THE Kingsley Chanda-led Zambia Revenue Authority (ZRA) commission of inquiry has heard that late Republican president Levy Mwanawasa is the one who gave the instruction for the purchase of the controversial eight ZRA scanners from China.
Both deputy secretary to the Cabinet Evans Chibiliti and former minister of Finance Situmbeko Musokotwane said Dr Mwanawasa was the one who gave the instruction for the procurement of the eight scanners from China for ZRA.
In his submission to the commission yesterday, Mr Chibiliti said the purchase of the scanners was a result of diplomatic visits at head of State level and came up after the visit of Chinese President Hu Jintao to Zambia in 2007. He said during that visit, there was a request by Zambia to China asking for a concessional loan of US$100 million which was meant for earth moving machines, irrigation projects, grain silos, water and sanitation projects and the completion of the Government complex.
In the initial plan, ZRA scanners were not there but later there was a proposal from China that the Government should drop the water and sanitation project which was to cost $20 million and the irrigation project which was to cost $7.5 million of the concessional loan to instead procure eight scanners for ZRA from Nuctech, a Chinese firm at a cost of $27 million. Mr Chibiliti said the Zambian Government accepted that decision but ZRA objected, saying the scanners would be expensive to operate and maintain. “At ZRA technical level, advice was given against the purchase of the scanners, but the political level insisted that ZRA needed the scanners.
This is when Dr Mwanawasa gave instructions to then vice-president Rupiah Banda to proceed to procure the scanners. Initially he said 10 scanners must be procured but later when he realised that there were already two in the country, he said only eight should be bought,” Mr Chibiliti said. He said the procurement of the scanners was properly authorised by Dr Mwanawasa and his vice Mr Banda. Mr Chibiliti said he was against the purchase of all the scanners and to that effect, he wrote to then minister of Finance to advise against the purchase of the scanners.
He said Zambia did not need all the eight scanners purchased from China at a go but he did not receive any response from the minister until he left the position of secretary to the treasury after which the scanners were procured. Later, former minister of Finance Situmbeko Musokotwane also stated that the purchase of the scanners was under instruction from Dr Mwanawasa who asked former president Banda to procure the said scanners.
When asked the role of Ministry of Finance in providing support services for the scanners through the hiring of cargo scan, DrMusokotwane requested commissioners that he answers that question in camera. Later, when the media was called back, commissioners grilled Dr Musokotwane on the concessioning of Zambia’s six borders to a private company, saying that was a threat to national security.
Mr Chanda said the commission did not understand why the Government decided to allow the concessioner to buy and control the pieces of land that were housing the border infrastructure in Nakonde, Kasumbalesa and six other border areas.
But Dr Musokotwane said the Government did what it did because it wanted to upgrade borders and improve employment levels in the country which was being done in many countries of the world.
Meanwhile, former Finance minister N’gandu Magande yesterday told the commission that ZRA should be allowed to operate independently. The former Finance minister said this when Mr Chanda requested Mr Magande to make a comment on the governance system of ZRA when he appeared before the commission yesterday.
Mr Chanda said from the information obtained so far from the witnesses that appeared before the commission, there was indication that serious decisions were made at ZRA following instructions from the Ministry of Finance and State House. He said ZRA made serious decisions without getting permission from the board, adding that the board was in most cases just informed of such.
But Mr Magande said there was need to appoint competent people on the board of ZRA who would be in a position to understand the operations of the commission. He said appointing people who were competent was important because such people were in a position to make correct decisions which they were able to defend if questioned.
[Times of Zambia]