The cost of President Edgar Lungu’s trip to Turkey could not have solved Zambia’s problems, says Chief Government Spokesperson Dora Siliya.

And Siliya says government has directed ZICTA to ask Facebook to close all fake Facebook accounts purpoting to belong to President Edgar Lungu and his cabinet ministers.

Meanwhile, Siliya has lamented that Chinese contractors are failing to give 20 per cent works to local contractors.

Speaking during her weekly press briefings in Lusaka, Wednesday, Siliya responded to those who were criticizing President Lungu’s decision to attend an inauguration ceremony in Turkey amidst austerity measures.

“In my last press briefing I did say that as part of austerity measures [which] the Minister of Finance announced, it was indeed that some of the trips would be reduced and including workshops. But we are part of the global village, we are not a country in isolation. And it is necessary sometimes and this is why government budgets for these trips. It is necessary sometimes for the head of the country to take trips [in order] to be able to engage other leaders on a number of issues, issues that will encourage economic ties between Zambia and those countries, issues that encourage social ties between Zambia and those countries. Nobody does business with strangers and sometimes for us to attract investment in our country, the president needs to physically go to a country so that he provides the confidence to the leadership of that country, to the private sector of that country so that we can begin to see investment come into this country. And sometimes it is just important that we create a relationship with another country so that we benefit from social and cultural ties,” Siliya said.

“These trips are usually budgeted for. Everybody knows that there is a budget that takes care of possible trips for the President, possible trips for ministers and possible trips for other government officials. And I believe we should not be misunderstanding austerity measures to mean a total collapse of government operations. Government has to operate, it has to continue to function. The President has to continue to function and I believe that the argument to say ‘if a President doesn’t travel then it will solve all problems in the country’ is wrong. We should be focusing on how do we grow the economy? So that we all have more to share because even if the President didn’t travel, the cost of that trip we will all not share [it]. So it is important that the economy grows so that we can have something to share, and these are budgeted for trips. It can’t be paralyzed even with austerity measures, government cannot be paralyzed. The number one seller of this country is the President. When he travels, the private sector in that country see confidence and then they decide that they will come and make an investment here.”

Siliya insisted that austerity measures did not mean completely putting a stop to international trips.

“And the Secretary to the Cabinet has issued a circular to detail some of these issues that cabinet has agreed upon including sizes of delegation, workshops including number of trips. It does not say that there will be no trips because it is a principle job to travel to global meetings, to sell the country especially by the President and his Cabinet. If the President is going to function in his office and do the job he was given by the Zambians, it is a responsibility of government to make that happen because if he doesn’t do that job, then he will not do the job he was asked to do by the Zambians,” she said.

When asked about President Lungu’s huge delegations, Siliya said each and every person who travelled with the Head of State was necessary.

“Even before the austerity measures, the President doesn’t travel with people unnecessarily, of course not. Even before the austerity measures. When the President travels, it is that the people in his delegation are relevant to that trip. The government cannot be paralyzed even with austerity measures. We must be able to address all the issues the citizens need. We need basic water, we need roads, we need fire tenders, we need ambulances, [and] we need hospitals. Saying ‘if we don’t have this then we will have this’ no! If the president doesn’t go out to sale the country, we will just be sharing poverty. And even if the president didn’t go on one trip, it is not going to solve the problems of the country,” Siliya said.

And Siliya said government had directed ZICTA to write to Facebook to shut down all fake accounts purported to belong to President Lungu and Cabinet Ministers.

“First of all, I just want to make a comment as a follow up on the statement that the Minister of Communications and Transport gave in Parliament. He did reveal that a number of citizens had been defrauded using fake Facebook accounts and that so far, over K600,000 has been transacted through that method and that about 49 cases have been reported. And these are the only cases that government is aware of but we do know that there are many more cases. And since then, government has been talking to ZICTA. We have realised that there are about 155 fake Facebook accounts purporting to be the President’s. There are about 434 fake Facebook accounts of ministers. In fact, for me personally, there are about 81 fake Facebook accounts. And what we have done is we have instructed ZICTA to write to Facebook so that these Facebook accounts that are being used to defraud citizens specially the young people who are desperate for jobs are actually brought down,” Siliya said.

She also cautioned members of the public to be weary of Facebook scammers.

“Our message as government to the citizens is that please, be careful on how you interact on Facebook. There are a lot of fake Facebook accounts and unscrupulous people out there who want to defraud you of your hard earned money and promising fake jobs and other fake appointments using the name of the president, ministers and other public officials. I personally don’t have any Facebook account. So any Facebook account there purporting to be Dora Siliya is clearly fake. But there are other colleagues who have Facebook accounts and wish to have the fake ones brought down and it can only be done by Facebook itself not ZICTA. I get a lot of people who come with receipts here and said ‘minister, I deposited the K14,000 you said, I deposited the K7,000 you said’ that is a lot of money for somebody to part away with believing that the president or any minister has promised them a job or a place at a school in America or wherever,” Siliya said.

Meanwhile, Siliya lamented that Chinese contractors were failing to give 20 per cent works to locals.

“You know government’s policy has been that 20 percent of projects cost should be awarded to citizens. For example we know that on the Copperbelt, there are close to I think about $850 million worth of projects. If you say 20 percent of that goes to citizens, you are talking about $170 million. But what we found out is that there is a lot of resistance from the big contractors and mostly of these big contractors are Chinese contractors. We have a situation at Ndola airport where even when about $120 million was released to the contractor, only K500 thousand the cost of jobs given to local contractors. And these jobs are mostly cutting grass and painting. We know that our local contractors can do much more than that and the reason government spends so much of our resources on these infrastructural projects is also part of wealth transferring to citizens. And this is why government is insisting that 20 percent must be given to citizens as part of the empowerment,” said Siliya.