HIGHVIE Hamududu has advised the government to create fiscal space for the country to begin to invest in sectors that can create jobs, reduce poverty and inequalities.
And Hamududu, who is opposition Party of National Unity (PNU) president, says his party is ready to join farmers even to demonstrate against the “despicable slump” in the price of a 50kg bag of maize.
And PNU interim secretary general Kasote Singogo says Zambia can end up in a civil war because of the PF government’s mischief.
Speaking at a media briefing in Lusaka, Hamududu, an economist and former Bweengwa member of parliament, lamented that the first issue of concern to the PNU was Zambia’s rising debt.
A press statement from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) released on Wednesday indicated that Zambia was at high risk of debt distress due to rapid accumulation of new loans.
But Hamududu noted that national development ought to be gradual and methodical.
“You saw in the report of the Minister of Finance during the presentation of the budget, it was very clear – the national debt (external and local debt put together) is at about US$12.45 billion. External debt is at about US$7.5 billion. This debt has been acquired in the last five years. We are lucky that we had good rains last farming season and the recovery in the copper prices. If these external factors did not take place, we were going to have serious problems today as a country. This government was going to be facing riots on the streets because the situation is desperate! If you go in these compounds today, you’ll find that there is no money; people are finding it difficult to survive,” Hamududu observed.
“The PF administration was not even ambitious when they came in – they were really uninformed in the way they did their things. In Parliament, I’m on record of having warned [them] that at the rate you are moving, you gonna have a budget overrun [and] what we are facing now is a budget overrun. They are trying to do too many things beyond the capacity of the country’s revenue. For example, the so-called ambitious road projects; every President who ruled this country wanted to put infrastructure but you must do it within the abilities of your budget. Development must be gradual and systematic and therefore, the PF administration must contain the debt [because] it is a problem now and in the future.”
He cautioned that if copper prices do not stay on the upward swing for a long time, Zambia would unavoidably be “in a serious debt trap”.
“Right now, for your own information, the government is spending 29 per cent of the domestic revenues for interest payments on debts. About 50 per cent goes to personal emoluments…. We have a serious problem and we need to create a fiscal space for us to begin to invest in the sectors that can create jobs, reduce poverty and reduce inequalities. We are asking the government to slow down on projects [because] it is very clear…that’s why the IMF package is now dicey. An economy is like a human body; once it is sick the way the Zambian economy is now, they (medical officers) will tell you to stop eating this and that,” Hamududu explained.
He further pointed out that the government needed to free space for the private sector.
“The government is over-borrowing. Government has taken all the money to fund their grandiose projects that might not really add value in the immediate term. The private sector is starved because of high domestic borrowing and so we have a collapsing private sector, dampening prospects of job creation. The real job creator is the private sector and one way [that] the government can facilitate job creation is to leave money for the private sector. In fact, we can even recommend to Parliament to ask that this budget be re-drafted because we need to significantly de-accelerate debt accumulation, both external and local domestic accumulation. It is what is shocking the economy and that’s why today, all of you feel it; there is no money in the economy. The money has been taken away by the government – government is now like a sponge. But we need a cleaner vessel,” Hamududu said.
He also commented on matters of procurement where he stressed that transparency must be embraced to halt abuse.
“The topical issue of the fire tenders is a typical abuse of the procurement processes and something must be done,” Hamududu noted.
On the K60 that the government, through the Food Reserve Agency (FRA), was buying a 50 kg bag of maize at, K15 lower than in the last marketing season, the opposition leader appealed to the government to hear the cry of the farmers.
“60 per cent of our population is engaged in agriculture and so if you want to create jobs, you create more where the people are. Agriculture holds the biggest flagship for employment creation, poverty reduction and reducing inequalities. What government has done this year is basically to change the goal posts in the middle of an agreed game! For government, through the FRA, to agree to buy maize at K60 [per kilogramme], is betrayal of the farmers of the highest order. You cannot do that because when farmers were growing the maize, they already had a price expectation. Government must still announce the floor price of maize in this transition until we have mechanisms in the private sector that are not exploitative to the farmer,” said Hamududu.
“You can say ‘the FRA has already bought the maize,’ yes [but] they have a record of the farmers. If they adjust the prices, they can pay the balance later! I can tell you that Zambians are all farmers, by the way; we’re not a developed country and every Zambian is linked to some farm! You know distress that we have in the villages due to this despicable slump in the price of maize. There is no future without a farmer and we’ll join the farmers to raise their voice [and] if it means demonstrating, we’ll join the farmers to demonstrate.”
At the same media briefing, Singogo charged that “people are very angry in this country.”
“There is tension in this country. [But] people want to pretend that everything is okay. I want you to put it on record [that] Zambia is in a crisis and it is because of the PF government that it is in a crisis. I have been on earth longer and I know that from 2016 to 2017, I have never seen this kind of tension. This country can end up in a civil war because of the PF and you put that one on record! Let me also say this; PF is not Zambia, UPND is not Zambia, PNU is not Zambia – Zambia is bigger that political parties and we are all stakeholders. You can’t have a situation where business is given on the basis that iyo tabali naifwe, teti tubapele business (these aren’t in our political team and therefore, we can’t give them business). [But] there is nothing special about those who are getting these contracts; we all want a share in this economy [because] we are Zambians [and] we have nowhere to go!” explained Singogo.