Colleen Zamba: A victim of smear campaign?

This write-up is not meant to defend the subject matter in question, Collen Zamba, the Secretary to the President and Cabinet (SPC), but it’s an expression of opinion on what I believe is a systematic effort to get the person out of the way.

Ordinarily, I should not have bothered to write this but having been born and raised in Malawi, I know better how callous people can get whenever they want to remove someone out of their way.

Of late, Zamba has become a victim of slander as a day hardly passes by without reading something seemingly intended to discredit her reputation. The SPC may just be innocently going about her job, making decisions as per the powers vested in her by the Public Service Act (sections 16 and 17), but in some people’s eyes, she is seen as a thorn in their flesh.

Last week alone, I read three stories on different subject matters albeit with almost the same tone intending to paint her in a negative light.

Going by what is said in the write-ups, one can tell the underhandedness waylaying in the background, a scheme to instigate her removal. As they say, nothing happens by accident in politics, let alone in the media; the frequency of articles targeting Zamba proves this.

In the first article, it is alleged that Zamba became the SPC on political patronage. Nothing can be further from the truth on this point because not many people in this country can match her academic and professional credentials.

For starters, Zamba is a holder of a first degree in Social Science (Economics) from the University of Malawi (Chancellor College) and a Master’s in Economics and Philosophy from the University of Glasgow, Scotland.

Professionally, Zamba has had twenty-five-year experience working in the Malawi government spanning from the Kamuzu Banda regime. She rose to the position of Permanent Secretary where among other particularities, she served as the Principal Secretary (PS) in the Ministry of Finance during the Muluzi administration.

In addition, Zamba had a stint with the United Nations where she worked as the Economic Advisor for UNDP in countries such as Nigeria, Zambia and Swaziland. Before her SPC appointment, Zamba was the Head of the Presidential Delivery Unit in the Office of the President. The accusation of political patronage is therefore baseless.

Without going into detail, another article alleges that Zamba makes unilateral decisions that are not within her powers. The author even insinuates that the SPC is so powerful to the extent that President Chakwera is powerless as she is seen as the “de facto” Prime Minister.

The article goes further to make a claim that Zamba has been removing people at Egenco and replacing them with her loyalists. Contrary to this though, as per the suspension circular by Egenco, the two top bosses in question were sent on leave to pave way for the results of a forensic audit bordering on post-Cyclone Ana and Gombe power generation and infrastructure recovery.

Meanwhile, it also transpired within the week that the two obtained an injunction against their suspension only for the Industrial Relations Court to stay Egenco’s decision for the two to continue being on leave until the company finalizes its investigations on the matter.

SPC, Colleen Zamba

Being the court case, we cannot discuss it further to avoid prejudice. However, two points need to be highlighted in the seemingly slanderous article about the SPC. First, the authors of the publication in question did little if at all anything to hear Zamba’s side of the story.

In any case, what we are seeing are deliberate attempts to exonerate the two as victims while at the same time, conclusively condemning Zamba as guilty as charged. Secondly, in all these accusations leveled against Zamba, there has not been any substantive evidence to back their claim, which in itself proves that there is indeed a scheme in motion to influence her dismissal.

Then the third article in one of the online publications alleged that the SPC is entangled in an illegal fuel deal with a line that reads: “the embattled SPC is again entangled in an illegal fuel contract agreement with an Abhu-Dhabi-based supplier” (emphasis supplied). Now two pointers in this extract suggest that this is deliberately framed to get the SPC in trouble.

The phrase “embattled” implies that Zamba’s position is unattainable and she is living on borrowed time. And the second word “again” indicates that she has been doing the things she is being accused of repeatedly.

Again, an interesting line in the write-up is quite revealing of the smear campaign against the SPC. It reads: “Despite all corruption allegations, and kickbacks Chakwera has not acted on Zamba.”

The point here is that the people instigating her removal are surprised that despite all the allegations leveled against her, she still retains President Chakwera’s vote of confidence.

Moreover, the article quoted an unknown source to validate the claim, which at face value sounded more like a cook-up story.

But here is the crux of the matter, there are people in this country who thought Zamba would be a weakling and a pushover simply for being a woman.

As we recall, ‘Cashgate’ happened under the watch of President Joyce Banda, a woman whose SPC was also a woman. In the same way, these people have been waiting in the wings to exploit her being a woman to their advantage.

As we are aware, there have always been cartels in every administration waiting to pounce on lucrative government contracts. However, now that Zamba has tightened all the loose ends, these people are finding it hard and they are doing everything to fight her.

Sadly, in the 21st century, this chauvinistic tendency against women of merit and authority permeates a wide spectrum of Malawian culture, an eloquent proof of the incurable prejudice that has dragged this country behind.

By and large, there is no indication that the onslaught will stop anytime soon; it will continue with forceful urgency. But from what I have gathered, Zamba is strong-willed and her vast experience at the top level must have prepared her for times like these.   

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