British High Commissioner Fergus Cochrane-Dyet says his country has not yet unfrozen aid to Zambia and is still working closely with government to conclude a forensic audit into abuse of funds.

And High Commissioner Cochrane-Dyet says with a projected population of 41 million by 2050, Zambians need to start debating how poverty will be fought.

Speaking when he hosted a reception in honour of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s 93rdbirthday, High Commissioner Cochrane-Dyet said increasing corruption in Zambia was still an issue of concern.

“Turning to UK, Zambia relations, the last year has not been without difficulties. It is widely known that last June, the UK suspended all direct funding to the government following allegations of the misuse of funds and we are still working with the government to complete a forensic audit investigation. There have been other issues of concern, increasing corruption, unsustainable levels of debt, pressure on freedoms of expression and the media, lack of progress on national reconciliation, together with worries about what that might mean for the 2021 elections,” High Commissioner Cochrane-Dyet said.

High Commissioner Cochrane-Dyet, who gave an example of Brexit, observed that democracy was not always “neat and tidy”.

“The past year in Britain was dominated by Brexit. Zambians frequently expressed bemusement to me at the intricate political process. The current position is that if a deal is passed and a withdrawal agreement ratified during the first few weeks of May, the UK will not participate during next month’s elections and can depart the EU on the 31st of May, we shall see,” High Commissioner Cochrane-Dyet said, as his guests laughed.

“I have two observations to make; first, we are witnessing democracy in action, both direct democracy through a Referendum in which 17.4 million Britons voted to leave the EU and representational democracy whereby Parliament tries to reflect the wishes of a divided country. The democratic process is not always as neat and as tidy as we might wish but by producing evolution, rather than revolution, it has served my country very well over the centuries. Second, don’t be misled by all the sound and fury of this situation, beneath it, Britain remains strong and prosperous. Unemployment at 3.9 per cent is the lowest for 44 years and with 44,000 jobs created in the last six months alone. Despite Brexit anxiety in 2018, the UK actually became a happier country according to the World Happiness Report.”

High Commissioner Cochrane-Dyet, however, also highlighted some of the good things about Zambia’s relationship with his country in the past year, citing Prince Harry’s visit, joint projects in health, defence, among other sectors.

“But there has been much good news as well. It was wonderful that in November, His Excellency President Edgar Lungu travelled to Mbala for the historic centenary anniversary of the last military action of World War I at which Britain was represented by one of Britain’s greatest generals, General Lord Richards. Most memorable of all were the events at Circus Zambia and Bongohive when the Duke met so many talented, dynamic and dedicated young Zambians,” High Commissioner Cochrane-Dyet said.

And High Commissioner Cochrane-Dyet warned that population growth was Zambia’s major threat other than climate change.

“I care deeply about Zambia so here is my parting shot, there is one crucial topic no one seems to discuss. Apart from climate change, what is the key strategic threat that Zambia faces? I shall tell you. It is population growth. When I first came to Zambia in late 2004, 60 per cent poverty in a population of 12 million meant seven million Zambians living in poverty. Today, with similar poverty but a population of 18 million, the number of poor Zambians has swelled to 11 million. Despite all our combined efforts over the last 15 years, the number of poor Zambians has actually gone up by a factor of millions. Now let’s peer into the future. Zambia’s population is projected to reach an astonishing 41 million by 2050. On current projections, poverty levels as not expected to decrease and that means 25 million poor Zambians,” he said.

“In the absence of a double digit economic growth, imagine the vast development challenge of coping with this number of people providing jobs, food, healthcare, schooling, roads, sanitation. Imagine too, the impact on the environment, deforestation, conservation and tourism. I think we can assume that Zambia’s wildlife, a rich economic asset, will be pretty much wiped out. Now, it is not for the British High Commissioner to tell Zambians how to handle your population growth, but as someone with Zambia’s interest at heart, I do want to sound a warning, and encourage Zambians themselves to begin debating this really important issue. In essence, what sort of Zambia do you want to see in 2050? And what must be done to achieve this outcome?”

But Health Minister Dr Chitalu Chilufya said government had embarked on a transformational agenda which would ensure less stunted Zambians by 2050, adding that government is also committed to democracy and upholding the rule of law.

“When you come back to Zambia 30 years from today, there will be much less poorer Zambians I can assure you and less stunted Zambians because of the great support we are getting from the Republic of United Kingdom and many other well wishers and because of the transformational agenda that the Zambian government has embarked on in order to improve the lives of the Zambian people,” said Dr Chilufya, who also thanked the UK for its support in the health sector.

Meanwhile, High Commissioner Cochrane-Dyet also honoured first president Dr Kenneth Kaunda, whose 95th birthday is this Sunday, and Britain’s oldest citizen resident in Zambia Tonia Tilley who celebrated her 90th birthday on Wednesday.