Heavy debt servicing killing businesses – Msokotwane

Businesses can no longer thrive in Zambia due to lack of money in the market because all of the country’s financial resources are being channelled to servicing debt, says Liuwa UPND member of parliament Situmbeko Musokotwane.

And Musokotwane says the PF government is preoccupied with a misconception that road construction is the only kind of development that could transform the country.

Speaking when he featured on Prime TV’s Oxygen of Democracy programme, Monday evening, Musokotwane observed that businesses in the country were not doing well due to lack of liquidity in the money market.

He regretted that government was not even able to collect sufficient tax because everything people were earning was going into the settling of external debt borrowed from other countries.

“When the economy is growing and there is more produce coming on the market, generally we can expect government to collect more taxes because there are more people paying taxes. But now, even taxes will just pass through the Minister of Finance and go to China to service the debt. This is why, today, if you go around the market, almost every businessman is complaining that it is difficult to sell. I am sure you have heard everyone who is in business today telling the same story that, ‘today it is difficult to sell.’ There is no money in the market because the money is going to service the debt. This is now where the problem starts for suffering, because if civil servants are not getting meaningful salary increments, and if your business is to sell tomatoes or chickens, who is going to buy those things because the biggest market in terms of consumers in the economy is civil servants, and if they don’t get salary increments don’t expect to get your chickens sold easily,” Musokotwane said.

“Even in some supermarkets today, when you go there and ask them ‘how is business?’ they will tell you that the amount of business we are taking is not as much as we were doing before. Why is that? Civil servants have not received meaningful salary increments. Similarly, because most of the money is going to service debts, what is happening is that even those things that government itself used to do to buy from the local market… whether it’s taking people for seminars where domestic lodges are able to get some business, now you hardly see any of that because there is no money, it’s going to pay the debts. If government was buying computers, if government was buying chalk for schools and all these other things for schools, somebody was making money out of it. But that is all depressed, this is why today you hear everybody saying ‘there is no money in the economy.’ It’s difficult to sell because the money is not staying in the country.”

Musokotwane said debt was not bad if a country was able to sustain it, but that borrowing excessively like the Zambian government had borrowed, was not good and could be problematic.

“Borrowing is not bad, whether it’s at individual-level, whether it’s at company-level, whether it’s at national-level. The problem with this government is that, they have borrowed excessively. They have borrowed too much and anything done in extremes creates problems. Okay, we can say: ‘look at the roads in Lusaka, they look so nice, but what about the roads in Kalabo? What about the roads in Chiengi and Katete? So, it’s a concentration in Lusaka, Copperbelt and a few places. But beyond that, life cannot just be about roads. Development as we talk about it is broad-based, development is about everything and roads is one of them. But people need to eat; they need to send their children to school because they are able to sell some tomatoes and some chickens. Development is about going to a health centre and you find medicine; development is about villages [where] you find water. But these colleagues, for some reason, almost all the huge amounts of loans that are obtained, it is roads, roads, roads and roads! But we are saying life cannot just be about roads,” he insisted.

And Musokotwane said the PF government was quite misinformed about the true definition of development.

“I suspect that there is a misconception about what development is because I hear people boasting that they’ve transformed the economy of Zambia because of roads. But apart from that, there is a misconception that development is about roads. Yes, please understand me, we need roads, but the important thing here is that, what is the point of having so many roads in the meantime the quality of education [for] our children is going down? Those of us who represent rural constituencies have seen situations whereby, you go to a school from grade one to grade nine, and I can give so many examples, which I normally do even in Parliament. Grade one to grade nine, how many teachers? Three teachers. When I was in primary school in the 60s, my primary school had a teacher for each grade. But today, from grade one to nine, pupils are having three teachers. So, the question: how can we say we are bringing development because we are building roads, in the meantime we are literally killing our young people? So, development needs to be sensibly balanced,” Musokotwane, a former finance minister, explained.

Meanwhile, Musokotwane charged that there was corruption and a number of hindrances in the allocation of investment opportunities in Zambia.

“There are stories about corruption in the road sector, I cannot point out anyone, but certainly, there are stories about corruption in the road sector and the Auditor General is always talking about corruption and mis-procurement in the road sector. There is corruption in terms of allowing investment. A lot of places you go and ask for a licence, whether it’s police, whether it’s ministries, you hit against walls of bureaucracy. Sometimes, it will take several months for you to get your licence to do your business. Sometimes, you are just easily frustrated because… let me give a specific example; if you look at the timber industry, which is very notorious, here are a number of industries, which have invested into timber industry, utilising the local raw materials. But this is an industry where every so often government comes in and says, ‘we are banning timber, no more cutting trees’. But you forget that people have invested in this industry to make furniture,” he said.

Musokotwane said the UPND would face the current economic challenges that the country is facing head-on if Zambian voters were to give his party a mandate to rule.

“If the Zambian people at some point were to give the mandate to my party, obviously we would have to face this problem. Our colleagues are putting their heads in the sand because they caused the problem, but for us if the Zambian people were to give us the mandate, we would have to face the problem head-on and find a way of dealing with this problem in a sustainable manner. And there is a good starting point because some of the projects that are being talked about are not necessary. If you talk about, for example, this project from Serenje to Chipata, costing US $2 billion, I wouldn’t do that because there are cheaper alternatives. I think it would be cheaper go repair Zambia Railways or TAZARA, rather than take US $2 billion of new debt. We need the railways to transport goods coming from Zambia and those that are coming from other countries,” said Musokotwane.

         

Mirriam Chabala

About Mirriam Chabala

Mirriam Chabala is a Zambian journalist who covers current affairs and writes in-depth feature articles on social issues.
Email: mirriam [at] diggers [dot] news

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