FORMER minister commerce Bob Sichinga says former finance minister Alexander Chikwanda is responsible for Zambia’s debt crisis and it is illogical for him to wash his hands of it today.
Recently, Chikwanda dismissed a letter written by former ministers of finance and other economic stakeholders to President Edgar Lungu and Finance Minister Ngandu Magande as nonsensical, further arguing that he wasn’t responsible for Zambia’s debt problem because he did his best during his tenure to improve fiscal discipline.
But in an interview, Sichinga said Chikwanda was to blame for the state of affairs in Zambia today.
“Honourable Chikwanda has been the longest serving Minister in our country. He was minister more than 40 years ago. In 1971, he was Minister of Finance. The only change that took place is when he had similar problems when he we had an oil crisis. When MMD came into power, honourable Chikwanda was also the chief of staff to Mr Chiluba for a long time. Then came president Sata again he was appointed Minister of Finance from the PF period he has been the longest serving Minister of Finance. He was therefore the chief financial adviser to the government; you had for a very brief time Mutati and Margaret [Mwanakatwe] during Mr Lungu’s time there have been four Ministers of Finance. The person who has served the longest amongst those four is Mr Chikwanda. So if anything has gone wrong when the country contracted the Eurobond, it was under Chikwanda, both of the two Eurobonds. The two Eurobonds were under Chikwanda. It is him who is supposed to be answering what happened to the money; how he shared it out; how it is paying back now,” Sichinga said.
He said Chikwanda made unilateral decisions when it came to running Zambia’s economy.
“Even when he brought issues of any budget to Cabinet, he would give Ministers an hour to go through the budget. How were those ministers in one hour, especially, ministers who had no financial training, you give them less than an hour to go through the budget and they approve it so that yo can go present it in Parliament. There was hardly any review in Cabinet itself. So it is he who should be answerable, Mr Chikwanda himself much less Lungu. Please have this recorded, it does not matter what a Minister of Finance [says] if the President does not agree with it, he will say no! He has the right to do that but for the President to do that, it means the President himself must be knowledgeable about economics, about the accounting,” said Sichinga.
“He, Mr Chikwanda, was the one who was advising President Lungu to do that. Mr Chikwanda must not be defending the current economic situation; he should be acknowledging that he is responsible for the situation that we have. He was there when Mr Lungu wanted to borrow the money. This is why IMF is not helping, Zambia is not poor, it is the management of finance that is poorly done. One of the people who was managing finances is Mr Chikwanda, he should accept responsibility. He was not even allowing other ministers to participate you raise a question about it he says ‘no, no we are going to do this’.”
Meanwhile, Sichinga said the PF should have simply shown gratitude to the former ministers who took time to offer some advice.
“The first they can do is first acknowledge that we are difficulties; we have this problem because only when you acknowledge that you have a problem can you resolve it. But when you are defending what cannot be defended, it becomes difficult. Now the debts are there and you are not even listening to these [former] ministers does it mean that these ministers are useless, they never did any thing, they have no understanding of economics? In fact, I thought the idea should have been ‘ohh yes we are thankful to our colleagues our ministers in the past yes it is of concern to us can we sit down together how do we deal with the problem as a country’, that is what the government should have been doing,” Sichinga said.
“We have so much indebtedness and when we were advising the government, don’t over commit ; its like a household if you over commit, you borrow too much. What happens in the house, the first people that you pay, when the pay comes in, the first to get are your creditors so what will be left to use in the house to pay childrens’ fees, pay for electricity, buy fuel, where will it come from? Nowhere! That is what is happening to the country now. That is why the President’s speech in Parliament I don’t know if he was reading without understanding he was saying there was very little space for discretion expenditure. Even if you brought the best Minister of Finance right now, with these commitments, there is very little that they can do.”
He lamented that the country was going through hyperinflation, where prices of commodities were changing every day.
“Zambia is in a junk status. We are going to start experiencing hyper inflation where things are changing constantly. You see what is the price of oil on the international market? It’s low, what should happen to the price of fuel on our markets? It should be dropping. Has it dropped? No, because your exchange rate has deteriorated. Where does that leave the country? It is going to hyperinflation. How many people can afford the high cost? Why are you failing to pay for the debt? It’s because there is no money…Right now with Coronavirus, it has made the bad situation worse and very difficult to manage there is no money!” said Sichinga.
“Anyone in PF can argue as they; want economics is economics. if you don’t follow the principles, you are going to fail and this is what has happened. They should have accepted the advice of the ministers and invited them. They can use those people to help them negotiate the situation; you have to reschedule this debt whether you like it or not. This debt has to be rescheduled. If you don’t reschedule it, you just have to say ‘we can’t pay’ then what happens? There are consequences that will arise from there.”