STATE House says President Edgar Lungu does not deny the existence of corruption.
And President Lungu’s press aide Amos Chanda says there is no situation in Zambia that can warrant the United States government to impose sanctions on the country.
Chanda said President Lungu was “genuinely” concerned about corruption and that the Head of State did not deny its existence.
“[But] what he wants are genuine interventions, genuine solutions, genuine actions to stop corruption,” Chanda said.
Speaking on a live special interview programme dubbed “The Presidency in Focus” on ZNBC TV on Monday night, Chanda said Zambia was at ease and attractive to the international community.
Following the extradition, in defiance of a court order, by the Zambian government of Zimbabwe’s opposition People’s Democratic Party leader Tendai Biti on August 9, the US government said it would review cooperation with Lusaka.
In a cautioning press statement last Friday, the US government wondered why Zambia chose to hand Biti over to Zimbabwean authorities when there was a court order blocking his expulsion from Zambia.
“This decision is particularly disheartening given the courage that Zambia showed in sheltering thousands of Zimbabwean freedom fighters from Rhodesian aggression in the days of Zimbabwe’s independence struggle. We will be discussing this matter with Zambia’s leaders and reviewing certain aspects of our cooperation with the Zambian government. In Washington, the United States has convoked the Ambassadors of both Zimbabwe and Zambia to register our gravest concerns…” read the statement in part.
Chanda explained that Biti would have crossed into Zambia without any problems “[but] I don’t know why he made it his business to announce that he was seeking asylum at the border!”
“If I’m going into South Africa, I will get on a plane, get into Oliver Tambo International Airport [and they will ask me] ‘are you a Zambian citizen?’ Yes. They will give me 30 days. Mr Tendai Biti would have gotten 30 days just to visit in Lusaka. That’s why I’m saying when you look at this picture comprehensively, in a sober manner, without malice, without ill wish which some commentators have [of] encouraging the United States to impose sanctions…. Sanctions are an elaborate regime that responds to a certain situation. [But] there is no situation in this country to warrant that. So this is the situation that probably we could be looking at a publicity stunt….” Chanda said.
“Honourable Tendai Biti was seized with some fear, which has not come to pass. When conditions and situations exist in any country where your life, your personal safety is not threatened…. The role of the UNHCR is to encourage the return of those refugees. If the UNHCR gentleman who issued that statement [in support of Biti,] is here, what complaint would he be talking about today? That you returned an asylum-seeker to conditions of danger! [But] what danger exists against Honourable Tendai Biti in Harare today?”
He wondered what fear the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) had on behalf of Biti, which the former finance minister did not have.
“It (fear) no longer exists! Probably the government is bigger than Tendai Biti; the government of the Republic of Zambia and the government of the Republic of Zimbabwe are probably bigger than Tendai Biti and probably bigger than the UNHCR. They (UNHCR) knew clearly that conditions existed for him to face a free and fair trial and that if he returned and appeared before a judge, there will be no undue pressure on him. There will be no discrimination of his rights. In one day he left the [Chirundu] border, drove into Harare, he appeared before court, he was given bail and he is at home. Who is complaining?” Chanda asked.
Asked by programme host Grevazio Zulu to explain the fact that Zambia accommodated DRC opposition leader Moїse Katumbi and his brother Soriano, while refusing the same to Biti, Chanda claimed that “This is the same principle that Zambia applies fairly and freely.”
“No double standards! This actually is not a contradiction. My good friend Reuben Lifuka tabulated in one of the newspapers…. For the record, Moїse Katumbi, former governor of Katanga, did not seek asylum [and] Soriano, his brother, did not seek asylum in Zambia. Mr Soriano filed in as a candidate for parliamentary election in the border town between Zambia and DRC. Immediately he succeeded [to file in], masked men turned up at his house [and] later on he reported seeing people who appeared to be government troops [but] he doubted whether they were government troops and they were pursuing him. When he crossed the river and got into Zambia, you wanted us to throw him away? A real and perceived danger existed that if he was returned to those militias who were pursuing him, he could be harmed. So this is consistent with Zambia’s stated policy – kind and compassionate approach to asylum-seekers. He (Soriano) was given [but] when no merit case exists, it was not given,” Chanda explained.
On whether or not accommodating Katumbi impacted negatively on Zambia’s relations with the DRC, Chanda responded that: “Mr Katumbi is a citizen…. He is not persona non-grata in this country; there are no grounds that one would stop him [for].”
And on what was motivating frequent visits of foreign presidents into Zambia, Chanda indicated that Zambia was a country “at ease”.
“This is a country at ease with its neighbours, a country at ease and attractive to the international community. [This is] a country that has taken its rightful position – this has not happened in many years. The President of Turkey (Recep Tayyip Erdogan) is one of the eminent global leaders by any standard; Europe, America are in conversations with him [and] if he visits the country, there must be something very…President Cyril Ramaphosa, name them,” he said, adding that benefits to Zambia of such presidential visits did not show in a day.
On the state of Zambia’s economy, especially in light of austerity measures that were announced on June 14 by finance minister Margaret Mwanakatwe, Chanda underscored that when running a country, there were ups and downs.
“[But] when you have a government that reacts to something, you must be proud as you go to sleep that there is a government that will react to a negative situation. So, you have a Minister [of Finance] who is alive to what is going on in the economy. She has prescribed solutions, the President agrees and austerity measures are in place. Sometimes the economic downturns are not caused by human error – sometimes it’s just natural. If the copper price goes down, you expect corresponding problems within different sectors of the economy,” he said.
“The President is concerned that things must not get worse than they are. He is mildly satisfied that the exchange rate has held stable for a considerable period of time…”
Asked if Zambia was still pursuing the International Monetary Fund for a bailout package, Chanda confirmed that the programme was still on course.
“Minister Mwanakatwe has done fantastically very well. There has been discipline around it and no unnecessary statements from unauthorised quarters and the parties are talking – the IMF team and minister Mwanakatwe. Programmes like that are not decided in a pub or in newspapers or on radio. They are decided in boardrooms with competent officials in the Ministry of Finance and competent officials in Washington in the boardrooms of the IMF,” Chanda noted.
He said further that he has never seen, in his adult life, “any single government constructing as many roads as this government has done.”
“I have never seen ever since UNIP any government building as many dams as they have done, as many airports as they have done, hospitals and schools,” he said.
Meanwhile, Chanda noted that the governing PF was winning most by-elections at local government and parliamentary levels because the population was reacting positively to President Lungu’s “good policies and leadership.”