We are back once more on the process of refining the Constitution and if you don’t want to refine it, we will refine it, President Edgar Lungu says.

And President Lungu has warned that debt servicing and other pressing needs of the country will seriously affect the 2020 national budget.

Speaking when opening the 4th Session of the 12th National Assembly in Lusaka Friday themed “Accelerating sustainable development for a better Zambia amidst the impact of climate change”, President Lungu also said his government will give Law Enforcement Agencies all the required support in the fight against corruption.

He said his government would still go ahead and refine the Constitution.

“My government has demonstrated to the Zambian people that we are indeed a government that can be trusted to deliver on our promises. Yes, successive governments have come and gone yet the constitution-making process has remained a process. It’s only us who brought in this constitution. Mr Speaker, I am on record having asked citizens and various stakeholders to read the draft of the constitution before it was finally enacted by this house. Politicians and various interest groups rose to the occasion to have the current constitution enacted in its current form,” President Lungu said.

“We braved the storm to deliver a revised constitution to the Zambian people, even at the risk of losing power. People are scared of 50 per cent plus one but we got it in and we scored. This selfless act on our part is enough testimony that we mean every word we say and it is for this reason that I appeal to all of you to support the current process [that] we are in. Yes, we are back once more on the process of refining it (constitution). We are back for one reason [which is] because my government is a listening government. If you don’t want to refine it, we will refine it.”

He also said the government would soon implement measures to manage the debt stock, a move that will see the 2010 national budget being affected.

“At the heart of austerity measures, going forward, we will implement actions to manage the debt stock and curb any further accumulation and save money to dismantle arrears owed to suppliers. Positive results must be achieved at all cost. Ministries and public institutions must collaborate on cross-cutting issues…we must produce results by doing more with less. Mr Speaker, it can be done and it will be done. With austerity measures being put in place by my government, next year’s budget will be seriously affected as we expect to meet our debt obligations, pay outstanding local debt and meet the pressing needs of our country such as food security, water reticulation and indeed energy generation,” President Lungu said.

He also stressed the need to manage the accumulation of pension arrears.

“Our fiscal space must continue to grow and this can only be achieved by ensuring macroeconomic stability and maintaining debt within sustainable levels. We have procured debt for development, which is one of the many financing options that we pursue. Mr Speaker, the art of borrowing is the ability to pay back. Yes, I am aware that there is an accumulation of domestic arrears, which has not only negatively impacted the operations of suppliers and contractors but also on the performance of the financial sector [causing an] increase in non-performing loans. Furthermore, there is an accumulation of pension arrears. This has got to be managed. Government assurances have clearly not been achieved and fully implemented,” President Lungu said.

He revealed that personnel emoluments and domestic debt arrears accumulated by 90.1 per cent of the national budget.

“I want to place emphasis on the need to dismantle these arrears while curbing further accumulation of arrears. My government has taken this very seriously and I have directed those tasked with the responsibility of managing this debt stock to ensure that stringent measures are actively implemented. Mr Speaker, our non-discretionary expenditure which comprises personal emoluments (PEs) and debt stands at 50.1 per cent and 40 per cent respectively, giving a total of 90.1 per cent of our annual budget. This leaves the discretionary amount to stand at 9.9 per cent of our annual budget. This Mr Speaker is an alarming ratio,” President Lungu added.

The Head of State further directed the Secretary to the Cabinet to clean up the public service payroll and ensure that emoluments were reflective of service delivery.

“It is cardinal that personnel emoluments must be reflective of service delivery to the Zambian people. I have observed that this is not the case. It is for this reason that I have directed Secretary to Cabinet to immediately clean-up the public service payroll to stop this hemorrhage today and not tomorrow,” President Lungu ordered.

He also revealed that the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth rate was being revised from the earlier projected four per cent to about two per cent.

“Mr Speaker, our economy has in the recent past faced some resinous headwinds. The country registered a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth rate of 3.7 per cent as at end of 2018. The growth rate for 2019 was earlier projected at around four per cent (4%) but is being revised downwards to about two per cent on account of adverse weather conditions, which has affected the energy and agriculture sector. To have a meaningful impact on the high poverty levels in the country, we must grow the economy at a minimum rate of seven (07) per cent per annum,” President Lungu said.

On load shedding, President Lungu directed the Ministry of Energy to stop cutting power to health centres and water supply points.

“As I sometimes drive around the city at night, I see more and more areas of darkness due to load shedding because our dams that generate power do not have water. I have heard of people failing to leave or enter their homes because their electric gates have mal-functioned because of power failure. It saddens me and I fail to imagine people living in high-density areas having to walk in darkness to and from their workplaces. Surely, this poses a serious security risk on our people. I am aware, Mr Speaker, of some health facilities going without power for long periods of time and I begin to wonder how our health workers are looking after our patients without water and electricity,” President Lungu said.

“Sir, in view of the above, I am directing the Ministry of Energy from midnight tonight to prioritize power supply to hospitals and health centres. Further, the Ministry of Energy should prioritize energy supply to our water supply operations. This is a very serious matter that should not be taken lightly. The inability to have adequate water to generate power, grow enough food to feed our people have all been greatly caused by the effects of climate change. We all seriously need to understand and begin to appreciate this in detail and stop pointing fingers at each other for failure to grow our economy at the desired pace. Climate change is real. My fellow countrymen and women, I would like you to fully understand that this not my problem alone or the problem of my government alone. This is nature but even if it is nature, we need to join hands and see what we can do about it together [and] no question about it.”

He also directed Minister of Lands Jean Kapata and her Water Development counterpart Dennis Wanchinga to ensure that no structure is built near water resources in the name of development.

“I am directing the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources and the Ministry of Water Development, Sanitation, and Environmental Protection to take a lead in ensuring that our water sources and the land adjacent to these areas are not adulterated by corporate entities or individuals in the name of development. Honorable ministers and Permanent Secretaries of the above-mentioned ministries, please ensure that the Zambia Environmental Management Agency (ZEMA) and the Water Resources Management Authority realign themselves to effectively carry out their mandate and produce the required results, today and not tomorrow. From today henceforth, I shall not see a house or indeed a factory being built adjacent to our water resource, depriving the majority of usage of this resource. As Head of State, it is my utmost responsibility to lead the nation into the spirit of resilience and action plan on sustainability development and reassurance that we are moving in the right direction,” President Lungu directed.

Meanwhile, the Head of State said Law Enforcement Agencies must work hard to fight corruption.

“I will not relent on the fight against corruption. I will not stand and see greedy citizens destroy the good fiber of our nation. Indeed, I will not expect government under my charge to fail to provide for the people of Zambia. I can only urge those who are charged with the responsibility of ensuring that the fight against corruption is attained to work hard. On my part, we will provide for all the institutions [such as] Drug Enforcement Commission, Anti-Corruption Commission, Anti-Money Laundering Commission all the support that is required,” said President Lungu.