PRESIDENT Edgar Lungu feels on the mandate to reduce poverty and create prosperity for Zambians, his government has delivered stressing that: “we shall not let our people down.”
Under COVID-19 health regulations, the President ceremonially opened the fifth session of the twelfth session of the National Assembly yesterday.
He entered the Chamber at 10:21 hours and began his long-drawn-out speech, three minutes later.
Actually, President Lungu spoke for one hour, 50 minutes and 17 seconds and under that timeframe, President Lungu made major announcements; the partial opening of bars, taverns and night clubs, and also the reopening of schools towards this month-end.
President Lungu led the House in observing a minute of silence for departed political souls in veteran politician and freedom fighter Grey Zulu, Lukashya independent member of parliament Mwenya Munkonge, Mwansabombwe PF member of parliament Rodgers Mwewa, and former cabinet ministers in the MMD government, Ephraim Chibwe and Andrew Mulenga.
President Lungu then praised leader of the government business in the House and Vice-President Inonge Wina for ably facilitating transaction of government business.
“From the time she assumed office in 2016, she has been a steady and dependable leader of government business in the House,” he said, further thanking the efforts of the Clerk of the National Assembly Cecilia Nsenduluka Mbewe and her staff for the support rendered to the members of the House. “I urge the Honourable members of parliament to continue conducting business of the House in the new normal…”
Once he had remembered the dead, President Lungu proceeded into self-praise, talking about how his government ‘has delivered.’
“As a government, we were given the mandate to reduce poverty and [to] create prosperity for our people. We have delivered on that mandate and we will continue to deliver,” President Lungu said. “We have delivered on infrastructure, we have delivered on social protection, we have delivered on education and health, to mention but a few.”
His speech was themed: dedication, resilience, innovation; pursuing economic recovery for Zambia we want.
President Lungu said while the COVID-19 pandemic was devastating, there was some good news in the country – “over 90 per cent of the COVID-19 patients in Zambia have recovered.”
He noted that the COVID-19 pandemic impact on world economies and society in general was unprecedented.
The President said as horrifying as the COVID-19 pandemic had been, it had given the country an opportunity as humanity: “to change the way we do things and do them better.”
“The COVID-19 pandemic has opened our eyes to gaps and opportunities around us. The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us we can have virtual meetings and save money,” he said. “The COVID-19 pandemic has showed us how to work from our homes and achieve the same results! The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed to us that we can form cooperative shops and sell our local produce to ourselves without hindrance and disdain.”
Amidst the COVID-19 in Zambia, the President feels now is the time for Zambians to hold their hands together and ride over the prevailing situation as one people.
He said it should not matter whether one was PF, UPND, FDD, MMD, UNIP, or NDC.
President Lungu outlined the policy direction that his government had taken, amidst numerous socio-economic and environmental challenges, in steering Zambia to greater heights.
He talked about falling commodity prices on the international market, and most recently, the disruption on Zambian lives and livelihoods caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
President Lungu noted that despite such challenges, he was encouraged that Zambians had been resilient.
He said Zambians wake up every morning and face each day with courage, dignity and purpose and that they tried as much as possible to provide for their families.
“They have not given up! I salute all Zambians for the resilience. We will not let our people down. Let me reiterate this fact; we will not let our people down,” President Lungu.
He added that: “as a people, we will not give up. We will remain dedicated to overcoming our current difficulties.”
“We will keep the faith and believe in our future. Together, we can do it, and we will do it,” he asserted.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, bars, schools (colleges and universities, inclusive), had remained closed and in that regard, President Lungu announced ‘progressive’ restorations.
With strict adherence to COVID-19 health guidelines, bars, taverns and night clubs would now be operational from Fridays to Sundays, effective yesterday.
There is timing to that partial re-opening of drinking places; 18:00 hours to 23:00 hours.
