EDITH Nawakwi says first lady Esther Lungu must keep to her lane and stay away from the political arena because she will not enjoy it. The FDD leader wondered which resources Esther was using to campaign for President Edgar Lungu, saying she was not the ‘Santa Claus’ of Zambia. “We have observed with great concern that the first lady, madam Esther Lungu, hardly six months of coming into office, seems to have come across huge sums of money whose source she cannot openly tell this nation. She wants to pretend she is distributing this on a charitable exercise when, in fact, her clear motive is to campaign for the President. Now, this lady (Esther) is taking a political platform and if she wants us to meet her in the field and forget the fact that she is our mother, we will do it. This is a timely warning; she has no budget and no NGO,” she said. “She is our mother, we want to give her respect but if she wants to step into the arena where we are, I don’t think she will enjoy it. She should leave us to do the politics on our own. I want her to come out clearly that she wants to run an NGO so that we can all contribute to that NGO and when she is out doing charitable work, we can know that we are contributors to our mother’s NGO. It is very clear. No one is saying she should sit there and watch the stars, no. We want her to work and put a human face to State House…let us have a defined role for a spouse of the president. Her budget should be given and I will be the first one to say ‘Please, give my mum money because she is going to build a school somewhere or to look after the aged’, and we will be able to audit that money.”
Nawakwi warned Esther against using funds whose sources she was not sure about because she would be the one to answer for them in future. “We want our first lady’s work to be clear without comment. As it is now, our first lady is open to being vulnerable and obviously, she cannot explain the source of the money. This money coming through back doors, she will end up getting money from drug dealers. And in that position, it can be devastating. She needs to know where that money is coming from and also know that her position is very sensitive and, therefore, order is needed,” she warned. “Officials in government will do things which may not be in her favour and before she turns around, she may have to explain certain things which she was not a part of. But because it was done in her name, she is the one who will be responsible for that. I hope that my mother will listen to my advice because it is meant to protect her because we have seen in the past what has happened when such advice is disregarded. Today, you are in State House, tomorrow you are on the streets, explaining things you were not involved in.” Nawakwi said Esther was not the Santa Claus of Zambia.
“It is very clear that the first lady is using money from the social cash transfer window. And I want to tell the donors that the money they gave us as a country, which was supposed to be distributed to the vulnerable groups, through established channels; the churches, community development and all the agreed institutions which were the platforms through which this money was supposed to be delivered, unfortunately, because this government is so desperate, they have diverted money from the social cash transfer and given to the first lady,” she said. “Now she is the one who is being seen as the bearer of this message and pretending to the world that she is generous. She is not the Santa Claus of this country. We have no objections to her setting up an NGO, raising money and doing charitable work. But we take great exception for the first lady to use money from community development, for Ministry of Gender and from the social cash transfer window, and I challenge them to say that this money they are using is not government money. And in any case, when she travels, her convoy is larger than that of the [Republican] Vice-President.” Nawakwi said she wished President Lungu was the one dedicated to visiting the villages.
“I don’t know if between the President and the first lady, they have agreed that the President will do PR work outside the country and she will fill the vacuum because the work she is doing is what I would love to see the President do; to go to villages and find out how people are doing. But you can’t expect that you can develop this country through charity. When you arrive at a place where there is no hospital, no facilities and you give them 25 bags of mealie-meal and some blankets and say ‘These are gifts from State House’, meanwhile, you have spent so much fuel flying there just to deliver 25 bags of mealie-meal, what is the job of the department of disaster management? I want to see the Vice-President doing the work we gave her,” she said. Nawakwi said the FDD was aware that President Lungu wanted to call for elections early next year and charged that the party was ready to meet the PF. “We know that the President is planning early elections, sometime in February or March, and that is why she is all over the country campaigning. But we will meet them on the field,” she said. Nawakwi advocated a clearly defined role and budget for the spouse of a Republican President. “I think that in this country, the role of spouses should be clearly defined. I think that in other countries, the role of spouses, especially first spouses, is clearly defined.
I don’t see elsewhere where a spouse goes to take the role of a minister. Are you telling me that our ministers don’t know why they were given those jobs? And more so that we have a vice-president with a department of disaster management? I find it very strange that officers of the state must stop their work to meet the first lady,” said Nawakwi (right). “The spouse needs to be given some functions which need to be clearly defined but I find it unacceptable to divert money which is budgeted for, donated by well-wishers, to politicians’ spouses. Whoever doesn’t agree with this position, we should have a debate on this issue. I am one of those who says the office of the first lady should be given a budget and defined roles. One day we will wake up and find that the spouse is addressing cabinet meetings, if we continue at this rate.”