Former finance minister Alexander Chikwanda says the open letter to the President on the state of Zambia’s economy written by six former government officials was nonsensical.
And Chikwanda says he is not responsible for Zambia’s debt crisis because he did his best to encourage fiscal discipline during his time.
Meanwhile, Chikwanda says people should not be in a hurry to call for President Lungu’s removal, based on “little uninformed opinions”.
Last week, former Bank of Zambia Governor Dr Caleb Fundanga, former finance ministers Ng’andu Magande, Dr Situmbeko Musokotwane and Felix Mutati, former Commerce minister Dipak Patel and former Economic Advisor to late President Levy Mwanawasa wrote a letter to President Lungu and Dr Ng’andu, expressing concern over Zambia’s current debt position.
“It may be true that external factors (climate change and COVID-19) have damaged the Zambian economy. But the main cause is man-made policy mistakes. The most significant mistake is excessive borrowing by the government, as well as inefficient and/or low priority use of funds. The Government needs to act now. We believe that Government must rapidly conclude a programme with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). This matter has been on the table for more than five years, without reaching a deal. We urge the government to take this matter with the seriousness that it deserves, and to come to an agreement before the end of this year. We believe that the most important matter in our economy is the debt problem. Excessive debt drives many of the current problems – huge repayments already mean that Government cannot fund budgeted programmes, mounting arrears are accumulating on many government contracts, and the business climate is strangulated,” read the letter in part.
But in an exclusive interview with News Diggers! Chikwanda said the former ministers should have sought an audience with Dr Ng’andu.
“We should never be seen to undermine the current minister especially ba Mutati who was only there for a year. I don’t think they have a script for rating Zambia’s news. It is beyond ministers of finance, it is a society issue. Just because the letter was signed by one Fundanga, Mutati and Musokotwane…I haven’t seen it but the letter could be nonsensical if subjected to serious scrutiny. Any citizen has got a right to contribute, but there is way of doing it,” Chikwanda said.
“I am chairman of the party’s finance committee which makes all economic policies so I have my channel (of communication). There have been some unwritten rules where we gave the incumbent space. When I was Minister of Finance, I was very grateful to Honourable Musokotwane, you never heard him make an attack on me and on matters which I thought were of national gravity. I did consult him. My first effort was to invite all the previous ministers of finance and we had a very good lunch. And also people like Edith Nawakwi were in the habit of attacking me, but I never bothered to reply to her. I read extensively and follow the financial media. I think the best thing for the ministers… why didn’t they have an audience with the Minister of Finance?”
He urged citizens to examine certain people’s motives behind their statements.
“And also if we can desist from personal agenda because a lot of people offer ideas but it is also a question of how they go about presenting that idea and the motive behind the ideas. All those things matter. They memorise a few slogans and then they dish out, they are not looking at the whole thing in depth. I wouldn’t have signed the letter first of all because I am a member of the central committee of the ruling party and I wouldn’t be part of that. I think my colleagues should cut their mind deeper and they can be a think tank but they should think more deeply other than just some small political gimmicks,” he said.
Chikwanda said there was need for people to understand the depth of the COVID-19 effects on Zambia’s economy.
“I would be confident that I am putting enough facts about this economy. You need to have a thorough understanding of the word economy because Zambia is very small part of the global economy. Our Gross Domestic Product as a country, however you measure it, is still a very small economy. Some of the big firms in the world it is not even 10 percent of the turnover of Microsoft or Amazon. And we have to put it in the context of the broader world economy. One must also understand what is going on in the economy in the context of Zambia relating it to the misfortunes we have suffered in terms of commodity prices. Two weeks ago, prices of copper was as low as US$4,100 per ton that is why foreign companies like Mopani are panicking to send the workers away because they are mining at costs which are unsustainable and our reaction as a country is emotional,” he said.
And Chikwanda said he was not responsible for the debt situation in the country.
“I am not responsible for the debt crisis. I ran the economy very well under the difficult circumstances. I made my own contribution. I tried to prevent financial irresponsibility and so on. I know how difficult it is to be a Minister of Finance, all these people who served as ministers what has been their contribution? I haven’t seen the letter myself I don’t even know what is there. I make submissions to government as chairman for the finance committee of the party. When my committee meets, we send proposal to the Central Committee which are quite significant. Economic issues are not a matter of a little common sense but you need adequate knowledge and that is the problem in Zambia. You have your little opinions much uninformed about something that you don’t understand,” he said.
Meanwhile, Chikwanda said people should not be in a hurry to suggest that President Lungu must be voted out.
“And the people [and] parties should organise themselves and not inconvenience President Lungu. He is not going to go out because (Brebner) Changala wants him to go away. So the people who could be disappointed with him could be there. People should not be in a hurry to see certain people exit because that is a wish of a composite group of Zambians. The decision about going forward will be made by the wider Zambians,” said Chikwanda.