Permanent Secretary in the Office of the Vice-President Stephen Mwansa yesterday sent away journalists from a meeting after Swedish Ambassador to Zambia Anna Maj Hultgård expressed concern over the justice system in Zambia, citing the recent sentencing of a gay couple.

This happened when Ambassador Hultgård paid a courtesy call on Vice-President Inonge Wina at Cabinet Office.

In her welcoming remarks, Vice-President Wina said it was her hope that the Swedish government could re-visit its support to Zambia by resuming the Social Cash Transfer (SCT) programme to help the country’s needy social sector.

“Sweden has been a partner in not only supporting in the implementation of development, but has been a partner in the planning of the [national] development plan. There are certain issues that have come up during this partnership in development and cooperation, particularly the support of Sweden to the social protection sector. Zambia is grateful to Sweden for the support rendered so far. However, the support had entered another milestone that has impacted negatively on the programme itself,” Vice-President Wina said.

“And we hope that sooner than later, the Swedish government will re-visit the issue of supporting the most vulnerable in our country through the Social Cash Transfer (SCT) programme. Government took action following the mismanagement and leakages in the financial handling of the Social Cash Transfer and certain measures were taken by government and issues were taken to court on those found wanting. And we believe that when all the matters are concluded, Sweden and other cooperating partners in this particular programme will be engaged by government so that we come to an understanding of how you can support the programme in the future.”

And Vice-President Wina said Zambia was trying to re-position gender equality as the main agenda, similar to Sweden.

“Apart from that, Sweden has helped Zambia a great deal in the area of gender equality and we appreciate the fact that the gender equality agenda in Sweden is the official stance of government. So, Zambia is trying to follow suit although it will take time before certain things are achieved, particularly in the area of gender equality. We are very happy that you are here so that we can share some of your thoughts on how Sweden wants to continue partnering with the Zambian government on development,” said Vice-President Wina.

In her remarks, Ambassador Hultgård said her country’s foreign minister had a special engagement in human rights, particularly on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) issues.

“I represent a feminist government and I am also very pleased that we have a full-female delegation. And especially Honourable Vice-President, you are a role model having the high position of Vice-President in Zambia, and I hope that you will be followed by more females in high-level political positions as well. We very strongly come from a human rights perspective on gender equality. And the focus on the President (Edgar Lungu) on ending child marriages is very appreciated and I think there are areas for us to join hands there,” Ambassador Hultgård said.

“We have a drive for democracy, which is a priority by our government and where human rights also play a prominent role. I would like to mention that we have a new foreign minister, also a woman, following another female foreign minister. She has a very special engagement in human rights, particularly and also on LGBT issues. And we have an active engagement also in development cooperation in sexual reproductive health rights. It’s the approach that we have taken.”

The Swedish Envoy went on to express serious concerns over the jailing of a Kapiri-Mposhi gay couple to 15 years.

“And Honorable Vice-President, if I may just take this opportunity to describe our perspective where we think it is a little bit worrisome with the recent convictions of two males. The case is very public; I know it’s an issue also of legislation, but it is a plea from our side that for the President to make a plea [of mercy],” said Ambassador Hultgård, before Mwansa abruptly cut her short and chased journalists out of the room.

Earlier, Vice-President Wina met Australia’s Foreign Affairs Deputy Minister Dr Johannes Peterlik, who assured her that his country would find ways of accommodating the needs of African countries, especially in the health sector.

“We used to have a stronger presence in your region, Africa, than we have to-date. Today, our Ambassador is in Nairobi representing 10 countries in the region. So, we are generously looking at Africa and trying to find ways on how we can accommodate the needs of different countries in a better way than we may have done in the past. We will try to focus on different areas of cooperation, one being the health sector,” said Dr Peterlik.