LUSAKA (Reuters) – A Zambian court on Friday jailed a former cabinet minister for two years in a corruption case that had prompted some Western donors to freeze aid to the southern African nation.
Britain, Finland, Ireland and Sweden withheld nearly $34 million in aid to Zambia’s social welfare and education sectors in 2018 because of concern over financial mismanagement.
Following the aid freeze, President Edgar Lungu fired former Community Development and Social Welfare Minister Emerine Kabanshi, who was in charge of the funds.
The case was a test of how Lungu is addressing corruption in a government that is struggling with slow economic growth, high debt and shrinking foreign currency reserves.
Handing down the sentence, magistrate Lameck Mwale said Kabanshi wilfully failed to follow procedures relating to the engagement of a state-owned company, which distributed social welfare funding for the poor.
The judge said Kabanshi also insisted on re-engaging Zambia Postal Services Corp to continue managing the social welfare funds even when it was clear that the vulnerable beneficiaries were not receiving the funds.
Magistrate Mwale said Zambia Postal Services Corp had used part of the money to buy vehicles for administrative use, against the terms of its contract with the government.
“There is a need to set an example for would-be offenders. I therefore sentence the convict to 24 months simple imprisonment effective today,” Mwale said after Kabanshi pleaded for leniency.
The offence carries a maximum sentence of up to 14 years in prison.
Zambians will be voting on Aug. 12 in presidential, parliamentary and local government elections, with the fight against corruption and the economy top among campaign issues.
There are 16 presidential candidates, with Lungu and the main opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema, whom he narrowly beat in 2016, the main contenders.
(Reporting by Chris Mfula; Editing by Alistair Bell)