ADD leader Charles Milupi has cautioned the government against choosing development partners who will “take over” the country. And Milupi says President Edgar Lungu failed to address critical areas during his address to Parliament on Friday. Meanwhile, Patriots for Economic Progress leader Sean Tembo says the Head of State’s speech was as empty as a bottomless bucket.

President Lungu on Friday opened the Third Session of the 12th National Assembly with his speech receiving varied reactions.

One of the key issues covered by the Head of State included Zambia’s relationship with China, where several stakeholders have expressed concern following ballooning debt with the Asian country.

There is speculation that China will push to take over Zambia’s key state installations to recover its debt since the Southern African nation lacks capacity to meet all its loan obligations at the moment owing to a poor performing economy. In his reaction to the concerns, President Lungu said Zambia would choose its own friends on its own terms without being influenced by anyone.

But Milupi advised caution over the country’s engagement with China.

“You don’t choose people who are going to take over you. If you are married with your spouse, you know you choose friends who will respect your relationship in your home, you don’t choose someone who will come to take over your spouse and in the process even take over your home. That is not freedom to choose a friend,” Milupi said.

He said the government, its officials, politicians and the ruling party do not have the preserve of wisdom. Milupi further said President Lungu failed to highlight his government’s legislative agenda to the nation, which was the significance of the address.

He said the disclosure of the legislative agenda was to come up with a legal programme that addresses issues affecting the nation.

“I saw none of that. In fact, I also saw lack of understanding of the separation of powers because in the speech, there is somewhere he says he hopes that when the Minister of Finance goes to Parliament, the members of parliament will take time to understand the budget and therefore support it. You see, that is not how democratic countries are set up,” Milupi said. “The people who give us money are the parliamentarians. The executive go and ask Parliament for money, that is what happens when the Minister of Finance takes the budget speech because the role of Parliament is what we call to appropriate. The President doesn’t simply understand that, he thinks that it’s to go and lecture members of parliament as to what they are doing. It’s actually going to ask, justify every programme that they have and parliamentarians make an independent decision whether to allow it or not to allow it. And if they don’t allow that budget, that’s how governments collapse.”

Milupi, the former Luena independent member of parliament, who also once chaired the public accounts committee, said President Lungu’s speech did not address critical situations the country was currently facing.

He said the country’s economy was one of the critical areas that the Head of State failed to adequately address.

Milupi noted that Zambians were hurting as a result of a non-performing economy.

“People are going hungry, people are going without employment, jobs, people are facing very expensive things, people are facing very low salaries, inability to pay. I saw nothing to address that. There is also a critical issue requiring the restructuring of the economy so that we can position ourselves for adequate growth in the economy…When the President says ‘this year we did 3.6 per cent GDP growth and next year we are hoping to achieve four per cent’, that shows that he doesn’t understand what four per cent GDP growth does to his citizens, because it’s too little, especially that he is talking about inflation of six to eight per cent. I also know that there is population growth of three per cent,” he said.

Milupi said outsiders who take the money out of the country control a bigger percentage of the country’s GDP.

He said major players in the mining, construction, which has been dominated by the Chinese, including the retail sectors were foreigners who took the money out of the country.

“We did not see a determined aim from the President to say we are going to restructure this economy, we are going to create more value out of our resources. Zambia’s setup is to provide raw materials to outside countries. Our copper still goes out as cathodes, our timber goes out as logs, our agriculture produce still goes out as raw material. The President did not demonstrate the desire of his government to restructure, to create value out of our natural resources, to create wealth, we didn’t see that,” Milupi said. “The other critical factor is the governance issue. We didn’t see that being addressed. We are looking for the type of democracy that will allow the collective synergy of all citizens to come out and fight for this country instead of where people are treated as enemies and so on.”

He said President Lungu did not also clearly address the country’s huge debt.

“The government and himself are the only people who don’t realise the very existential threat to the sovereignty of this nation by borrowing without ability to pay back. Certain nations have picked up on this. When the Chinese are lending us money, the Chinese are a super power, they are the second super power in the world, in a few years time, they might even overtake the States, so they know exactly what they’re doing,” Milupi said. “When they lend you money, they know whether you will pay back or you will not pay back. And they know that Zambia at the moment, however money they lend us, they know we will not be able to pay back. They are not a charitable organisation, they will not write off this debt.”

