[By Chambwa Moonga and Oliver Chisenga]
PRESIDENT Hakainde Hichilema has counselled Zambians to be careful when electing presidents next time.
And President Hichilema has asked the PF to behave themselves, “you are lucky that HH is the President of Zambia. Let the sleeping dogs lie.”
President Hichilema held his first press conference at State House yesterday detailing his recent trip to the United States where he attended the United Nations General Assembly in New York including engaging the IMF, World Bank and other global leaders.
During question and answer, Mast reporter Oliver Chisenga solicited the President’s comments on the debate surrounding the Gulfstream (the presidential jet), which he had intimated would be sold immediately he assumed the Presidency.
President Hichilema said his position on the Gulfstream had not changed.
“We are consistent people. If we were driven by the feel good factor and desire to fluff around with the so-called luxury when citizens are suffering, we could have just gotten into the Gulfstream and flown to the US. We had to take commercial flight as part of delivering our message about the Gulfstream, that we did not agree with its purchase,” President Hichilema said.
He said the debate on the sale of the Gulfstream emanated from its frightening cost.
“We thought it’s not necessary at the time for the price. You can buy a bicycle. Oliver, if the bicycle costs K2,000 and you go and buy the same bicycle at K20,000 or K10,000, let’s assume you are a worker in government; instead of K2,000 you go and buy it at K10,000, what have you done?”
President Hichilema asked. “The bicycle is necessary. The bicycle is needed for your messenger in your office to deliver mail within a short distance. Let’s move from a bicycle, let’s use a practical example, a motorbike for a messenger to deliver mail in a township, in a government and the motorbike is for K20,000, but you as controlling officer you go and pay K40,000 for that motorbike, have you paid the right price? So why have you paid an additional K20,000? Something wrong in there, isn’t it? That’s what we contended. Soon you will understand why we did that.”
President Hichilema said now he had the figures and he had been proven right.
He said as Commander-In-Chief, he could have ordered a pilot to fly him to New York and that in fact, a pilot was even ready.
He said he had to fight with ZAF for not using the plane.
“And I said to ZAF, I am not using it on principle. My argument remains the same,” President Hichilema said.
He said soon the Gulfstream issue would be taken to Cabinet and Parliament and numbers would be known.
“Then you will see who loves this country and who did not love this country. You will make your own judgment,” President Hichilema said. “But it doesn’t mean that the plane is not necessary. Like the motorbike, you need the motorbike to deliver mail. But why would you pay twice the price? That’s what we want the Zambians to know and decide what to do.”
President Hichilema said soon the nation would know the figures and they would be frightening.
“Remember we said three principles; the right price, quality, delivery. Let’s assume the quality is right, delivery was on time, what about the first factor, the price? Why pay? Let me not delve into that because I want you to get the figures first hand. You will be shocked, Oliver. Then you will start thinking differently when you see different people walk your streets, you start looking at them with a different eye, with a squinty eye. How can a normal human being do something like that?” President Hichilema asked.
He urged Zambians to get used to consistent people.
President Hichilema said some people would find him abnormal because he was persistent and concerned about people’s money.
He said the money that was abused over the Gulfstream could have been used on things that were not happening now.
“Just be patient Oliver. You will be scared what you will hear. You will be scared yourself. Even I had no idea it was that sort of situation. Now I know. I am in a privileged position, I know for you, on your behalf. And actually I was saying to myself, ‘hey, well done you chap, you were telling the truth, now the facts, the figures are here before you’. When I looked at the figures, Oliver, once, is this real? Twice, and more things came associated with that item. It’s disgusting, shameful. Be careful when you elect presidents next time, be careful,” President Hichilema said.
And President Hichilema asked the PF to behave themselves.
“PF members, I want to appeal to you, behave yourselves. Don’t provoke a situation that we are managing well,” he said as the audience applauded. “… So, PF behave yourselves. You’re lucky that HH is the President of Zambia. You’re very lucky. So, behave yourselves! Let sleeping dogs lie. But for you sleeping dogs, keep lying there.”
He reminded the former ruling party to appreciate that it was the UPND which won the general elections.
“PF must say ‘thank you’ to us. Sometimes they must say thank you to us. If it was PF that won the 2021 elections, blood would have been all over,” President Hichilema said. “I was told myself that I was fit for a bullet in my head. Have you forgotten? And that after elections, the first action my colleague [Edgar Lungu] was going to embark on was to put me behind bars. 15 times was not enough. He needed me to be there again.”
He pleaded with the PF to stop provoking UPND members who have been disciplined so far.
“…if we allow the UPND members to revenge, how will the people live in the communities? By now you know that UPND are in the majority, isn’t it? How will PF live in Mandevu?” he asked. “How will PF live in Chawama if we say to a UPND member ‘revenge, avenge’? What will happen? Think for a moment. It is my duty, my singular honour to restore order in this country.”
He said PF would find his advice valuable in future.
“But, did they allow us to wear our uniform? Did they allow us to trade in the markets? Did they allow a taxi driver who wore a UPND T-shirt at a taxi rank, was he allowed to do business there?’’ asked President Hichilema. “Taxi drivers, minibus drivers [at] Kulima Tower [bus station in Lusaka] they were being beaten for a kill. You will find this valuable in a few years’ time. You’ll come and cherish this decision that I took. You’ll look back and respect me then.’’
Meanwhile, President Hichilema said he led a leanest delegation to the UN to further Zambia’s interest.
He said the lean team achieved more than the huge delegations the country had become accustomed to over years.
He said the nation would now be accustomed to lean, fit and effective delegations because he looks at value for money.
President Hichilema said he travelled on commercial airline, which was also cheaper, to send a message of the prudence he had been talking about.
“We will walk the talk from State House and hopeful all ministries, central government, departments, quasi-government department, local government, will follow suit going forward. We lead from the front, not from the back,” he said.
President Hichilema said there would be no extravagance under his watch because the extra money must be used for the benefit of Zambians.
He said cost consciousness would drive his administration’s decision making.
President Hichilema said he had checked through government expenditure patterns and he had confirmed that there was excessive extravagance.
“If you got to know what was going on there, you’ll fall off your chair, completely fall off your chair. We carried a colleague called imprest carrier. I said to my colleagues I want to make this imprest carrier irrelevant. I never got a penny from his imprest because I didn’t need it,” he said. “I did not need to hire boats. I did not need to throw parties in Washington. How can you leave your home and go to throw parties in an expensive location like New York? Who are you pleasing? Who are you impressing?”
President Hichilema said he had even made a proposal that he would not need an imprest carrier the next time he travels so that the imprest carton box works for Zambians.
“I am emphatic on this so that we know that there is a new way of doing things,” he said.
President Lungu said in New York, he met with numerous private investors who expressed interest investing in various strategic sectors like energy, agriculture, technology, tourism, mining, among others.