[By Speedwell Mupuchi, Chambwa Moonga and Oliver Chisenga]

EDGAR Lungu is lying about me, says Chishimba Kambwili.

During the State House media reception yesterday, President Lungu, in response to a question by ZNBC reporter Mark Ziligone’s question on his ‘reconciliation’ with the NDC leader recently, said he had gone to Church to remember late Michael Sata.

He said he did not know that Kambwili was in the crowd and the priest called him and they shook hands.

“I was lamenting at that point. I was saying what have I done to be called for reconciliation because I have never differed with this gentleman. In short, I have no issues with Chishimba Kambwili, save that he has offended some people, including members of my family, by calling me a thief, a corrupt person and a drug dealer,” President Lungu explained. “To cut the long short, after the meeting the priest saw it fit to call us in his office and there I told him (Kambwili) what I have said. I said ‘you can’t reconcile with me, even if the Church [feels] that to be the case or the nation wants that to be the case, because I have no issues with you and it’s you who has issues with me. So, if you say I’m a thief, you should lay the evidence that I’m a thief, I’m a corrupt person, I’m a drug dealer; if I was a private person, I would have sued you’. Those were my words and then I promised that I’ll not talk about this matter because his response to my position was that he is suffering. His family and businesses have suffered and I told him, I said ‘your family and businesses are suffering because of your mouth’. I explained further by saying that ‘your mouth is so negative that people who want to work with you fear that they will be perceived to be supporting your cause and so, some of them have been withdrawing business association and interest from you’. It’s not to do with me because I know what it means to suffer blackout or sanctions in that manner. So, I don’t know whether you can say that was reconciliation or not. I have spoken the way things happened! After that, we left.”

President Lungu said whether there was reconciliation or not, he does not have to reconcile with everybody.

“But you make peace with yourself, first; find out whether what you are saying is truthful or not. If not, retract. I went further and I said ‘look, GBM (Geoffrey Bwalya Mwamba) reconciled truthfully’. He went public and said he is sorry about it and so on. The Mayor of Lusaka (Miles Sampa), we reconciled because he went public and said ‘look, I want to work with you, I’m sorry’. We did this not in the bedroom of my house or the privacy of State House. But he (Sampa) went public because the public is affected by these things,” he said. “So, that’s where we are.”

But Kambwili said: “No, he is lying, he is lying and we cannot have a lying President.”

“If that is what he has said, I will give an exclusive interview to the media tomorrow about what transpired in that meeting,” he said.

“I am travelling right now, I will give all the details. Because I respected him as President not to divulge, in fact, the priest asked us that what we were discussing remains there. And if he has given a different version of the story, tomorrow, I will call a press conference and explain to the media what happened.”

Kambwili said since President Lungu had opened up, he would brief the media so that they see what “type of a President they have”.

He said President Lungu had short-circuited the whole meeting to suit his situation.

“But when you hear the whole thing that was discussed, you will be disappointed that that’s the man you have as President,” said Kambwili. “Efilya ba landa mu ciBemba ati akanwa kamilandu kalaibala. I didn’t want to talk about it because I felt let me help this man try to keep the little integrity that he has remained with, but now if he has opened up and misrepresented facts, I will explain everything that happened in that meeting. And there were witnesses there and we will see who is telling the truth and who is not.”

In his address, President Lungu said he had been looking for the opportunity to meet journalists to thank them for the “great work” into the country’s development.

He noted that the media could build or destroy a nation, and he urged journalists not to be swayed by the political shenanigans of the outside world as they do their professional work.

“I am proud that since the Patriotic Front government assumed office, there have been great developments in the media, including the digitising of the airwaves,” President Lungu said.

“Conversely, we have seen the expansion of the media industry with the private sector taking the lead in the formation of radio and television companies. We have also seen the recruitment of young Zambians to take up positions in these new broadcasting companies.”

President Lungu, however, noted that he understood that the same had not been the case in the print industry because the world had moved onto online publications at a speed unimaginable since the advent of new media.

He urged those in the print media not to feel depressed, but to innovate to survive the harsh reality brought about by online publishing.

President Lungu noted that there were still thousands of readers who would still prefer hard copies to online publishing.

“While I applaud the great strides that you are making in your industry I would be remiss if I did not point out my own observations regarding your products. I have observed glaring disregard for journalism ethos coupled with sustained political bias,” President Lungu said. “Much as I understand that I am the current tenant of State House, and I am susceptible to criticism, I am appalled at the amount of effort put in by you the media in seeing conflict between my political rivals and I,” he said.

