Opposition MPs yesterday took turns grilling Minister in the Vice-President’s office Sylvia Chalikosa demanding an explanation as to why books being distributed to pupils were bearing President Edgar Lungu’s face.
The concern was initially raised by Chipili independent member of parliament Jewis Chabi who wanted to find out why the government had allowed the Patriotic Front (PF) to distribute books bearing not only the Presidential Portrait, but also the Party Logo.
Chabi also asked whether the distribution did not constitute a political campaign tool and whether other political parties were at liberty to distribute similar political materials to schools; as well as whether it was possible for would-be recipients to decline the donation.
In her response, Chalikosa said President Lungu had dedicated part of his earnings towards providing books to underprivileged pupils.
“The government places a high premium on education in the development prospects of our country. However, there is a large segment of our community that is severely resource constrained to afford basic school requisites. Cognizant of this fact, His Excellency the President Mr Edgar Lungu has devoted part of his earnings to meeting this need among the most vulnerable members of society by distributing exercise books. Madam Speaker, President Lungu is not only President of the Republic of Zambia but he is also President of the Patriotic Front (PF) party. According to the 2016-2021 PF manifesto, early childhood education is among the major priorities. Accordingly, chapter one subsection a part 2 provides that in order to enhance access to and in order to improve early childhood education, the PF shall develop and distribute teaching/learning materials. Therefore, the distribution of learning materials should be understood in the above light,” Chalikosa said.
“The portrait and logo seen on the books does not diminish or increase their value in any way. Madam Speaker, this August House already knows that we are not in an election period. Therefore, an act of charity in the distribution of exercise books does not constitute a campaign tool in any way. Government cannot stop acts of charity as long as donations are devoid of political undertones and it is not up to government to dictate to the would-be recipients whether to decline or accept donations , especially if such donations are well intended.”
Meanwhile, Nkeyema UPND member of parliament Kapelwa Mbangweta and his Chiengi FDD counterpart Given Katuta, rose on concurrent points of clarification, demanding to know why the same books were only being distributed to PF represented constituencies.
And in response, Chalikosa said all interested members of parliament where welcome to visit the PF secretariat and collect the books to go and distribute in their constituencies.
“Madam Speaker, the President is following one of the pronouncements in the PF manifesto, which is to promote education by donating these books. If truly members sitting in this house are interested in donating the books, they are free to visit our party secretariat and they will be given the books to distribute,” Chalikosa said.
Mazabuka Central UPND member of parliament Garry Nkombo asked the minister to clarify whether or not the exclusion of pupils in selected constituencies from receiving the books did not amount to discrimination of innocent children.
“Minister, there is a clear distinction between an act of desperation and benevolence depending on where you are standing. I want to find out from you honourable minister whether or not the act of distributing these books with your party President’s head and the PF symbol is only exclusively to PF represented constituencies and that if people like me where interested in taking those books to my constituency then I should go to the PF secretariat to collect these books and take them to my constituency. But couldn’t this be a mountain of reasons of discrimination of innocent children which can actually amount to an addition the many constitutional bleaches that we intend to bring here for the impeachment of President Edgar Lungu,” asked Nkombo.
But deputy Speaker Catherine Namugala guided the minister in the office of the Vice-President to only respond to the question of whether or not the exclusion of pupils in selected constituencies did not amount to criticism and then ignore the rest of the Mazabuka lawmaker’s question.
“I want to categorically deny that there is any form of discrimination. In the preamble, I did mention that the President has devoted part of his earnings to meeting this need among the most vulnerable members of our society by distributing exercise books. He has only just started, he’s yet to go around the country,” said Chalikosa.