MINISTRY of Finance permanent secretary Mukuli Chikuba says government, Lazard Freres a French firm and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) are currently running debt numbers.

Last year, the government awarded a US$5 million tender for the provision of advisory services in relation to its debt management to the French firm over a delivery period of three years.

Speaking during a virtual meeting organized by Zambian Financial Sector Deepening (FSD Zambia), Chikuba said government was still engaging the firm.

“Yes, Lazard is still under engagement. It is a three year lease that we got and currently we are running debt numbers with the International Monetary Fund and our advisors for the purposes of the work that Lazard is doing on the debt,” Chikuba said.

And speaking earlier during a presentation on the role of financial inclusion in national development, Chikuba said the financial sector was critical to the attainment of economic development.

“The financial sector is very critical to the attainment of sustainable economic development and poverty reduction in that it acts as bloodline or oil for the economy to function. We have had reforms that we have been undertaking over a period of time and the essence behind the reforms is to upgrade the services that are being offered but also to upgrade the regulatory framework for the sector so that it is facilitated to grow and provide services to citizens. These financial sector development plans are implemented mainly under the Bank of Zambia. The first one ran from 2004 to 2009, the next one from 2010 to 2015,” Chikuba said.

“We also have a rural finance policy and strategy and there is a rural finance unit under the Ministry of Finance, this is a unit that is in charge of providing financial services in the rural areas in form of loans and other services. They use different NGOs and entities in reaching out to most people who are in the rural areas. This is a deliberate government policy that is meant to ensure that these services are deliberately provided to rural communities.”

Zambia’s external debt officially stands at US$11.20 billion, the highest in the country’s history, mainly on account of new disbursements on existing loans, mostly earmarked for infrastructure development.

The country’s external debt position represents an increase of around US $1 billion from the previous US $10.23 billion by June 30, 2019, compared to US $10.05 billion as at December 31, 2018, and US $8.74 billion by the end of 2017.