United States Ambassador to Zambia Daniel Foote says the Zambian government should resist its addiction to debt contraction to chart a more sustainable economic path.
And Ambassador Foote has called on young people to be brave and have the courage to move Zambia forward.
Speaking when he addressed students at the University of Zambia (UNZA) on youth leadership and good governance, Thursday, Ambassador Foote said the Zambian government needed to move away from high debt projects, which had created fiscal challenges for the country.
“We want to help get Zambia away from high debt projects so that the money can be invested in education; so that the US$421 million that the US government is investing in health this year, maybe next year can be US $380 million and a year after, US$300 million. We need to get away from this debt addiction that your generation is going to have to pay back. Your politicians in office are obviously not going to pay it back, but your generation is. And until Zambia has money to pay for donors, the health sector, we can blow up and say, be self-sustaining, but what is going to happen? Your brothers and sisters are going to die!” Ambassador Foote said.
“I don’t want to get to heaven and Peter will ask me: ‘Mr. Foote, were you the guy that cut off HIV funding to Zambia?’ I don’t want to have to answer those questions so sustainability is critical, but we need your economy to grow away from just copper; we need the government to be able to take in more revenues so that your government can provide the services and investments that are essential to you guys.”
Ambassador Foote said he was going to continue to hold the Zambian government accountable.
“You may have heard: I made some provocative statements recently at our Independence Day celebrations. And some other government officials were not thrilled by what I said, but I stick by what I say. I am not here to tell Zambians and the Zambian government what to do, the US strongly believes in Zambia’s sovereignty. But we also believe that Zambia can progress much better by embracing the freedoms and values and capitalist approaches that has got the country to where it is now,” he said.
“We all want good governance that effectively utilizes resources and improves lives for our families. We are all aware of the budgeted funds that have gone to places they should not have gone to. And part of my job is to try to hold those in power accountable. I heard some of your ministers saying: ‘well, Zambia is not the only country that suffers corruption. It actually suffers lower corruption. Guess what, the US suffers corruption. We are not here pretending to be holier than thou or better that anybody else, but we want our institutions to be held accountable sometimes it takes courage words and actions to do so. We all want our government to be transparent and accountable; when our governments are not open about their dealings, we lose our voice. We cannot freely participate in the process so non-transparent contracting and debt acquisitions impose problematic debt and limit the options for we citizens to make choices about our future. We would like to see public debt in procured arrangements and another thing that help keeps government honest is the requirement and publishing of the assets of government officials… these are just some ideas coming from Zambians, not from me.”
And Ambassador Foote insisted that American businesses required stability, predictability and a clean field for Zambia to attract more US investment.
“We all want economic prosperity and better opportunities for ourselves, and more importantly, our children. Everybody I talk to in the government here asks me: ‘could you please help us attract more American money, more American Investors to Zambia.’ And I think that is smart, we should try to do that. The problem is that US companies face great legal consequences for donations or bribery like 30 years in prison! So, US companies cannot play the game that other countries can play. We continue to advocate for a level-playing field for companies from all places, and with that, I can better attract American business and companies to Zambia,” he said.
He also called on young people to be brave in moving the country forward.
“You guys have the responsibility for this country to move forward, to stand up and take risks and make sure that you continue to keep Zambia in the positive trajectory. Continue to study. Get your degrees and go out and make your country better. Always seek to volunteer to be involved in community service and to promote democracy, good governance and accountability,” advised Ambassador Foote.
Meanwhile, UNZA political science association president O’Brien Sapanoi called for more of such discussions at the University to enlighten youths on all future endeavors that they sought to pursue.