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A damning report about the misappropriation of COVID 19 funds by Zambian government officials has been released by the Auditor- General’s office.
About $71 million is reported to have been mismanaged on a number of unexplained transactions between 1 February and 31 July, 2020, which include dubious transfers from the Zambian government’s accounts, in cash withdrawals.
The interim report highlighted an over-commitment of over 31 million U S dollars as being the highest financial irregularity in the utilisation of COVID-19 resources, according to a statement released by Ellen Chikale, the Head of Public Relations at the Auditor-General’s Office.
Questionable awarding of contracts amounting to over 18 million US dollars, were the second highest irregularity highlighted, with some suppliers said to have supplied medical supplies before signing a contract.
Auditor – General, Dick Chellah Sichembe, says the funds being over-committed, means that various medical supplies were not adequately supported by an approved budget and exceeded the entire budget for the multi-sectoral contingent plan for a period of three years.
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He indicates further, that the Ministry of Health also engaged in uncompetitive procurement through cover bidding in respect of four contracts amounting to over 476 thousand US dollars.
“Cover bidding occurs when a competitor submits bids that are intended to be unsuccessful so that another conspirator can win the contract thereby giving an unfair advantage to a specific supplier,” Sichembe explains.
During the audit process, Sichembe adds, his office interacted and communicated with controlling officers at the Ministry of Health, the Disaster Management and Mitigation Unit (DMMU) and Ministry of Finance, in order to provide an opportunity for them to clarify and take corrective action on the findings of the audits.
Citizens want perpetrators punished
According to Chikale, the Auditor-General hopes that remedial action will be taken on the issues raised in the report.
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This has vindicated stakeholders that raised concern over the management of resources, says opposition leader of the Green Party, Peter Sinkamba.
Sinkamba observes that there was no proper strategy on the management of resources from the beginning, and equally wants all who will be found wanting to be prosecuted.
These sad revelations have come at a time when the Ministry of Health has failed to pay allowances to frontliners, says Medical for Quality Healthcare in Zambia (MQHZ), Director-General, Dr Quincy Mwabu.
“We are very disappointed and strongly condemn reported abuse and misapplication of funds donated by various stakeholders for the purpose of fighting the COVID 19 pandemic… Because of the seriousness of the matter, we call for quick actions from the Anti-Corruption Commission, against all those behind this abuse,” Mwabu notes.
“We can not manage to let people abuse office and public resources for their personal benefits, when the health sector has monumental challenges,” he argues, and demands that health workers fighting COVID 19 be paid immediately, as promised to them by the health minister.
Mwabu further observes that for cooperating partners to have confidence in the Ministry of Health, once again, there’s need for all donations towards the fight against COVID 19, to be accounted for.
For Mwabu, all those involved should be relieved of their duties.