, however, only included interest, not interest plus repayments of principal, which was the figure we used.
In June, the government promised to cut public spending and stop new borrowing. The government currently estimates its foreign debt at $9.3 billion. However, project loans with Chinese companies not included in that figure total as much as $5 billion, many of them governed by contracts that do not allow government to hold up disbursements.
After the June pledge, however, came the news of Zambia’s purchase of two military transport aircraft for over $95 million with a commercial loan. Zambia also contracted provisional loans for Israeli electronics worth $400 million.