NEWLY-APPOINTED Minister of Finance Dr Situmbeko Musokotwane says some reports he has received indicate that the PF government was making things worse by acquiring new debt even during the campaign period, but he will know for sure in the next few days.

And Musokotwane says his government wants to borrow from the IMF because its conditionalities are good as they always encourage spending in key sectors.

Meanwhile, Musokotwane says the KCM saga is going to be a challenge for the UPND government because at the moment, no one knows who owns the mining giant.

Speaking when he featured on ZNBC’s Sunday Interview, Dr Musokotwane said rather than dealing with the debt crisis, PF was making it worse by borrowing more.

“We have known that we have to deal with this debt problem but rather than dealing with it, they were making it worse and worse by borrowing some more. Even at a time when we were campaigning, and we still have to verify this, I’m not sure, but we are hearing stories that as late as we were campaigning towards the elections, new debts were being acquired. We will know in a few days whether this was so but this is an example to say on paper, things sounded good but colleagues were doing the very opposite of what needed to be done,” Dr Musokotwane said.

“When we talk about the economy growing, we have a very ambitious programme never seen before. It’s no longer about saying economic growth, we are benchmarking ourselves. Benchmarking means that in the next 10 years, Zambia should look different from what it looks like today. In the next 10 years, we should be looking more like Mauritius, getting close to how countries like Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand look. I am confident that if we set very high standards for ourselves, high targets for ourselves and we commit ourselves to it, it will happen.”

And Musokotwane said government would borrow from the IMF because it’s conditionalities were good as they always encouraged spending in key sectors.

“I have handled so many IMF programmes in the past starting from the 1990s up until 2009 or 2010 when we said we do not need the IMF because we are okay. The conditions, first of all, these are negotiated conditions so it’s not that you accept everything. But most importantly, some of the things you are seeing there, it’s the IMF that sometimes puts those positive things. It’s the IMF that says spend less on this, spend more on education, spend more on health,” he said.

“The IMF are always driving this issue, spend more on the social sector, don’t waste money on useless things. Spend money on useful things that will help your children, your mother, help the economy. Why should I quarrel with that? If they are sensible, why quarrel with that? You have mentioned the issue about conditionalities, about privatiSation, again it is not wholesome. There are certain cases where it makes sense even for you as a Zambian to say ‘but this institution we are just losing money out of it why should we continue with it?’ The package, I’m hoping that we can get it done before the end of October- November at least to get the IMF board to give us that package. I am 100 percent confident it will be done.”

Meanwhile, Musokotwane noted that the KCM saga would be a challenge for the UPND government.

“If you look at the last 10 years, there has been a lot of quarrelling in the sector. Disputes and misunderstandings are normal in homes, companies, it’s normal, but disputes must not lead to a situation whereby you stagnate. When disputes arise, it must be quickly resolved, understanding arrives then everybody focuses on producing more. Some of those challenges we are going to face are one KCM, two Mopani. KCM as you see today there are serious problems that don’t be cheated, serious problems because no one knows who owns KCM,” he said.

“The government put a liquidator there, the previous investor, for all the, I mean I agree they were not good investors but legally speaking, from what we are seeing in arbitration, court judgements, they still have a voice about that mine, so who owns it? In the absence of clarity about who owns that mine, don’t expect a private sector person to come and put money there either to buy or make investments. How can you put money into something where no one knows who the owner is? So one of the challenge is to resolve the KCM impasse.”

The Finance Minister further said the government would had set a target to dismantle the backlog of 50,000 teachers in the next five years.

“Jobs come in the public sector, in other words those employed by the government whether they are teachers, nurses, doctors, policemen, agricultural experts, the government hires those people. But in every country, the number of people hired by the government is only a small fraction because you find jobs in the rest of the economy. Those who find jobs in mechanical shops, spare workshops, factories making clothes, shoes, factory making machines, hotels. Those are the places where a majority of the jobs are created. So coming to our situation in Zambia, the components of the jobs that come from the public sector, teachers, nurses, health workers, we will hire them,” he said.

“I know that we have a backlog of 50 000, it’s not possible to hire everyone in one year but what I can assure you is that we are putting a target, in the next five years we have dismantle this backlog of teachers because we need the teachers as I told you there are no teachers in rural areas. Already in the 2022 budget for next year, we are going to put a significant amount of money to eat away the backlog for teachers and these health workers, especially the grassroot levels. Remember that the unemployment problem cannot be solved by the government hiring people. This is why I said we are going to be very aggressive to support the private sector whether it is mining, we are going to push very hard to attract investors.”

He said the government would ensure it created a conducive environment for the private sector as a way of creating employment in the country.

“The countries that have used the private sector to be an engine of growth have thrived on the mentality of the capitalist. The capitalist wants to make money, so create conditions for capitalists to make money to make profits. If the capitalist does not intend to make profits, then that capitalist is useless to us. A capitalist who makes profits is useful because one he pays taxes, two he is able to create and sustain jobs, three he can produce business linkages. Therefore, this model encourages the private sector because they will pay you taxes, they will create jobs, create business opportunities and that’s what we are going to do. The moment you create an environment that attracts them, your job is done,” he said.

Musokotwane disclosed that bursaries would be increased and decentralized to other areas apart from Lusaka as one way of realizing the free education campaign promise.

“We have to get started about it, we made a commitment and that commitment will ever be there because a person like me without free education would not have been here today. We have to look at the mechanics getting that done. Do we do it just thinking roughly and we have not worked out the details? One possibility is to enhance the bursaries whether you are talking about primary schools, secondary schools, or universities. Increase the amount of money that goes to bursaries but also don’t leave those bursaries in Lusaka, no! It might be better to decentralize those bursaries right at the polling station,” he said.

“At this stage where we are not yet able to cover everybody, at that local level you tell the community, ‘guys here is the money that is available to support children who are intelligent but cannot go further because the parents cannot afford’. Now you people in the community you choose or select. So yes, we are going to increase the bursaries available but also decentralise it to the lowest level so that the community themselves choose the beneficiaries.”

Musokotwane said the government would assess if ideas in the PF economic recovery plan would be of any help, adding that governmental projects under the PF stalled not because of austerity measures but because too many projects were being undertaken at once.

“We will look at it and lessons to be leant from the previous colleagues of the PF because there was a tendency when they came in to say ‘this is MMD out’, ‘this is UNIP out’. The world cannot operate like that. If they are good ideas, I have no quarrel with those objectives and if you listened carefully to what I was saying this is precisely what we are also trying to do. In other words stabilize the exchange rate, deal with the debt, deal with the issue of arrears, get the economy to grow. It is exactly the same thing but the implementation capacity,” said Musokotwane.

“Austerity measures, yes, in the sense that expenses that we think are not necessary or less priority we will have to cut them. We are talking about how we are going to deal with free education, money must be saved. I would say that the stalled infrastructure projects that have stopped it was not because of austerity, it was because too many were chosen to be undertaken and in the end it was discovered there was no money to build those things. It was just like wild waste. The projects we will have to look at say which priorities we put in place.”