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Disclose emptiness of the treasury

When the MMD defeated UNIP in the October 31, 1991 elections, then president Frederick Chiluba told the nation that his administration had inherited a broken-down economy. He specifically said the treasury was empty and asked for patience from every Zambian as they embarked on rebuilding the economy.

Twenty years later when Michael Sata and the PF defeated MMD, he too claimed that they had inherited an empty treasury. Yet, the PF found a good amount of foreign reserves, which they used to build infrastructure, among other things, and eventually depleted it.

Today, we have the UPND in power telling us the same things. The President, Hakainde Hichilema, has consistently told the nation that his government has inherited an empty treasury. Lately, he added that he was getting to understand the depth of emptiness of our treasury.

On Wednesday, Bank of Zambia governor Christopher Mvunga said Zambia’s reserves stand at US $2.9 billion and foreign debt at $13 billion.

And Southern Province PF vice-chairman Simalonga Siachoona is challenging the UPND government to state the extent of emptiness of the national treasury.

He says it would be very interesting for the government to explain the extent of emptiness they are talking about so that it helps the nation understand whether the previous government was careless or not.

“I think the UPND should not have a perceived mind or situation where they carry on with campaign slogans they were using before elections where they used to say this government has done nothing. We need a clarification. The onus is on the new government to explain the emptiness they are talking about. It will be very helpful to the Zambians to understand how the previous government handed over to the new government in terms of finances. Do not continue using slogans now that you have won elections. Just build on what you have found because Zambians are waiting to see the promises,” says Simalonga. “A government is a government. I don’t see how it can operate on zero coffers. Maybe what we would have seen is civil servants having delayed salaries or not. We saw that FRA (Food Reserve Agency) was paying farmers, so it’s really difficult to believe and understand how the government coffers were left empty. I don’t know to what extent of emptiness are they talking about. We need serious clarity because people react according to what they have heard and have been told but their reaction needs to be based on the truth. We need truth from the responsible people so that citizens can react on truth. Citizens have the right to demand for what they want but it should be based on facts so that we don’t set a commission of inquiry based on falsehood. Zambians are free to call for an inquiry but we need authenticated truth about such allegations. But this inquiry should be about achieving results. There is no need of setting up an inquiry when deep down you know that the treasury you inherited was sufficient to cover a certain period as opposed to the emptiness being said. You know, the meaning of empty means nothing. So if there is nothing then why is it that there is nothing? Then the government and the people have a right to find out why there is nothing. But if there is something, don’t say there is nothing. Just say there is something but it is not sufficient to reach us to this period. Then people are going to understand.”

Simalonga has brought out valid arguments here. If indeed the coffers are empty, government should prove it by showing the nation to what extent that emptiness is. If, for example, they found zero ngwee, let them tell us. If they found K2,000 when they were expecting K2 billion, they can still inform the nation. Otherwise, claims of an empty treasury without proof could be equated to the proverbial story of a boy who cried wolf.

Emptying the national treasury is a very serious matter which deserves an explanation to the masses. It can even call for arrest and prosecution of the culprits. If indeed PF left nothing and there is evidence to that effect, let government provide evidence and the nation shall put the culprits to task. They shall definitely be asked to provide answers because they themselves didn’t inherit an empty treasury in reality. They found money which they used and abused.

The new dawn government is talking about governing based on rule of law and enhanced transparency. This is welcome. But this transparency should be in practice, otherwise people will lose trust in the words coming from government.

The Dalai Lama advised that, “A lack of transparency results in distrust and a deep sense of insecurity.”

And Mike Paul adds, “Trust, honesty, humility, transparency and accountability are the building blocks of a positive reputation. Trust is the foundation of any relationship.”

This government has an opportunity to extend people’s trust in it by providing evidence to every claim they make. They should be seen to be different from their predecessors who were known for contradictions and alarming statements almost on daily basis.

Surely, Zambians deserve to know the extent to which their coffers were left empty by the PF regime. Mere claims of this will not help in any way. Instead, it will just result in doubts and lack of confidence in the government from its own people. There are a lot of expectation from this government, including transparency and accountability. Zambians also expect this government to lead a serious assault on corruption, including recovery of stolen public resources. And this fight should not just end in alarming – hot air – statements from those in power.

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