ECONOMIST Professor Oliver Saasa says the recent high-level International Monetary Fund (IMF) delegation to Zambia gives hope that the country might get on a programme if government addresses the concerns raised by the Fund to restore macroeconomic stability.

The IMF last week completed a High-Level Staff Visit to Zambia for high-level discussions with the Zambian authorities on their economic recovery plan and their request for a Fund-supported programme.

In its statement, the Fund announced that it was looking forward to the forthcoming Economic Recovery Programme, which seeks to restore macroeconomic stability, attain fiscal and debt sustainability, restore growth and safeguard social sector spending.

Commenting on the outcome, Prof Saasa urged government to quickly address the Fund’s concerns by restoring macroeconomic stability and return the country back on a path of debt sustainability to attract an economic recovery programme.

“So, the IMF are saying: this needs to be strengthened. For them to say that, it means they have seen certain challenges that we, as a Zambian people, must address, government must address. So, when we see all these four, like I said, they are not new but they speak exactly to the DNA of the Zambian system. But the IMF are yearning to come and work with Zambia, but they cannot move until those things…because they are standard expectations, everywhere in the world where the IMF goes, these are components that need to be addressed. Immediately we address these, in the economic recovery programme, which we are preparing, immediately this comes out then we will see the IMF coming. So, my hope is that they will be coming if we can attend to these, and my view is that these expectations are not new, these expectations are not difficult to realise, these expectations hold the key with to the re-entry of the IMF and we need them like yesterday,” Prof Saasa urged.

“We all agree that the door with the IMF is still open and the mission at one of the highest at the Africa region level, one of our highest official team coming here gives a ray of hope that not everything is lost and that we can do certain things that should see a turnaround of the economy. So, for me, that mission itself is good news!”

He added that the meeting with President Lungu and other senior government officials symbolised political will on the part of government.

“I think it’s really the message that has emerged from discussions between the high-level IMF team that was here and the Zambian government, which, of course, you have seen is represented again also at the highest where they visited the Head of State, they spoke to the Minister of Finance (Dr Bwalya Ng’andu); the central bank governor (Christopher Mvunga); Secretary to the Treasury (Fredson Yamba), they are all there. So, essentially, if you are talking about political goodwill, we would assume that that symbolism at that level, at that highest level, both on the Zambian government and on the IMF, signify that we are ready to talk, and the fact that the IMF, themselves, decided because you know we have been actually struggling to get the programme back in the last three, four years, suggests that there are opportunities. I think the important thing is: how does Zambia put its house in order to take advantage of the goodwill that has been demonstrated by the IMF?” he wondered.

“The IMF were very explicit if you look at that statement in terms of where they are looking to Zambia, what the Zambian government is expected to do, it’s very clear. But again, when you look at what they are saying, it’s nothing new, they merely reiterated what those that have been close to what is happening, but have had interest in what is going in terms of economic turnaround. There is nothing that is new but the fact that the IMF are saying it, gives it a certain fresh breath of air, you see what I mean?”

And he stressed the importance of the much-needed economic recovery programme whose implementation he said was taking too long.

“The first important thing, which I got there is the importance of developing, like yesterday, an economic recovery programme. The government has assured the IMF that something is coming up, I am aware there is something that is coming up, I believe that we are taking too long because the crisis is real,” said Prof Saasa.