Zambia's President Banda denies shielding corrupt officials

Zambia's President Banda denies shielding corrupt officialsLusaka  - Zambia's President Rupiah Banda has defended himself against accusations of being soft on corruption, following allegations that several members of his government had embezzled public funds, state media reported Friday.

Opposition parties and civil society groups have accused Banda of shielding high-profile figures mentioned in a report by the auditor general as having abused public funds.

The report did not name people but talked about senior officials in government departments.

Most recently, Banda defended Dora Siliya, a former transport minister, who dodged tender procedures and awarded a 2-million-dollar contract to a Cayman Islands-based company to evaluate the assets of Zambia's partly state-owned telecommunications company Zamtel.

Siliya was forced to resign after being found guilty by a judicial tribunal of breaking the law by ignoring the attorney general's recommendations. The president said she had acted correctly.

Meanwhile, the Swedish and Dutch governments have suspended financial assistance to the Zambian health sector, after a whistle- blower alerted anti-corruption investigators in the southern African country to embezzlement at the ministry.

One official is accused of stealing about 2 million dollars.

The Swedish government was about to inject about 59 billion kwacha (11.5 million dollars) into the health sector. The Netherlands contributes the equivalent of 18 million dollars to rural health care provision, as well as prevention of malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS, and for training of medical staff.

Zambia's deceased leader Levy Mwanawasa launched a crusade against corruption during his rule, which saw a number of high-profile leaders, including former president Fredrick Chiluba, arrested and charged with corruption.

Banda has refused to take responsibility for affairs predating his election last October to succeed Mwanawasa.

"Rupiah Banda was not even there, he was working with his gumboots at the farm," Banda was quoted by state media as saying.(dpa)