British envoy to Zambia blasts govt over graft in leaving speech

2019-08-27 19:37


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Britain's outgoing ambassador to Zambia on Tuesday denounced "rampant corruption" in the southern African nation and said donors were right to slash aid.

In an usually outspoken diplomatic address, Fergus Cochrane-Dyet said reports of fraud within the government had caused international donors and foreign companies to "withhold aid and investment".

"Corruption kills as surely as any gun, depriving Zambians of life-saving government resources, water-preserving forest, intentionally renowned wildlife and jobs that foreign companies would otherwise provide," Cochrane-Dyet said during a leaving speech at his residence in the capital Lusaka.

Zambians have grown increasingly disaffected with President Edgar Lungu's government, which has faced several graft scandals since he came to power in 2015.

Evidence of embezzlement has included the alleged state purchase of 42 firetrucks said to cost $1 million (900 000 euros) each.

Anti-graft activists also accuse ministers of using public money to fund lavish lifestyles, with some ministers owning up to 40 homes while most Zambians live in poverty.

The allegations caused Foreign Minister Harry Kalaba to resign in protest last year, citing "swelling" corruption in government ranks "perpetrated by those who are expected to be the solution".

Cochrane-Dyet said he received threats of expulsion after publicly speaking out against corruption in 2018.

Britain suspended aid to Zambia last year after a mounting row with the government over the alleged misuse of social payments.

The dispute led to the arrest of former social services minister Emerine Kabanshi, whose trial is set to begin next month.

Cochrane-Dyet told reporters it was his responsibility to speak candidly, and he urged the government to declare Zambia's hunger situation an emergency in order to "unlock international humanitarian assistance".

Around 2.5 million Zambian have been hit by hunger following a drought that affected the 2018/19 farming season, according to official figures.

Zambia's information ministry responded to Cochrane-Dyet's address later on Tuesday, claiming the government would never "underplay the seriousness of corruption".

"This is one country where there are no sacred cows," permanent secretary Chanda Kasolo said in a statement, adding that anti-graft bodies were "free to investigate and prosecute anyone suspected of wrongdoing".

Kasolo also said Zambia had the capacity to deal with hunger without declaring an emergency.

The price of maize, a staple food, was capped at the weekend to cushion the impact of the drought.

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