“Criticism is healthy in a democracy but surely those few politicians that are quoted on a daily basis are not the only Zambians who have voices. There are million voices out there with fair opinions who deserve to be heard.”

President Lungu urged journalists not to be “crusaders of conflict” between political players but to provide a forum for public discourse and compromise.

“You need to create a chasm between journalism and social media craze. This, no one can do apart from yourselves,” he said. “Social media is for all; while journalism is for trained communicators. But if you allow all and sundry to masquerade as journalists, your profession will perish.”

President Lungu noted that the coming of social media had meant individual citizens passing content that they had no direct role in producing, and without verification.

He said with social media, the truth was less important and the more exaggerated or inaccurate the communication was, the more it seemed to attract readership.

“This is the tragedy that we face today,” he said.

“…The question still stands; do our people believe everything they read on social media? If the answer is yes; then we need to find a way of educating them about how to detect lies in the information they come across; if no; then we need to use the same platform to reply to the purveyors of fake news and call their bluff,” he said.

On general developments in the economy, President Lungu said his government was committed to ensuring that debt was contained within sustainable levels through implementation of austerity measures.

“My government has implemented a number of policy measures this year to maintain debt within sustainable levels, protect the vulnerable, and reduce the cost of running government,” he said.

On energy reforms, President Lungu said progress had been made on sector-wide energy reforms, including electricity and petroleum.

He said the government’s intention was to enable 100 per cent private sector importation of fuel and get tariffs for electricity to cost reflective levels.

On pension reforms, President Lungu said the government was cognisant that the pension systems in the current form were not sustainable, contributing to accumulating of arrears and affecting the livelihood of pensioners.

He said efforts were underway to restructure the social protection system to expand the scope of benefits under the national scheme and ensure sustainability of the pension system.

He said Cabinet would soon be reviewing proposed reforms for approval.

President Lungu said his government was convinced that the country was able to generate adequate resources, internally, to meet “our ambitious” development agenda.

“However, it is regrettable to note that this has been compromised by low tax compliance level and leakages resulting from collusion between taxpayers and some of our officers. This compromises tax revenue collection and those found engaging in such illegal activities will be dealt with severely,” he said.

President Lungu said his government was convinced that meaningful jobs could only be created through industrialisation.

He said under the national industrial policy, the government aims to promote an export-oriented industrialization and that progress had been recorded in the export of products such as cement, honey and detergents in line with the national local content strategy.

“In addition, locally owned small enterprises in fields such as carpentry and foundry are being supported through the establishment of industrial yards in Solwezi, Ndola, Kasama, Mongu and Chipata districts which are expected to be completed this year, while those in Kitwe, Lusaka and Mansa, will be completed in 2020,” he said.

“Once completed, these yards will result in increased access to processing facilities and the creation of more than 4,000 direct jobs.”

President Lungu also said it was unfortunate that the power deficit in the country had impacted heavily on household level and regretted that small-scale businessmen, whose businesses depend on electricity, have had to endure long hours without electricity to power their businesses.

“I feel for that barber who works hard to feed his family in Mandevu, Lusaka; I feel for that young beautician in Masala, Ndola, whose salon business is critically affected because of load-shedding; what about that welder in Chiwempala, Chingola, who has had to work in the night because that is when power returns,” he said.

President Lungu said a lasting solution to the power deficit was more investment in renewable energy such as solar.
“To this effect, I expect Zesco limited to finish the solar project by mid-next year. This 120-megawatt solar PV under the Getfit Programme has six 20 megawatt projects and they will reach commercial operation date in the third quarter of 2020.”

He explained that in the short term, his government had made a decision to import power from Eskom of South Africa.
“The initial requirement is to pay US $44 million of which 10 million United States dollars has already been paid. Next week, 14 million United States dollars will be paid and anytime soon thereafter, the rest of the amount will be settled,” President Lungu said.

“These imports are a stop-gap measure as we wait for the coming on board of 750 megawatts of power from Kafue Gorge Lower in early March next year. The project is at 80 per cent completion.”

President Lungu also said rampant smuggling of maize and mealie meal to neighbouring countries and panic buying and speculation by some private sector players had exerted pressure on the national food security.

“Further, the challenge of electricity power supply and load-shedding has increased the cost of production of mealie-meal. All these factors have contributed to the increase in mealie-meal prices,” he said. “My government has not just stood by. We are working round the clock to address the threats to our national food security. My government has issued a statutory instrument on maize and mealie-meal illegal exports. The SI will ensure that anyone found on the wrong side of the law is faced with harsh penalties, which include the extension of a custodial sentence for would be wrongdoers. This measure is aimed at deterring potential wrongdoers from engaging in smuggling.”

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