HOUSING and Infrastructure Development Minister Vincent Mwale says there are no strings attached to the US$60 million gift that the Chinese government has given Zambia to modernise the Mulungushi International Conference Center.

Last week, President Edgar Lungu graced the ground breaking ceremony for the construction of the center ahead of the 2022 African Union (AU) Heads of State Summit to be hosted by Zambia.

“The State of the art new international conference facilities to be completed within 27 months will be used to host the 2022 AU Summit and other future engagements of similar standing. The facilities to be constructed will come with a variety of features including: the main conference hall with a 2,500 seat capacity, banquet hall with 1,000 seat capacity, 15 group meeting rooms with 40 seat capacity per room, five VIP meeting rooms, 12 simultaneous interpretation booths and 21 offices. The project comes at no cost to the Zambian government and people as it is a gift from the People’s Republic of China,” said President Lungu.

And in an interview, Mwale said the government of China did not want anything in return.

“This grant is a gift. If the agreement doesn’t show that they don’t want anything in return, why should we ourselves begin to give it a doubt? If they want something in return without our knowledge, definitely we will have to check what it is they want in return. I can tell you that it is not the first time that China is gifting a country in Africa. I have seen even on Twitter raising suspicion about it saying ‘there is no such a thing like a free gift and a free lunch.’ But the agreement says there are no strings attached, that is what is said in the agreement. It is a free gift. The thing is that the Chinese Company is the one which wants to build and not tenders from any other country, which means that they will get the business themselves because it is their money. At least I know that string but any other string, I am not aware,” Mwale said.

When asked why the grant had increased from US$30million as announced by government in 2018 to US$60 million, Mwale said that shouldn’t be strange.

“Those people are not only giving Zambia, they are giving Africans. Remember, even the African Union headquarters was built by them for free. I can give you the reason why they may have increased it from US$30 million to US$ 60 million. You know that is a bilateral agreement between them and Ministry of Finance and Foreign affairs. I can get those reasons why they increased. I don’t think that increasing should be strange because it is free money; they can increase depending on the size and the capacity because they want to help us. This matter was discussed at high level between President Xi Jinping and President Edgar Lungu; they negotiated it the two of them. I [can get the] details on why they increased,” said Mwale.