ALLIANCE for Democracy and Development president Charles Milupi says it is sheer arrogance of power for President Edgar Lungu to say “we will borrow without shame” when Zambians are enduring financial stress heightened by interest payments for the country’s debts.
And Milupi says conditions of service, including mid-term gratuity, for members of parliament cannot be varied by President Lungu or Cabinet. Commissioning the US$4.3 million Michael Chilufya Sata toll plaza on the Ndola – Kitwe carriage way on Sunday, President Lungu said his government would borrow without shame because “it is borrowing for investment.”
He added that “when the PF promised lower taxes, it does not mean no taxes.”
Reacting to the President’s remarks, Milupi, a former Luena member of parliament and parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) chairperson, explained that such was a clear manifestation of what was wrong with governments in Zambia.
“For a long time we have been talking about this upside down Constitution that places so much power in the presidency. When you have a bad President, they abuse it and think they have power over everybody else. Let me remind him (President Lungu) that any one elected to be a President must respond to the views and wishes of the people,” Milupi said in an interview.
“The people who are talking about over-borrowing, the debt-burden, are not just opposition party presidents [but] the majority of the Zambian people. The reason the Zambian people are doing that is that they fully know that ultimately it’s them who are going to pay that debt and already they are paying heavily for that debt as is shown by the mushrooming, various taxes placed upon the shoulders of Zambians. Most of the debt servicing at the moment is purely interest payments – it’s not even paying the principal.”
The opposition leader said many Zambians now understood that when a government borrowed, it was not the ministers and the President who would feel the consequences of that borrowing.
“[But] it’s the Zambian people through, first of all, lack of proper educational services, lack of health facilities, lack of proper development. So, people understand the connection between their suffering and the debt burden,” he said, adding that Zambians were fully aware about the ramifications of debt, both socially and economically, because “they have gone through this before.”
“So, when we now have a reckless President borrowing even more than what we owed before, the Zambian people know the impact of that debt burden on their daily lives,” he said.
Milupi noted that President Lungu ought to always understand that it was not up to him to borrow for Zambia.
“The responsibility of determining how the country borrows resides with Parliament because appropriation is not the responsibility of the executive but a responsibility of Parliament. That’s why our Constitution says any desire to accumulate debt must be passed in Parliament! I know that for now this government is ignoring the Constitution but time will catch with them and they will begin to account for all the transgressions against the Constitution. Debt accumulation is not a responsibility of the President, the executive,” Milupi argued.
And Milupi complained that there was no value for money in most public projects that got or are getting funding from borrowed money.
He said it was through “these debts that corruption has mushroomed in the manner that it has done.”
“The projects being funded are costing way above the norm. Out of all those things, it is absolutely wrong to display the arrogance of power that he (Lungu) is displaying by saying I shall do what I want. No elected leader in a democracy does what they want; they respond to the wishes of the electorates,” Milupi observed.
“[Ordinary] Zambians are now the ones who are crying out that Zambia is in a debt spiral – it’s not me or any other politician.”
Milupi lamented also that the investments that the President was talking about were not fairly distributed throughout the country.
“Other provinces have got very little [public investments]! So, even when the debt burden is being placed on all the Zambians, you will find that [when] you sit down and do kilometres [of tarred roads] per province, you will realise that the distribution of these projects has been on regional basis. So, there are many issues to do with this debt and for him to say that I will do what I want, purely displays his arrogance of power that no modern democracy should entertain,” Milupi explained.
On the mid–term gratuity for members of parliament, Milupi asserted that it was a constitutional condition of service for a lawmaker that could not be varied by any office, unless the Republican Constitution was altered.
Still in Ndola, President Lungu said: “In 2021, we will assess you (members of parliament) and what you have done. Before Parliament gives you mid – term gratuity, as Cabinet, we will also need mid – term reports on performance.”
But Milupi wondered where President Lungu was getting such authority when the Constitution was “very clear in terms of separation of powers.”
“We have three arms of government – the executive, the legislature and the judiciary. These shall be separate but equal. So, if they are separate but equal, what gives him (President Lungu) the constitutional power to interfere with what the legislature does? Who is he to determine what those who work for the legislature are doing? I expect him, as a lawyer, to read the Constitution; the Constitution is very clear on constitutional office holders; no institution shall vary their conditions of service,” he noted.
Milupi said members of parliament were constitutional office holders and that their gratuity, whether President Lungu liked it or not, was in their conditions of service.
“No office in this land is constitutionally allowed to vary those conditions of service. So, it shows that either he is deliberately trampling upon the Constitution or he doesn’t understand it. He was in Parliament and he ought to know that! Conditions of service for members of parliament are constitutional, just like his salary,” said Milupi.
“You can’t go as a President and say ‘we shall reduce your gratuity’ and so on without amending the Constitution! If he wants the power to amend the conditions of service for members of parliament, first he must go and alter the Constitution because at the moment he doesn’t have those powers.”