MOVEMENT for Democratic Change leader Felix Mutati says President Edgar Lungu should stop manipulating the COVID-19 pandemic for political advantage.

And Mutati says government should stop procuring fuel and leave it for the private sector who will handle it more efficiently as the economy reboots under the new normal.

Speaking when he addressed a media briefing at the party secretariat, Thursday, Mutati noted that the pandemic was being used as a tool to fuel corruption.

“What is sad is that despite the seriousness of the pandemic, we are not taking it the same way in the democratic space, that is very sad. The health guidelines are clear and these are meant for all Zambians and all political parties that we must abide by those guidelines. Our colleagues in the Patriotic Front are abusing the guidelines. As they continue on their mobilisation campaign, putting all of us at risk, let us not allow this pandemic to be manipulated to take political advantage. The rules are not selective, they apply to everybody, every Zambian, every political party, we must abide by the rules. It is at this juncture that I call upon you Mr President that take responsibility and leadership to stop the manipulation of the pandemic for purely political advantage, there will be no politics if there is no life. Let’s respect life first, politics later. And the buck stops at you Mr President, give us the leadership, all of us want to campaign but we are saying we are going to respect the guidelines,” he said.

“As if that is not sufficient, the recent happenings at the Ministry of Health as reported by the Auditor General, as dealt with by the Parliamentary Accounts Committee, has shown all of us Zambians a matter of grave concern that this pandemic is being used to fuel corruption, that is abuse, that is greed. As if that wasn’t enough, we have also been concerned about the distribution of expired drugs, including defective condoms all to meet the needs of the greedy. We are risking our people’s life. Again Mr President, stop the rot. And this is not about only one person, this is from top to bottom…you have told us that you have zero tolerance for corruption, it’s time for you to show us in practice.”

And Mutati said government should allow the private sector to be responsible for oil procurement.

“It’s looking very bleak. So what do we need to do? It is clear that we need to reboot the economy under the framework of the new normal, we need to reboot. And I will refer to the things that we must do immediately. In order for this economy to begin to be rebooted, number one, over the last few days and weeks, we have been experiencing the shortage of fuel in various parts of Zambia. We need to construct a sustainable solution to this issue and my advice singularly is that do not construct taxation to follow transaction. Construct taxation to deal with the business environment in the fuel sector. Stop the procurement of fuel as government, you are just increasing nkongole (debt), let the private sector be responsible to buy, the role of government should be limited to policy, licensing and regulation. Government, it’s not your job to be dispensing contracts for importation of fuel, you are beyond that. Most of the countries in the neighbouring countries their governments don’t procure fuel, the private sector does and their prices are competitive,” he said.

“In the agriculture sector, there are things that we can do immediately. The things that we need to do is to allow that farmer in Chipata to be able to sell his or her maize in Malawi…exports should not be about selective issuance of permits, the focus of government should be productivity and not the issuance of export permits. Lekani bantu nabeve bapangeko ndalama, ziko yavuta (allow people to make money, things are hard now). Let’s not only allow a small bunch that have got access to these permits to make money, we all want to make money.”

The MDC leader further called for the simplification of the taxation system in the country in order to enhance tax compliance.

“Let’s simplify our tax system, keep it low then you are going to enhance compliance minimise the number of licenses, minimise regulation so that we can free our people to concentrate on making business and not walking the corridors of government, there is no money in the corridors of government, the money is in the things that you do,” he said.

Meanwhile, Mutati questioned why Glencore was selling Mopani at a time when the outlook on copper prices was going up.

“There was a press conference that was held to announce hundred percent acquisition of Mopani and this follows the case of KCM, now a mere press conference did not give us sufficient information for us to evaluate that deal and as Zambians we are entitled to know. The questions that I ask, question number one, is that why did Glencoe sell when we know globally that the outlook for copper in terms of prices is actually going up, is there something we don’t know? Because they are selling at a time when the price is up and up. So as citizens, we want to know why, we need to know why,” he said

“And for you bashi mine, you must also ask, that yes we have got these two mines and you know that they have been struggling, now what magic is going to be employed to create the profitability on top of the increased debt burden that has been accumulated? So you have got a struggling asset plus debt and then are you going to make the money that is required? In addition, where are we going to find the K300 million which is required to inject, is it another debt? When we make losses, are we going to be able to share the risks, can we share the risks when we don’t have control over the revenue that has been generated because Glencore said ‘revenue is ours, expenses are yours’, and we are going to sit in Switzerland in air conditioned offices waiting for the copper to come and we will just be harvesting our commissions and all the money…so Zambians will continue to work for Glencore for a long time to come.”

And Mutati said positions in government should be given on merit and should not only be the preserve of PF cadres.

“We are going to follow systems of governance and merit. It is important that when you get a person in government, get them on merit, we are all entitled to that chair in government, this chair is not about the anointed few all of us tuli na njala (we are hungry) we want to work tapapata. Its not for cadres from PF, its not people from one region, its for all us because we believe in one Zambia one nation,” said Mutati.