He said the experiences from countries like Sri Lanka where the Chinese have taken over the second biggest port in the world, Hambantota, after that government failed to pay debt, was telling.

“Djibouti, the first African country has suffered similar consequences. And Zambia is going through the same line. If you borrow and you are unable to pay then you know that parts of you will be taken away,” Milupi said. “And that is happening in Zambia, so the stories you hear of Zesco, Kenneth Kaunda International Airport, already we have ZNBC, we have portions of land being taken, we have the citizens of China behaving as if they are above the law; someone was killed in Kasama; some dressed in police uniforms; these are manifestations of a nation being taken over, losing its sovereignty.”

He said the second colonisation of Africans was unfortunately being “facilitated by graduates – educated people, who have read history, by people who are fully aware of the counter effects of colonisation that the citizens lose their rights, they become like second-class citizens in their own country”.

“We have gone through this. Most of the people in the government were there before 1964, but they are facilitating the coming in of the Chinese through mortgaging our country using unaffordable loans. These are critical issues that citizens are beginning to talk about, that they are feeling in a very strong manner, the whole world is commenting on what is happening in Zambia and the President in his critical speech failed to address these issues,” Milupi said.

He said Zambians were not school children who just get fed on what those in authority tell them.

“Especially now, we are able to see what is happening elsewhere in the world, we are able to read. So when we express concern, we expect our government to address those concerns,” Milupi said.

On President Lungu’s statement that the hope of the nation rests in great part on members of parliament, Milupi said the words were written by somebody else.

“Because his treatment of parliament, the PF treatment of parliament does not reflect those words. He thinks that Parliament is something that should be used to achieve what they want, that is why they are buying people, they are creating unnecessary by-elections; when we have a by-election, they are buying voters. So how can the people who have resulted out of the corruption that we see in by-elections now, how can our hope as a nation rest on those people? You go and buy people in the middle of the night with K50, with bags of mealie meal and as a result of that, you emerge as a parliamentarian and then someone says the hope of the nation rests on you. Does that make sense? It doesn’t make sense,” said Milupi. “In theory, that particular part of the speech is perfect but it can only be said by a person who respects parliamentary democracy, who knows that parliamentary democracy is about the will of the people to choose the type of leaders they want and once those are chosen, they are given time to exercise what is written in their manifestos and if they go wrong, the people again will have another right to exercise judgment on them, to vote them out or vote them to continue, that’s not what is happening in Zambia. The parliamentarians of PF now are not the ones on whom the hope of the nation should reside.”

Meanwhile, Tembo regretted that apart from significant improvement in grammar and the use of colorful words, the speech “was as empty as a bottomless bucket”.

He noted that President Lungu made efforts to explain and articulate Zambia’s Vision 2030.

“However, before the Zambian people can start talking about Zambia’s vision 2030, what we are interested in knowing is President Lungu’s vision 2021 in terms of what he intends to achieve for Zambia before he leaves office in 2021. What are his individual aspirations for this country and how does he intend to achieve those aspirations? This is important because Zambia’s Vision 2030 can only be achieved if President Lungu, as an individual, also has a vision,” Tembo stated.

“As Patriots for Economic Progress, we have also noted that President Lungu’s speech to Parliament was made up by cherry-picking the few achievements of the PF Government while giving a blind eye to its many failures. For example, the President spoke about the foreign exchange stability and the lower inflation rates, but he failed to address the fundamental issues of high interests rates, ballooning domestic debt which now stands at about K53 billion and the related loss of appetite by investors to buy Government securities such as Treasury Bills and Bonds resulting in gross under-subscription of as high as 85 per cent.”

He stated that President Lungu also failed to address the issue of ballooning domestic arrears where the PF government had failed to pay suppliers of goods and services, which now stand at as high as K15 billion.

Tembo stated that the President also failed to address the issue of his government’s continued lavish expenditure on foreign trips while the nation was grappling with a huge fiscal deficit of about seven per cent.

“On the issue of foreign trips, President Lungu cannot argue that such trips are necessary for him to market the country because we have ample evidence showing that when the President goes to attend international engagements like SADC meetings, he spends most of his time sleeping during such events…Indeed, there is very little representation of the country that one can do while asleep,” stated Tembo.

“As Patriots for Economic Progress, we wish to take this opportunity to challenge all media houses to quiz President Lungu on the issues raised above instead of being enthralled by the President’s nice grammar and colorful words in his speech to the Third Session of the 12th Parliament.” JC

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