Foreign Affairs Minister Joe Malanji says government has no intentions to scale down on its missions abroad in adhering to the recently-announced austerity measures, explaining that austerity does not extend to operations which are of vital value.

And Malanji says allegations by National Democratic Congress (NDC) leader Chishimba Kambwili that government owed its diplomats three months’ salary arrears are unfounded, adding that all officials representing Zambia abroad are receiving their salaries on time.

Last month, Finance Minister Margaret Mwanakatwe announced that Cabinet had resolved to cancel some signed, but undisbursed loans, in order to moderate Zambia’s mounting risk of debt distress.

As part of a new raft of austerity measures, she equally announced that Cabinet directed that no Ministry, province or spending agency should contract goods and services without availability of funds despite it being budgeted for.

In an interview with News Diggers! Malanji said government would not close down any of its missions abroad because all of the country’s missions around the world remained effective.

“Austerity measures do not extend to operations which are of vital value. There is no Zambian Mission [in the world], which is dormant. All the Missions are quite effective. It takes someone keen to understand operations and the diplomatic value of our established foreign missions. When you look at the Mission like the one in Washington (D.C.), that’s the anchor point for our bilateral relations with the United States. So, austerity measures do not mean that you now have to scale down even on operations, which are of significant value to the nation. So, we do not intend to close down any of the Zambian Missions abroad,” Malanji said.

And asked if there was any truth in Kambwili’s allegations, who on Monday accused government of owing its diplomats serving abroad the three months’ salary arrears, Malanji said payment of salaries to diplomats in foreign Missions was being done on time every month.

“Remittance has been done, except in a few situations where someone has just gone and you’ve not yet established that local banking facilities, yes, in those cases such things can happen. But it’s not that it’s due to lack of funds, it’s just maybe procedures of the host country to open their accounts. And currently, there isn’t any such a challenge that I would talk about. Remittance of funds to our foreign Missions is being done just like before and it’s being done on time. So, I don’t know where those allegations are coming from, they are unfounded I would say. Our Missions are paid accordingly,” Malanji responded.

Malanji also clarified that the recurrences of misappropriation of funds at some of the country’s Missions abroad were not salary-related, but the general management of funds in the country’s Missions, which he said was a normal routine check-up.

“Those are routine checks and balances, those of our diplomats that are called back to foreign offices, it’s to come and give some clarifications on where they are found wanting. Audits are done in all Missions; it is a routine for checks and balances. We cannot call an Ambassador all the way to Zambia just to come and ask about salaries, they are called here for audit purposes. Don’t forget that there’s time when we’ve got funds in one Mission meant for projects like infrastructure, so in case they use without authority, for example, they would be called to come and explain. Sometimes our auditors do go through, right now, we’ve got three auditors who are going to some countries to go and check the status,” said Malanji.