VICE-PRESIDENT Mutale Nalumango says the PF administration is culpable of failing civil servants.
During the Vice-President’s Question Time in Parliament on Friday, Shiwang’andu PF member of parliament Stephen Kampyongo, a former home affairs minister, asked if the government had suspended the debt swap in order to favour some financial institutions.
The programme was introduced by the PF government a few weeks before the August 12 presidential and general elections, which it lost.
Kampyongo also wanted to know if the government still cared for civil servants.
“Debt swap is just as it is said. Civil servants who were owed money by government through settling [in] allowances, leave days, some of whom went to contract extra debt from financial institutions such as Bayport and Madison Finance…” said Kampyongo. “Is [it] the interest of your government, Madam Vice-President, to protect those financial institutions that were charging our civil servants high [interest] rates, and we know that some of your government members have got interest in some of these institutions? Or are you going to save these overburdened civil servants so that they can have some breathing space?”
In response, Vice-President Nalumango forthrightly said: “We are extremely interested [in the welfare of civil servants] and we care for them. However, the debt swap has many angels to it. That if we look at it seriously, we may find that the former government was culpable of failing the workers.”
Vice-President Nalumango explained further that the previous government was not remitting money it was deducting from civil servants on behalf of financial institutions, hence the indebtedness of workers.
“Some of the debt swap like the honourable member has said was negotiated for three years. The debt that the civil servants are seemingly indebted with is due to the failure of the same government that wanted to pretend to care for them,” she explained as Kampyongo smiled while blushing. “By their failure to remit that which was deducted from the workers…Government was a third party in this matter that they were supposed to remit what was deducted from the workers. Now, because in many cases it may not be 100 per cent, the honourable may agree with me, they may have found themselves with high interest rates accumulated over time because of the failure to remit. Why then should the worker even be in the picture? Indebtedness is due to them already.”
She said the debt swap was cosmetic and politically motivated.
Vice-President Nalumango said the government should have helped workers by simply adopting the interest that accrued to the loans.
“So, this swap was cosmetic in the sense that the government wanted to make it look like it’s the workers that were in debt 100 per cent. They should have…off the actual indebtedness to government so that government says, ‘yes, we know you have accumulated interest, but it is because we failed’,” said Vice-President Nalumabgo. “So, we get all the interest because it is our fault. But we are not going to go back to that. That is why we are saying we will have to look at the entire programme and see how workable [it is] in talking to the two. The real contract was signed between financial institutions and the workers. Government was just in the middle to deduct on behalf of the worker and then remit to the particular institution that includes microfinancing institutions. We are aware that very little was done in July to carry out this. That’s why we say there was some political inclination from the people who made that decision.”
Earlier, Chikankata UPND member of parliament Jacqueline Sabao also wanted to know the government position on the same debt swap scheme.
“There are conflicting stories in the public domain that the debt swap which was introduced before elections by the PF government has been suspended by the UPND government. I would like to find out from Her Honour the Vice-President the position of the UPND government on the debt swap scheme for civil servants,” asked Sabao.
In response, Vice-President Nalumango confirmed the suspension of the priogramme.
“This is true that there has been a suspension of that programme. In fact, Madam Speaker, this programme came very late into the reign or the rule of our colleagues in the Patriotic Front; that it seemed like it was not even going to work,” said Vice-President Nalumango. “If we followed what was happening, Madam Speaker, the Bankers Association [of Zambia] themselves didn’t seem to be ready for this. And we even wonder, Madam, whether anything was done at all. In July, the programme was not done for civil servants. And it is a very complicated thing that we have suspended as a government so that we can relook at that.”
Meanwhile, Kabushi PF member of parliament Bowman Lusambo wondered if President Hakainde Hichilema would not be pushed into promoting gay rights when he meets US President Joe Biden later this month.
Lusambo further asked for the government’s position on gay rights.
Vice-President Nalumango assured that Zambia was a Christian nation with her own laws and cultural values.
She nevertheless said the government would not be stopped from talking to any stakeholder at international level, regardless of what values they espoused in their respective countries.