“This is being done on a pilot basis. Should there be any flouting of these public health guidelines, I will be left with no option but to close them again,” President Lungu cautioned. “It is important that patrons adhere to these public health guidelines such as masking, social distancing, and sanitising in order to protect themselves, their neighbours, and the public.”
He further directed the ministries of local government, home affairs and health to ensure that bar, tavern and nightclub owners and patrons strictly observed the opening days and hours, and the public health regulations guidelines and certifications.
For schools, whose only clients have been those in examination classes, September 14 and 28 this year are tentative dates for re-opening – still with strict observance of COVID-19 health rules.
President Lungu said the education sector had seriously been affected and impacted negatively by the COVID-19 pandemic.
He said he was greatly concerned that most pupils and students had almost lost a full academic year after schools, colleges and universities were closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This is a situation no government could have avoided,” he said.
President Lungu said he was fully aware of the negative impact the closure of educational institutions had had on pupils, students, teachers, lecturers, parents, school owners and the public.
He said through interactions, observations, and reports, he was disturbed by vices that were happening at community and household levels, which included, but not limited to, teenage pregnancies, child marriages, rape, defilement, alcohol abuse, incest, and other delinquencies.
President Lungu said those vices may not only lead to young people dropping out of school but may expose them to HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.
The President noted that the non-reopening of schools had led to loss of gains made by learners and more importantly, all non-examination classes may be at the same level next year.
“The current examination classes would have no space to progress next year and hence may also lose a year. I therefore, announce the re-opening of all schools, colleges, and universities with caution between 14th September, 2020 and 28th September, 2020, subject to adherence to public health certification, guidelines, regulations,” President Lungu said. “The Ministry of General Education and the Ministry of Higher Education must come up with modalities that will ensure all pupils and students catch up after losing six months of the academic calendar, which may include revising the curricula.”
On the macro-economic situation, the President, among many things, said the government had issued the K8 billion COVID-19 bond as an economic stimulus package.
To support the private sector and improve liquidity in the economy, President Lungu told the House that the government had continued to prioritise the dismantling of domestic arrears like those owed to suppliers and pensioners.
He noted that despite the economic challenges that Zambia was experiencing, “a total of K1.9 billion has so far been released against the 2020 budget of K2.1 billion.”
“My government remains committed to dismantling all outstanding domestic arrears. I wish to assure this august House that my government remains resolute in implementing economic recovery programmes aimed at achieving a stable macro-economic environment, and favourable private sector investment,” he said. “The good news is that a rebound of our economy is projected in 2021 subject to the COVID-19 pandemic being contained.”
As if to offer a light moment to the House, President Lungu claimed that his government would not tolerate corruption.
“This government will not tolerate corruption. Any individual found wanting by the courts of law would not enjoy any protection from this government,” President Lungu said. “It does not matter which political party you belong to or your social status. The law will be applied equally to all those found wanting…”
On the August 2021 elections, the President indicated that his expectation is that the campaigns for those elections would be issue-based and peaceful.
“There should be no room for violent campaigns. Elections come and go,” he noted.
President Lungu, in conclusion, thanked those who have continued to have faith and belief in his administration.
“Your continued support is what has given us the impetus to soldier on, despite the many challenges we have faced. Let us continue to put our country first in all we do. There is only one Zambia, the Zambia that belongs to all of us, the Zambia we should be proud of. And the Zambia we want,” he said, further thanking cooperating partners who have continued to believe in him and his government’s development agenda. “On behalf of the nation, I want to assure our cooperating partners that they have our gratitude.”
Meanwhile, President Lungu noted that there was every hope for Zambia’s future.
He said: “we are more than ready to forge ahead and meet our challenges head on.”
“We promised the Zambian people a better Zambia and, today, Zambia is better than we found it. We will continue to change the face of our country,” said President Lungu. “We will continue to deliver on our promises for a better Zambia. With dedication and hard work, we will get there. With God on our side, all things are possible.”