Former Finance Minister Alexander Chikwanda says the presidency is a very vulnerable institution and people can easily invade it, as those who worked for Michael Sata did when they swapped the late president’s last speech to Parliament.
And Chikwanda says most of the Chinese projects are done at exceedingly inflated costs which make it difficult for loan repayments.
Meanwhile, Chikwanda says the Auditor General’s report and the Financial Intelligence Center Reports are highly sensationalised to excite the general public that loves sensation.
In January this year, Chikwanda made scathing allegations against Sata’s press aide George Chellah and other State House staff, claiming that they colluded to swap Sata’s speech.
“We all mourn late president Sata who was undermined by people around him to the extent of having the speech he ordained for the fourth session of the 11th National Assembly of Friday 19th September 2014 removed for one he found was not his speech. He was alarmed and severely constrained to read that speech and unfortunately, he just made off tangent jokes,” said Chikwanda.
Chellah then wrote and published a rebuff, accusing Chikwanda of insulting the institution of the presidency with his “lies”.
“The write-up by Mr Chikwanda has one material misconception, which I wish to correct. Presidential speeches are subjected to an elaborate and well-structured process, and to suggest that any one person in a former or the current government can manipulate a presidential speech meant for the legislature, is both an assault on the government process and also on the integrity of the sitting Head of State,” stated Chellah.
Government sources say President Edgar Lungu intervened on the cross fire between the two former government officials by sending emissaries to calm the rivalry in order to preserve the integrity of the late head of state.
But speaking during ZNBC’s Sunday interview, Chikwanda repeated saying Sata gave him the original speech that he wanted to read in parliament but that it was swapped by his advisors, much to his disappointment.
When TV host Grevazio Zulu asked if it was possible for State House staff to do such a thing to a Head of State, the former minister said the presidency was a very vulnerable institution.
“Yes, it is possible. I had a copy myself; he asked me to look at it, so he asked me to keep his copy, which I produced, I didn’t manufacture the copy. In that speech, which was read, he substituted with that bulk speech, which he didn’t read, because he realized it wasn’t what he wanted to read so he started, unfortunately, he just started making standing jokes,” Chikwanda said.
Asked why the culprit who swapped the speech was not dealt with, Chikwanda said that was because Sata died shortly after wards.
“Mr Sata didn’t have time (to deal with the one who changed the speech) because one month later he died. The presidency is a very vulnerable institution.”
He added that there were high priests of corruption serving in the PF government.
“Yes, they are people speaking of corruption who are themselves high priest of corruption. I don’t think that all the people throwing stones are really right. They live in glass houses and I think they should be restrained in throwing stones. Corruption can, we fight it as a society and change the moral dispositions of our country to make people realize that there is meaning to life beyond senseless accumulations, beyond material trappings,” said Chikwanda.
And Chikwanda said Zambia has a moral point to start negotiations with the Chinese government to lengthen the debt repayment period and reduce interest rates because the loans were inflated.
he was responding to the question of why government over-borrowed during his reign as Finance Minister.
“We borrow not for the current expenditure we borrowed for capital programmes. Without borrowing, some of the infrastructure that is taking place would not have taken place. But of course, borrowing externally has severe implications in terms of capacity to service the borrowed money. So, now our external debt stands at US $8.7 billion, but I think if we were to be honest, there are also pipeline items so, maybe, by the time we go into next year our external debt could rise to as high as US $13 billion at which point debt servicing would become quite critical because now this year it should have been between US $500-600 million servicing the external debt. And, you know next year it will jump to above US $1 billion. So, that’s quite a challenge,” he said.
“There are other debts, which government comes close to renegotiate, like the ones from our Chinese friends. And they have undertaken some projects at exceedingly inflated costs so that gives us a moral point for us to start to negotiate with the Chinese government if there is a chance that the repayment period can be lengthened, and interest factors tuned down. I do feel that it is a sustainable suggestion because the Chinese put a lot of premium on friendship and Zambia is one of the most friendly countries to China and I think they can assist us in that area.”
Meanwhile, Chikwanda said the Auditor general’s report was highly sensationalised.
He said corruption in government was more concentrated among junior officers, yet people always focused on the ministers.
“Those people who are talking about corruption cannot just be dismissed, we have to think about it. Government is a very complex thing, it’s not like a company. It a long process and we have to transform the way people think. When people talk about corruption they just look at ministers, but corruption is more intense as the civil service level, and yet people think it’s just ministers. The government system is difficult. It’s hard for a minister to extract money illegally from the government coffers. The government expenditure is very well controlled,” he said.
“But now the other thing is that the Auditor General’s reports are very sensational. A lot of work has been done in reinforcing the office of the Accountant General and the President in his wisdom has upgraded that office now to Permanent Secretary level, and the office of the controller of internal audits. But in Zambia people like sensation, so they would rather take the sensationalized reports from the Auditor General instead of hearing the achievements made by the Accountant General.”
Zulu then referred Chikwanda to the Friday edition of News Diggers which carried a headline “FIC report K4.5 billion theft in 2017”, but the former minister said even the FIC reports were sensationalized.
“The Financial Intelligence Center can be useful, but again there is an element of sensation in the manner that money is reported to be going out of the country through transfer pricing, and this relates to the mining industry. There is a lot of exaggerations there… Some of us in the party who want to promote investment in Zambia, our efforts are being frustrated by some people who want to create sensation and quarrel with the mines,” said Chikwanda.