State House Press Aide Amos Chanda says America’s State Department issued a premature statement to condemn Zambia after government denied Tendai Biti political asylum, arguing that had the US waited, it would have realised that the former Zimbabwean finance minister was not in any danger.

And Chanda says President Lungu is genuinely concerned with the corruption levels in government, but slammed the criticism from former ministers whom he said were unable to see the corruption when they were in Cabinet.

Speaking when he featured on ZNBC’s Special Interview dubbed: “The Presidency in Focus” Monday, Chanda claimed that Biti, who was deported by immigration authorities in defiance of a court order last week, would have crossed into Zambia if so wished using a 30-day visa as a Zimbabwean citizen.

He insisted that Biti was not deported from the country, but merely “handed back”.

“There was no deportation of Honourable Tendai Biti. What happened to put it in context and also to try and cure the misinformation that has been put in the public space; Honourable Tendai Biti if he so wished, he would have crossed into Zambia and requested for 30 days, as you know Zambia-Zimbabwe we don’t require visas to cross into there, but an extraordinary circumstance occurred there that his passport was not stamped on the Zimbabwean side for exit and therefore, the Zambian authority had to exercise due diligence in any passport that is not stamped in that manner. You were informed of an arrest warrant that was issued against Honourable Tendai Biti on the 2nd of August, at that point in line with broad framework of international law, international agreements, bilateral between Zambia and Zimbabwe is that, unless Zambia is convinced, that citizen will be subjected to the due process. But any person that is facing criminal allegation will obviously be subjected to greater immigration scrutiny before they are admitted. At that point, the Zambian authorities judged in their own wisdom that more due diligence needed to be done and a decision was reached that he needed to be handed back to Zimbabwean authorities so that he could face the due process of the law,” Chanda said.

He said President Lungu working through his officials obtained assurance from the Zimbabwean authorities that Biti would be given a free and fair trial before being deported.

“As we stated, we secured sufficient guarantees and assurances from Zimbabwe that the President, working through his officials and himself, directly did get assurances that he (Biti) will be subjected to due process of the law, he will be given a free and fair trial and that is what happened… Come on, who is complaining? Hon. Tendai Biti is free at home in Zimbabwe, why do you want him to be free at home in Zambia or New York or Tanzania or elsewhere? That statement without being disrespectful to the staff at the State Department [in Washington, D.C.], I think was issued too quickly. If they waited like now, if you were to ask them to issue that statement again, they wouldn’t. It was a strong statement, which was issued prematurely,” Chanda said.

And Chanda downplayed the backlash by several critics who condemned the sending back of Biti.

“What is their concern if I may ask? [That statement was] extremely premature! Unfortunately, the UNHCR is there, if the UNHC gentleman who issued that statement is here, what complaint would he be talking about today? That you return an asylum-seeker back to conditions of danger, what danger exists against Honourable Tendai Biti in Harare today? The Government of the Republic of Zambia and the Government of the Republic of Zimbabwe are bigger than Tendai Biti and probably bigger than the UNHCR,” Chanda said.

He also said that as President Lungu assumes the chairmanship of the SADC organ on Politics, Defence and Security, his focus would be to oversee and maintain stability in the region.

“In the coming days precisely 16th, 17th when the SADC Summit takes place in Namibia, His Excellency President Lungu will assume the chairmanship of the SADC organ on Politics, Defence and Security. As a summary of it, this is a critically important organ of SADC because it oversees deployment of election observations missions in SADC. It oversees where necessary the deployment of troops, if SADC had to intervene in any other country where there was instability, it’s the organ that oversees that. So, basically, it’s the heart and soul of SADC. So, the chairman of the organ becomes extremely busy overseeing not just stability in his country, in this case President Lungu’s country, which is Zambia, he is [also called] to keep an eye on Zimbabwe, South Africa and all the countries,” Chanda explained.

He further said that President Lungu would only travel for more than three hours when duty demands.

“The President will travel as need arises, as duty dictates, but fortunately, if you look at where Zambia is located, if he has to travel to Kinshasa it would be two hours [and] 20 minutes; 90minutes probably into Pretoria; 50 minutes into Harare; two hours into Angola. The President will not travel any longer than three hours if need arises, but he will travel as duty demands,” he said.

Asked why government was still launching new projects amidst austerity measures, Chanda said the measures did not mean completely cutting off projects.

“Austerity measures do not necessarily mean stopping projects, it’s rationalisation so that you take on only those projects that can mature within a short time, that can be completed before you take on others, and she [Finance Minister Margaret Mwanakatwe] has outlined that she will be making pronouncements when she presents the budget that she will outline the medium, short-term and long-term solutions to the problems that we are facing. I have never seen any single government doing as many roads as this government has done. I have never seen ever since UNIP, any government building as many dams as this government has done, as many airports as we have done; hospitals and schools. I have never seen this,” he boasted.

Chanda further said that the debate about a new Turkish firm expressing interest in refinancing the US $750 million Eurobond was taken out of context.

“The President was not saying that the Eurobond will be signed before the owners of the bond agree, this will be done whenever an agreement is done, it will be done in an amicable manner. That will be done at the end of this bond. What that means is that, the fact that the bond has not matured and people are showing interest in buying it out, tells you that Zambia is still a viable country; it’s still credit worthy. What the President was doing was simply to inform his counterpart that a Turkish firm was interested in Zambia’s sovereign debt,” Chanda explained.

Meanwhile, Chanda disclosed that President Lungu was equally concerned about the much-talked about corruption in government.

“Questions of corruption are too important to be seen in black and white scenario. You are corrupt, ‘no I am not corrupt’. Some of the [former] ministers have actually counted the rise in corruption equal to the number of years they were in government. A minister who was in government for seven years says he has never seen corruption as bad as this in the last seven years, but that was only seen at the end of their seven years in government,” he said.

“Yes, the President is genuinely concerned about that and he does not deny that it does not exist. What he wants are genuine interventions, genuine solutions and genuine actions to stop corruption. He has given full authority to investigative agencies to investigate anyone.”

He further said there was no one in government who had stolen the K4.5 billion as cited in the Financial Intelligence Centre (FIC) Trends Report released in May.

He also urged the Centre to be more professional and less political when presenting facts so as to leave no room for attacks.

“The Financial Intelligence Centre director came to see the President; she was given full support. She was even guided on how to do certain things, share information with investigative wings so that you don’t leave room for the Centre to be attacked unnecessarily. What you see is a consequence of misguided debates sometimes. For instance, when there is tax evasion, the companies that have not paid tax, there is not one person in government who has stolen that money. In any case, for instance, for somebody to be able to evade tax of K4.5 million or billion, how much is their income? There is not one person in government with that level of income to be able to evade K4.5 million. So, it’s how they present these facts, they must be as professional as possible, less political as possible,” urged Chanda.