Zambia’s borrowing from China is the most sensible, Housing and Infrastructure Development Minister Ronald Chitotela has argued.

And Chitotela says government is still mobilizing resources to rehabilitate the horrendous Mazabuka-Kafue road.

Meanwhile, Chitotela says its shocking that whenever people see Chinese working on a project, they assume it is AVIC International when there are so many other Chinese companies winning contracts.

Speaking when he featured on Let the People Talk programme on Radio Phoenix, Tuesday, Chitotela argued that Zambia’s borrowing from China most sensible because unlike other funders, they directly inject into projects instead of sending funds to government accounts.

Zambia’s debt arising from Chinese loans in the year 2016 rose by 350 per cent from two loans contracted in 2015 to nine the year after, according to the Zambia Institute for Policy Analysis and Research (ZIPAR).

“Chinese borrowing to Zambia [in] particular is the most sensible borrowing to me who is a student of economics, who believes in infrastructure development as a pre-cursor of any economic growth because China, they don’t give cash to the government, they fund projects. You are able to point at, today we are going to talk about the loan agreement for the upgrade of the Kenneth Kaunda International Airport (KKIA) terminal and a taxi way, you are able to point at, you talk about dual carriageway, you are able to point at, you talk about the new Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe International Airport, you will be able to point at it. Okay, yes, our friends will lend us money under the balance of trade and balance of payment, yes, it will grow the macro-economy, but if you ask the economists they will tell you that a total sum of micro must create macro [and] not growing the economy just there without the involvement of the micro activities,” Chitotela said.

And asked about the horrendous Mazabuka-Kafue road, Chitotela said AfDB had released funding for a 35Km out of the total 72Km stretch.

“People have talked about the Mazabuka road and some people are saying because Mazabuka-Kafue road is not done so the money from toll-gates is being misappropriated. I said no! It’s [also] not true [that it has not been done because it’s an opposition stronghold] and this is why I was speaking to my brother Garry Nkombo and Honourable, the MP for Monze Central [Jack Mwiimbu], because these are my good friends. I said we need to be national leaders and tell people the truth. Yes, we can politic, but to what extent? You have been to Great North Road, it is a very important road the [same] way Mazabuka-Kafue road is and Chinsali-Nakonde road is. Every day on that road there is an accident because the road has completely been worn out. In government, there are procurement processes that we follow that you don’t jump [and] if you jump, tomorrow you will be a client of Joshua Banda at Magistrate and I don’t want to do that. I have a family, I have a moral obligation, I am a Christian. We must make sure that we do things according to book. We are procuring. For Chinsali-Nakonde road, we started in 2015, we just concluded procurement and that is when we have shortlisted…because that project is being funded by the AfDB, and [for] Kafue-Mazabuka road, we started last year,” he explained.

Chitotela said government, through his Ministry, had written to a UK export financing company called UKF, seeking financing for the remainder stretch from Chikankata to Monze, plus a bypass road in Mazabuka.

“RDA wrote to African Development Bank to make the funding available. That is an economic [road], it’s a trunk T1 road. African Development Bank responded in affirmative and they made available $35 million. This $35 million can only do 35Km, and this is just from Ten Park to Chikankata. Our desire is to do a full road rehabilitation from Ten Park to Monze and a 10Km bypass in Mazabuka. We are now in serious negotiations and the procurement process for $35 million has advanced, which the African Development Bank has made available. So, we also wrote to UKF, the funding from the United Kingdom export financing, we call it UKF, to finance the remainder of the road from Chikankata to Monze, plus 10Km bypass. And they have responded and we are in discussions,” Chitotela revealed.

“Right now, and what we did before we fully signed the maintenance contract [like] the way we have done to Solwezi-Chingola road, we signed the maintenance or the holding contract with Inyatsi at a total contract of K65 million and so far, we paid him K7 million [and] last week we paid him another K10 million. So, because of the importance [of the road], we know that we need a full road rehabilitation, $35 million has been made available and because the total kilometre is 72Km and a 10Km bypass in Mazabuka and a portion from Mazabuka to Monze, UKF to make the remainder of the funding available so that we can continue and finish a full road rehabilitation.”

Meanwhile, Chitotela attempted to clear the common perception AVIC International was winning all major infrastructure contracts.

“In relation to AVIC [International], to the best of my knowledge, the loan agreement which AVIC is implementing is Lusaka and the Zambia urban roads. I was joking and saying you know, in Zambia, for people whoever they see performing is AVIC, no, that is China Jiangxi’s [and] not AVIC. Dual carriageway is China Jiangxi’s. On the Copperbelt, it is China Henan; the one who did Mansa-Luwingu road is China Henan; the one who did Chingola-Solwezi road is China Geo; the one who did the Kitwe–Chingola Dual Carriageway is China Hydro. It’s not AVIC,” he narrated.

And Chitotela said that he asked the Road Development Agency (RDA) to prioritize rehabilitation of Chikwa Road in Lusaka, which is the stretch from the Addis-Ababa roundabout to the Supreme Court roundabout, to avoid embarrassing visiting heads of state.

“Chikwa Road is not just an ordinary road, it’s presidential road for both visiting and heads of states [and our President], they use that road. When I was appointed, it was the first project I called RDA under dual carriageway and I said, ‘can we make sure that we don’t want to be embarrassed as a nation to hear that a visiting Head of State has been involved in the road accident because of the state of the road at Chikwa Road’, except then we had just concluded the phase one of Lusaka 400 and said the first thing I said, ‘please make sure that that road is done because it was becoming an embarrassment’; it’s like the Airport Road [but] very soon it will be a thing of the past,” Chitotela assured.

He said a total of 702 local contractors had been subcontracted and so far had been paid a sum of K1.2 billion.

“Where we are now, about 702 local Zambian companies have been sub-contracted under sub contract policy and a total of K1.2 billion has been given paid out to 702 local Zambian companies. And I want to begin engaging the banks and I am happy Stanbic Bank has said, ‘identify those Zambian companies that you can grade in class one and class two and begin giving long-term loans so that we begin creating capacity so that we know that you as government will be committed in paying them and they will be able to perform without disappointing you’,” explained Chitotela.