To many Zambians, the news item on state-run Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC) television on June 14, 2015, about the government’s intention to spend a hefty US$190 million on a fleet of motor vehicles for security wings was just that, a piece of information from the governors to the governed.
Home Affairs Minister Davis Mwila, who was quoted in the story, disclosed that the vehicles would be bought for the Zambian Police, Drug Enforcement Commission, Prisons Service and the Immigration Department.
One Facebook user, Kaluba Chilaisha, did not only do the maths but also linked the amount to a loan from China that authorities initially did not announce to the nation not too long ago. He wrote:
Just watching the evening ZNBC news and heard that government will spend $192m for 400 vehicles for security wings. The math can't be correct, $480,000 per vehicle? What type of rides are these and from where?
In a comment on the same post, Chilaisha wrote:
I mean, this is serious guys! There are reports of $192m loan which ties to this now!
Some Twitter also reacted to the story.
@muchimc1 asked the following questions:
$190m on ZP vehicles..do these vehicles refuel themselves, do they also stop crime on their own..are they automated cops?
— M U C H I . (@muchimc1) June 15, 2015
Namushi hopes the newscaster made a mistake:
I'm in shock.. I really hope that newscaster read that item wrong.. Pantu if we have borrowed $190m for 400 vehicles then we are screwed
— Guy known as Namushi (@ThaNewMe) June 15, 2015
Zambia’s leading private daily, The Post, exposed the US$192 million loan which was initially concealed, quoting a letter between the secretary to the cabinet and the secretary to the treasury:
Cabinet at its 8th meeting held on April 27, 2015 accepted the recommendation by your minister that approval be given to the contraction of a loan from Poly Technologies Incorporated of China amounting to US$192,924,047 to support the implementation of the supply, delivery, installation and commissioning of security equipment for Zambia Police Service, Immigration Department, Prisons Service and the Drug Enforcement Commission.
Interestingly, the government only disclosed a US$14 million loan procured from China to supposedly improve water and sanitation in one of Zambia’s most rural provinces, the figures of which one opposition politician, Alliance for Democracy and Development (ADD) President Charles Milupi disputed:
I am a headman and I can speak as an expert on this matter. When I was sinking a borehole for my village, I spent an equivalent of US$3,500, that included drilling, a hand pump, transportation and all. Now, when you do your arithmetic properly, you will find that this government is promising to drill 4,000 boreholes in each of the 100 villages. That’s absolutely ridiculous.
The exposure of the loan by the media angered President Edgar Lungu, who is also defence minister, ordering the police to probe the source of the information and bring the culprits to book.
It is Information and Broadcasting Minister Chishimba Kambwili who is also chief government spokesman who directly ordered the inspector general of police to probe the leakages:
I am directing the Inspector-General of Police with immediate effect to take keen interest in the leakage of this document and bring the culprits to book. Even if Government sat and discussed this loan, there is absolutely no way that it can be brought to the general public because some of these issues are of very high security concern, and there is no way Government can disclose that to the general public. And for those people either at the Ministry of Finance, the treasury or in the office of the Secretary to Cabinet who are leaking documents, we want to tell them that their days are numbered and they should not blame anybody. They should face the consequences of their action.
A reader on Lusaka Times called the way the Zambian government is run a criminal enterprise, writing:
Zambia is a full-blown criminal enterprise. This situation is politically wrong, economically unjustifiable, socially immoral and intellectually unacceptable for Zambia where the entire cabinet can borrow and keep the money for itself without telling the taxpayers. As a matter of fact, it’s cabinet that should be investigated and subsequently arrested.
Despite President Lungu and his minister, Kambwili’s order to police to probe the people who leaked the information, no one has been arrested so far.