Dr. Guy Scott says it is surprising that a very large group of government officials travelled to China as if the Chinese were going to give money to bloated delegations.
And Dr Scott says it is time the nation had an honest statement from the government to explain this “overspill nkongole”.
Meanwhile, Dr Scott says his upcoming book is a must-read.
In an interview, Dr Scott, who also acted as Republican president in the aftermath of president Michael Sata’s death, wondered why President Edgar Lungu went with “so many people [ministers and private sector individuals]” to the recent Forum on China-Africa Cooperation summit.
The government chartered a plane for President Lungu and his delegation to China amidst the country’s poor economy and in the aftermath of austerity measures announced by finance minister Margaret Mwanakatwe a couple of months ago.
Despite advice from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank that the government rationalises its expenditure on infrastructure to keep debt in manageable levels, there seems to be unending appetite for borrowing for road construction.
“I have travelled a lot too, with large groups, small groups. I have travelled to all the funny places – Bolivia, North Korea…all these places as well as the conventional places like the United States of America. If you are in a football team, yes, you can score a goal as long as your friends are coordinating with you but when you are in the grandstand, you can shout, you can whistle, wear rubber masks but that doesn’t score you a goal. Why should a large group travel to China as if they have found out that the Chinese are giving money to a large group? If it was like that, they would all be going…even us, we would also go for the meeting. Some of these countries are more impressed when they receive a small group of professionals wanting to discuss, maybe 10 or 20 people,” Dr Scott said.
“This sounds like it’s 100…it’s not right. The Chinese want Zambia to stay afloat so that they can do business with Zambia but again they are giving Zambia more money. If you are getting money and you have to pay back, then what have you achieved? You just end up having things like roads, which the government doesn’t even pay for. It’s time that we had an honest statement from the government to explain this overspill of nkongole (debt). Even in the first two years that I worked with Mr [Michael] Sata, what we were doing was much smaller than what is happening. It will be very wise for the government to be very open about everything. We can all see what is happening in Zimbabwe, it hasn’t recovered from those runaway inflation…you go to a hotel, it hasn’t been maintained for 30 years.”
He said the poor performance of the economy was affecting everyone.
“It was pay day the other day [at his farm] and the workers said we can’t live on this and I said yes, but where am I going to get the money from to pay you more? I told them I am better off keeping all of you so as to keep the body and soul together. Now, if prices and everything is rising, which is happening now in the country in order to keep the currency strong…I mean, we need money, we need factories so that we can employ people who are unemployed but you can’t because you are squeezed as a country. You are building roads, airports and so on and so forth. I think we need proper economists, proper people committed to telling the truth. It’s a matter of truth, addressing power. It’s truth talking to power. Power can be power but you can still talk to it. We may not be strong, but we are truthful…yes they have got power but we need a good meeting at which truth is spoken to,” Dr Scott said.
“That’s the concern…there is nothing much we can do as private citizens…we can make our comments. I don’t wish to make it difficult because now we will have people saying things like ‘it’s Scott and his friends who have destroyed Zambia’s reputation’. Of course, it’s not what people may think and as a result, people are often threatened; ‘don’t say anything about the government because of this and that’. But if you are not truthful when speaking out to power, power will be misused.”
And Dr Scott said his book was personal rather than historical.
“I have written a book and people should look out for it soon and anyone can afford to buy it. The book is mostly about the relationship between various people; Sata and myself and the people around us. It’s a very personal book rather than a historical book,” said Dr Scott.
“History is one thing and a memoir is people writing about what they remember how things seemed to them…not even to try to get the history right but just writing. That is a different book and that’s what it is. The publishers in America are very keen on it and madam [Charlotte] Scott did a lot of work on it.”