WE need to accept that we are in a crisis and find solutions, Andrew Banda has told the PF government.
Banda, a founding member of the UPND, says incompetence by the PF government has destroyed critical sectors like agriculture and energy.
In an interview, Banda said leaders were elected into office to exercise power in trust on behalf of citizens and not to dictate to them as the Patriotic Front leadership was currently doing.
He said the job of the opposition was to be watchdogs of Zambians to hold elected leaders and the government accountable.
“We have a responsibility. There have been inconsistencies in the last four, five weeks. When government was advised that ‘there will be a hunger situation in the country, don’t export our maize’, this government went ahead to export our maize, our food, our lives. The people who exported are well-known – they are connected to government biologically, politically and otherwise – to benefit themselves, which is criminal to say the least,” Banda said. “Are you aware that since 2011 when MMD left office, maize production in the country was three million tonnes per annum? Do you know that the PF have struggled to reach three million tonnes the last seven years they have been in power?”
Banda attributed the failures in crop production on “incompetent men” running critical sectors of the economy.
He accused the PF of having mismanaged many sectors of the country’s economy like education, health
energy, agriculture, among others.
“We’re aware that what is in reserves right now at Food Reserve Agency is 75,000 metric tonnes, implying that there is a short fall of 225,000 metric tonnes out of the 300,000 metric tonnes required this year for consumption. Let them challenge us on those figures,” Banda said while calling on the government to declare the hunger situation in the country a disaster so that the international community could move in to help.
“Of late, they have become so defensive to a point where they began to lose their temperaments. This country doesn’t belong to them. They are saying there is enough food in the country! The President (Edgar Lungu) said it and now the Vice-President Inonge Wina is saying ‘why can’t you start eating pumpkins?’ And now they are getting annoyed. They are inconsistent, they have become so defensive. The situation is very real, mealie-meal is between K140 and K150 and in places like Chama, Shangombo it could be reaching K170 because of transportation costs and shortage of maize on the market.”
Banda said it was unacceptable for chief government spokesperson Dora Siliya to start threatening the opposition with arrests for speaking on behalf of Zambians.
“We need to accept that we are in a crisis and need to find the solution. The solution is in putting our heads together and not this arrogance we are having. They are so defensive now because they know what has happened to our maize,” Banda said. “We are politicians and food is politics, so you can’t say don’t talk about it. The reason they don’t understand that there is hunger outside Brentwood Drive (where ministers live) is because they get K80,000 salary every month, K15,000 fuel allowance per month, electricity, talk time is subsidised, three of their children are sponsored by government, they have drivers and two servants each. Are you sure that someone who lives in such an environment will know what’s happening in my village in Chiparamba, Shangombo, Kaputa, here in Lusaka in Mandevu, Chawama, Mtendere? That’s why they are saying ‘why don’t you resort to eating pumpkins when them are consuming subsidised food. When tired of nshima, they even import exotic foods.”
Banda said in Lusaka, on average, a family of seven required K5,000 per month to afford a living.
“How many poor Zambians earn this money per month? Indeed we are in trouble without any doubt,” he said.
Banda said intimidation of the people in a democracy would not be tolerated as it was not what they bargained for in 1991 when they removed the UNIP government from power.
He also wondered why agriculture minister Michael Katambo looked annoyed last week if the situation was normal.
On energy, Banda said the current load-shedding had caused a lot of misery among Zambians and yet the government was talking about increasing the tariffs.
He noted that the people who were pushing for an increment in electricity tariffs had theirs subsidised by the government.
Banda recalled that a few years ago the PF government got Eurobonds for, among others, addressing the power generation challenge in the country.
“We want them to explain to us how they used the Eurobond money for power generation; it’s a sovereign debt which we will have to pay with interest,” Banda said. “In Lusaka, power goes for eight hours, that should be a standard day. Production in factories go off, now what about the wielder at Chawama market, Kalingalinga, hair dresser, barbershop at Mandevu, the ka butchery or tu ma shops? What about the chicken growers? Imagine what’s happening to those people! The government here has lost it, the spiral effect of the shortage of power is damaging.”
Banda said the government should have exploited alternative forms of energy like solar, wind, gas and nuclear.
He said Zambia was generating 2,300 megawatts of power with Kafue Gorge alone having 750 megawatts.
Banda wondered what had gone wrong.
“If you talk of the potential, Zambia can generate 6,000 megawatts of electricity. Again what has gone wrong is mismanagement of our country, again in the energy sector,” Banda said. “Why do we talk about these things? And why should they shut us up for talking about the truth?”
Banda said the government rejected a donation of a generator for Chawama Hospital from UPND leader Hakainde Hichilema.
He also said the government refused to receive 25,000 bags of mealie-meal from Hichilema yet they accepted and danced about a donation from a Zambian resident in South Africa, who used to be a UPND member but recently joined PF, of 4,000 bags.
“That is why we keep raising issues and we shall not stop. It is our national duty,” Banda said.
Banda warned that increasing electricity tariffs would make Zambians even more miserable.