Chief Government Spokesperson Dora Siliya has described a State House statement in which President Edgar Lungu assigned five Cabinet Ministers to China on a purported Debt Restructuring Programme, as a fake.

And Siliya says Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan state visit to Zambia this Saturday is aimed at cementing the bilateral relations between Zambia and that country.

According to a press release issued by President Lungu’s spokesperson Amos Chanda on Wednesday, July 11, the Head of State assigned five Cabinet Ministers to travel to China and engage authorities, financing institutions and business houses in that country on a debt restructuring programme.

President Lungu said this when he met the new Chinese Ambassador to Zambia Li Jie at State House, according to the statement.

“The President informed the Ambassador that he has assigned five ministers to travel to China in the coming days to hold strategic consultations with Chinese authorities, financing institutions and Chinese companies doing business in Zambia to discuss the debt restructuring programme. The Ministers who have been assigned to travel to China are; the Ministers of Finance, Foreign Affairs, Housing and Infrastructure and National Development and Planning.”

However, speaking during her weekly press briefings in Lusaka yesterday, Siliya said the story of President Lungu having sent his Cabinet Ministers to China was “fake news” because as far as she was aware, there was no statement from the Ministry of Finance explaining the financing of such a trip.

“I have heard that and I think someone was asking me that I am supposed to be part of that delegation. Now, I am not so sure if this is an online story because I have not heard the Minister of Finance make that statement and you know the Minister of Finance is responsible for these matters. But there was someone who was asking me last week personally that I am supposed to be part of this committee; I can confirm to you that as far as I am aware, I have not read that [statement], I read a story circulating [on social media], but clearly, I have not officially within government heard that commitment. So, [the story] is fake news,” Siliya told journalists.

And responding to a question on what was on the agenda ahead of the Turkish leader’s state visit to Zambia, Siliya said President Erdoğan was coming to cement the already existing bilateral relations.

“I have always pointed out that Zambia is not an island. Zambia needs friends, political friends as well as business relations. The Turkish economy I think is the fifth largest in Europe and I believe that there is a lot of trade already going on between the Zambian private sector and the Turkish sector. We all know that most of our shops in Zambia have a lot of men’s shoes and lots of apparel that’s coming from Turkey. We also know that there is a lot of investment in Zambia in various sectors, which belong to the Turkish private sector. At the point of our energy crisis, I think it was Turkey that we looked to give us support two years ago,” Siliya explained.

She, however, said she was not aware of a statement by the Turkish Ambassador to Zambia Sebnem Incesu, who recently warned that Zambia was facing terrorism threats from Fethullah Gülen, the founder of an organisation which Turkey believes was behind the 2016 coup attempt in that country.