The whistleblower responsible for exposing a massive embezzlement scandal in several government ministries finds himself in limbo, awaiting a crucial verdict from the Lusaka High Court. The pending decision will determine whether he must leave the secure safe house he currently inhabits for his own protection amid ongoing investigations conducted by security agencies.

According to an affidavit presented in court, the Drug Enforcement Commission (DEC) issued a notice for the Principal Internal Auditor, who served as the whistleblower, to vacate the house by October 6, 2023.

The auditor, employed within the Ministry of Finance (MoF) was assigned to investigate financial irregularities within the Ministry of General Education. During this investigation, he uncovered extensive money laundering and corruption schemes involving public funds, which had far-reaching implications, even reaching the Ministry of Finance itself.

Financial irregularities

MakanDay has established that the audit's scope expanded to include a fraudulent transaction that transpired between 2014 and 2015 within the Ministry of Transport and Communication. It unveiled a series of payments totaling USD 3 million, intended for the purchase of four aircraft, including two ATR 72 600 series and two A330 – 800neo aircraft, from Airbus.

It is unclear whether this payment was intended for the purchase or lease of an aircraft, given that a new ATR 72 600 typically costs approximately USD 25 million.

Subsequently, arrangements were made to access funds from a Swiss bank by those implicated in the transaction.

MakanDay has reached out to Airbus, seeking their response regarding the receipt of funds from Zambia and the subsequent non-delivery of the aircraft.

Despite these transactions, no aircraft were ever delivered. Zambia has since entered into a partnership with Ethiopian Airlines to establish Zambia Airways, which now operates with its fleet bearing Zambian colours, but provided by Ethiopian Airline.

The financial irregularities in the Ministry of Finance came to light in August 2022 when Transparency International Zambia (TIZ) conducted its own investigation revealing the embezzlement of over K1 billion from the state treasury. The embezzlement occurred through fictitious allowances and a five-year payroll fraud.

Additional Matters of Financial Misconduct

Additional instances of financial irregularities included K21 million spent on illegal travel allowances for senior Ministry of General Education officials and payments exceeding K2 million for goods that were never delivered. Another example involved the theft of K530,000 at the Provincial Education Office in Kabwe.

Although these financial irregularities were reported to both the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) and DEC, leading to the arrest of 20 senior government officials, including the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance, the Accountant General, and the Controller of Internal Audit, there has been no progress on the case.

Sources close to the case have indicated that the ACC has been negotiating with the suspects for an out-of-court settlement, allowing the accused to repay the embezzled funds.

Additional Concerns

The ACC is also aware of a K5,000 bribe deposited into the auditor's account, an attempt to silence the whistleblower, after he rejected an offer of K8,000. However, the ACC has been slow to arrest the individual who paid the bribe, despite the money being in the auditor's bank account for over two years.

The ACC has yet to provide a response to MakanDay's inquiry about the absence of an arrest for the individual who paid the bribe.

Targeting of the Whistleblower

MakanDay has recently uncovered troubling developments concerning the whistleblower. This individual, placed in a safehouse owned by DEC while awaiting further investigation and the potential prosecution of those responsible for the offenses he exposed, is now facing targeted actions from certain high-ranking government officials who managed to evade arrest.

The victimisation has taken several forms, including unjustified disciplinary actions instigated by senior government officials at the Ministry of Finance.

In an inexplicable move, he was abruptly transferred to Mongu in the Western Province. For ten months, his salary has been intentionally withheld, and he has now been entirely removed from the payroll, intensifying his distress.

In response to the actions of these senior government officials, the ACC issued warning and caution statements, advising restraint and discouraging any interference in ongoing investigations or further mistreatment of the Auditor.

Unfortunately, these warnings were blatantly disregarded, and the implicated senior government officials have persisted in their victimisation of the Auditor.

As a whistleblower who has exposed widespread corruption and theft, the auditor is entitled to protection under the Public Interest Disclosure (Protection of Whistleblowers) Act No. 4of 2010.

Part II of the Act, specifically in section 10, unequivocally states that 'An employer shall not subject an employee to any occupational detriment on account, or partly on account, of the employee having made a protected disclosure or public interest disclosure.'

The Act defines' occupational detriment' to include disciplinary action, dismissal, suspension, demotion, harassment, intimidation, or involuntary transfer due to the disclosure."

Rueben Lifuka, former TIZ president, described what is happening to the whistleblower as "a really sad development… which calls for these perpetrators of this harassment to be identified and accordingly dealt with." He said, "protection of whistleblowers should be sacrosanct if indeed we are to fight corruption and all forms of malfeasance."