FORMER Finance Minister Ng’andu Magande says the government should find solutions to the debt situation because they have not been listening to advice.
And Magande says time is ticking for Zambia and the debt situation is becoming sour and acidic as creditors are demanding payment of their money.
On Wednesday, President Edgar Lungu told United States interim Charge d’Affaires David Young that the debt situation was worrying and that Finance Minister Bwalya Ng’andu was doing everything to retain Zambia to sustainable debt levels.
In an interview, Magande said there was nothing Young could do even if he was told about Zambia’s debt because he was merely a diplomat.
“Only one month ago, the Minister, when he was presenting the budget, he said everything is okay; less than two months later, he is saying everything is not okay. Now what do you do in such a case if you are telling somebody not to do something and then they ignore? After that, the negative effects which you were warning them about happen, do you go to them again? What do you go to do to them? More especially if they admit that ‘now we realize we went against the advice of other people so we are in this trouble’. The only thing is that they better find a solution. I think even talking to foreigners like the United States, telling them about the same thing, when in fact, people have been warning against that, they won’t do much. Even the United States will not do much about the debt unless that issue is raised in the ambits of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) governors’ meeting,” Magande said.
“What was the reaction of the Charge d’Affaires? Did he make any comment? He can’t! Because that is not a diplomatic thing, it is a technical thing which only the technical people in the treasury department are observing. The President could have ended his speech with the Charge d’Affaires when he said that ‘since independence, you have been our good friend’ . That would have been a big headline in Washington but to talk about the debt, there is nothing a diplomat will do. The other day, I was being asked about the Chinese debt issues. The Chinese, the way they operate is that nobody outside Beijing is going to talk about debt issues. When the statement was issued by the Chinese Embassy to say that they have forgiven us for one year, it was a statement straight from Beijing, from the Minister of Finance, the Ambassador here cannot be engaged in such discussions. Even this issue of our President talking to the Charge d’Affaires, there is nothing he did. Mr Young is a diplomat, he doesn’t deal with numbers please! Like they say in English, we want to lock the gate when the horses have bolted.”
He said if the country had a good relationship with the IMF and the World Bank, they would have called for a creditors’ meeting.
“I am very keen to hear what will happen on the 20th of October from the creditors. It will be interesting. The complication is that the IMF and the World Bank…unless you have a proper disclosure of your debt, they cannot convene a creditors meeting. And for us, because our creditors, both the bilateral and multilateral, are very high, so you need a meeting where most of them will be in that meeting. Now, who can call for that meeting? If we were in good books with the IMF and World Bank, they would have helped to call for that meeting where we will be explaining our problems to the countries, banks and private people we owe money,” said Magande.
“But because we are not in good books with the IMF, we have a problem. So the private people who are owed money are saying ‘we want to know what you are going to tell the countries that you owe money’ and the countries are saying ‘we want to know what you are going to tell the private people’ so in the end, time is going; interest is accumulating and the situation is becoming sour and acidic.”