UK MINISTER for Africa Vicky Ford says there is one international creditor that seems to be taking a bit more time in Zambia’s debt restructuring.
And sources within the government told News Diggers that China has been apprehensive about committing to Zambian’s debt restructuring programme.
The sources say China which accounts for at least a third of Zambia’s external debt remained adamant to make a commitment after the copper producer signed a Staff Level Agreement with the IMF for a bail out programme.
“China being our biggest creditor has remained reluctant to support the IMF programme and that has slowed things down. This is why the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Corporations recently traveled to China for talks with authorities with a few to bringing them to the table,” said the sources.
Speaking when she featured on Hot FM’s Red Hot Breakfast programme, Thursday, Ford said she would speak to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) about how the process could be sped up.
“We have this common framework that all countries signed up to, to help renegotiate the terms of a debt when you have got a country that has got an unsustainable debt and it’s incredibly important that those negotiations carry on. We have got one international creditor that seems to be taking a bit more time to make a decision. I discussed that with the foreign minister as well last night and I know he has been working incredibly hard to try and speed up that process. I am actually on my way to Washington in a couple of weeks’ time for the World Bank spring meetings, the World Bank meets twice a year and I will also be meeting the IMF. I am really encouraging them to say how can we get this process going faster because the longer it’s going, the more the overhang of uncertainty is going to impact on people here,” Ford said.
“Going to agreeing the plan with the IMF on making some restructuring changes to the country is also really difficult, especially at a time when world food prices or fuel prices have been rising. But it’s incredibly important to try and get the sustainability of public finances back on track. That means not only taking some measures to balance the books, but also getting that debt negotiation sorted. It’s really difficult and I know that the government is really focusing on this in a very impressive way. But we need to make sure that we as the UK try and put pressure on the other countries involved to come to the negotiating table to get this sorted out so that Zambia can move on to the next stage of its growth and future.”
asked about her impression of what President Hakainde Hichilema said regarding strengthening democratic processes in the country, Ford said he was committed to it.
“Very committed to it but it’s got to be a process that is also not going to suck all of the energy out of the government’s agenda. They need to also continue focusing on things like getting all the children into school, getting them educated. We had long discussions about the challenges that Zambia has had in negotiating with these international creditors, we are very supportive of getting a deal with the international creditors because we know how important that is. But some of the other countries seem to be taking quite a lot of time. So how can I help to encourage others along and how can the UK help to encourage others along? We discussed a number of different issues. But also, he is absolutely passionate to get more investment going in order to create jobs and opportunities especially for young people,” she said.
And Ford said she was of the belief that democracy was important in the world, adding that Zambia’s August election was important not only to citizens but globally.
“I think the election in Zambia last year was a really important election to not only the people of Zambia but actually across the continent of Africa and globally. As I said, democracy feels to me as if it’s under threat in a way I haven’t seen for decades and I am in my 50s now and it’s really concerning. I have seen a whole spate of coups happening in East Africa and the reason I believe in democracy is not just because it’s something you read about in some politics textbook, it’s because that strong belief that when people are free to choose their leaders, when they are free to choose who is going to set the rules that govern the country then there is more peace and peace brings prosperity. And that is why I believe that democracy is so important in the world. A really strong commitment from your President, from your government as well to uphold the rule of law and that is not only locally here, but also internationally and globally,” said Ford.
“When I spoke with the President yesterday, he explained the reason they have been taking the international stance to condemn Russia’s actions. It is not because you are siding with one country, or siding with another country, it’s because fundamentally, he believes in human rights, he believes in the rule of law and that you shouldn’t have wars that are attacking women, that are attacking children, that are actually attacking women giving birth to children. Really passionate words from him. We spoke about some of the democratic reforms he wants to do, to make sure that freedom of speech is underlined now. Clearly, the government has a huge number of challenges but that is very much something they want to continue working on. They want to prioritize so that it’s not the only thing the government is delivering. They are getting on with a lot of other things.”
She said energy sources needed to be diversified.