NATIONAL Development Planning Minister Alexander Chiteme says government has stopped contracting debt in a bid to stabilise the economy.

And Chiteme says the only solution to Zambia’s economic malaise is the Economic Recovery Plan (ERP) recently launched by President Edgar Lungu.

Speaking on ZNBC’s Sunday Interview in Lusaka, Chiteme made a promise on national television that the PF would not contract any new debt but concentrate on restructuring the existing one.

“What is new now [in the plan] is that honourable Bwalya Ng’andu has stopped, and when I say has stopped, I mean it in the most earnest way. We are not contracting any debt so we are not growing our debt. What we are trying to do is that with the debt that we have, we manage our return on the investment that we have made on the debt that we borrowed,” Chiteme said. “We are saying gentlemen, here is the debt that we acquired, how then can we make sure that this debt is managed that’s all we are talking about, it’s the restructuring of our debt. That’s why you saw us going to our bond holders to say hey, hold on here. We are in a situation, can you then hold your payments, for six months, a year, while we make sure that we can bring back ourselves to our feet.”

He said the government intended to get involved in the mining sector again and buy back equity so that it could grow reserves.

“We have to make realisation as a nation to say that our resources need to work for us. Now, the government is saying can we get involved again in the mining sector. We went back to the mines and told them, can we begin now to have our revenues in foreign currency. What did they do, they started crying, ‘no we want to do this, no this one is going to lose jobs’. We’re at a height where we need foreign currency, we need foreign currency because we need to make our exchange rate stable,” Chiteme said. “We need foreign currency to repay our debt, we need foreign currency to fatten our reserves. So, if we are not getting it out there, we might as well get it from the sector. And when we do that, can we also begin to grow our reserves, our foreign currency base because that is affecting my exchange rate, that is affecting my inflation, and ultimately, it’s affecting the livelihoods of our people.”

He said the government was already engaged in negotiations with mining companies to get involved in the running of the mines.

“And this is the resolve of government, that we are going to get involved in the new mining methods. That’s why you see government negotiating with Mopani to make sure that we buy back some of the equity in there, so that we can give back to the people, so that the reserves grow. That, too, is happening with KCM,” Chiteme said. “What the President said is, if we say ‘can we better the lives of our people’, the only recourse for them is to run to the courts. If you are not really making a profit, why can’t you just say ‘ok, I’m not making a profit, why can’t I just leave?’ Like I said before, we are not going to sit back and say let’s see how this is going to roll out.”

And Chiteme said the ERP launched last week would help the country get back on track economically..

“If you are going to talk about austerity measures, most of the austerity measures that we talked about were implemented. Today, I am sitting here as Minister of National Development Planning, I had a pay cut to support the austerity measures that we put in government. Today, if you go round the country, we are saying ‘can we rescope our very ambitious developmental programmes in terms of roads, hospitals and stuff like that’. We said, where we intended to do a bituminous road, can we do a gravel road instead. I hate that we have become so much of a political nation rather than a rational nation. That’s why we say the only plan, truth be said, the only plan that this government can do is to recover,” Chiteme said.

“The Zambia Plus had certain fundamentals and those fundamentals are not what we were expecting when we have the Covid-19, when we had the gassing, we have climate issues, we have the power deficit, we have a lot of other challenges that depended on that plan, so we are saying with all these issues put into perspective, what are the plans that we can give into context so that we alleviate the problems that people are facing? What we have done as government is that we have said we will make sure that we monitor this plan until it’s implemented.”

On national census, the minister said the government would ensure that it conducted the exercise next year.

“With the National census, we did our mapping, that was at the height of the gassing, but we still went ahead and did our mapping. I should confirm that we have mapped all our provinces, and now we are preparing for 2021 national census. We were supposed to have census in 2020 but at the height of gassing, at the height of Covid-19, we said we cannot go on. So, the complaints that they have not been given money are not genuine because we have told the mappers that if you have done 80 percent of the work, just go to the provincial administration office and you will be paid. But the problem with our youths is laziness,” said Chiteme.