By Nkonkomalimba Kafunda
Broadly defined Separation of powers, refers to the division of government responsibilities into distinct branches to limit any one branch from exercising the core functions of another. The intent is to prevent the concentration of power and provide for checks and balances.
It follows, therefore, that the three arms of government keep each other in check and accord each other respect, not overstepping their roles. From the foregoing, lands and natural resources minister Jean Kapata’s revelations in parliament in regard to the status of Mukula tree logs that had been confiscated from illegal loggers in or around 2017, come as a major shock to say the very least.
Ms. Kapata last week told the house that the confiscated logs had been sold by ZAFFICO and the proceeds used to revamp Kawambwa Tea Company,without the money ever going to the treasury, an illegality, a clear breach of government financial regulations. Additionally, the logs whose market value is US$2500 per tonne were sold at a paltry US$600.When quizzed by UPND MPs led by former finance minister Situmbeko Musokotwane who wanted to know why the money had not passed through treasury as stipulated by law, Kapata said it was government policy to
revamp Kawambwa Tea and as the money was not budgeted for, government took the money straight to Kawambwa. When asked by Kabompo MP Ambrose Lufoma if that was not an abrogation of financial regulations Kapata said “’I mentioned that it is government stance and as we stand today ,sir, ZAFFICO is a timber company and it is hundred percent owned by government, and the people there are Forrestors and therefore if government saw the need to revamp Kawambwa and we have money that is not budgeted for, money we confiscated from illegalities government
had the right to divert the money to revamp the ailing company, and that is what we did,’’
Probed further by Solwezi MP Teddy Kasonso Kapata said government had not made a mistake as the money had not gone missing but was used to revamp an ailing entity
On the $600 selling price rather than the $2500 market price, she flimsily replied that the buyers had to pay duty, arrange insurance,transport and other related costs, making the cost when the Mukula lands at it’s destination $2500.
In short, money was spent without going into the Ministry of Finance account 99. spent without parliamentary a approval. Secondly, the logs were sold at just 20% of their true value. The little declared proceeds , just over US$7.5 million instead of at least US$30 million were undoubtedly looted hence the deliberate and calculated neglect of laid down, time proven government controls. By any measure, This was a fraud followed by a cover up.
If the Executive had any respect for the legislature this and other excesses would never occur. The arrogance with which she responded to the Opposition lawmakers, showed that she held them in contempt and no matter how much they queried, it was a done deal and there would be no consequences.It is because of this lack of respect for parliamentary oversight, as
dictated by both the law and the doctrine of separation of powers that we have found ourselves in the most precarious of positions in many aspects of governance, lsuch as unsustainable debt accumulation.
While the Executive is supposed to go to parliament to seek authority to contract debt, loans have been and are still being contracted unilaterally. To add insult to injury the PF through Bill 10 seeks to remove this seldom used oversight provision of the 2016 constitution,altogether.
So were do we draw the line?. Ms. Kapata, in a nutshell, informed parliament that it is government policy to misappropriate public funds. As if that were not enough it is highly unlikely that whatever procurement processes, real or imagined, entered into by Kawambwa Tea met government regulations and followed laid down procedure. This lack of accountability and transparency makes a mockery of the often proclaimed austerity measures, the country’s quest for fiscal fitness, debt sustainability and other conditions that may qualify us
for the essentially critical bailout packages from the IMF and other such institutions to avoid default on our unsustainable sovereign debt obligations, a default which as things are going is a certainty.