VICE-PRESIDENT Mutale Nalumango says government suspended the debt swap programme because it was complicated and need scrutiny.

Responding to a question from Chikankata UPND MP Jacqueline Sabao who wanted to find out government’s position on the debt swap, Vice-President Nalumango said government would relook at the programme to see whether it was possible to do it, so that it was well structured.

“Madam Speaker, it is true that there has been a suspension of that programme. In fact, Madam Speaker, this programme came very late into the rule of our colleagues in the Patriotic Front and it seemed like it was not even going to work. The Bankers Association themselves didn’t seem to be ready for this. You even wonder whether anything was done at all. In July the programme was not done for the civil servants. It is a very complicated thing that we have suspended as a government so that we can relook at that. It is an issue of contract where civil servants who were affected had debts with institutions, particularly the banking institutions,” Vice-President Nalumango said.

“The agreement with civil servants needed a third party. This agreement was going to have three stakeholders and it seems that it was not very well articulated or done for all the concerned to understand. We have therefore suspended it, we will relook at it whether it is possible to do it, so that it is well structured. The debt swap has many angles to it that when we look at it, if we look at it carefully, we may find that the former government was capable of failing the workers. Some of the debt civil servants are indebted with is due to failure of the same government to remit [the money] which was deducted from the workers. This swap was cosmetic in the sense that the government wanted to make it look like it was the workers who were indebted 100 percent.”

And responding to a question from leader of the opposition in Parliament Brian Mundubile who questioned how President Hakainde Hichilema would travel to the UN General Assembly when the country’s treasury was empty, Vice-President Nalumango said the Head of State’s trip to the USA was a priority as he was expected to hold several meetings with the International Monetary Fund and other investors.

“Madam Speaker, that was the statement that was made by our President and it is a statement of fact. When you talk about the treasury being empty, it means the treasury does not have capacity to do everything they need to do. Madam Speaker, we may have a little money in the treasury, in the reserve. That is a fact that the treasury may have some reserves but you don’t go into that as expenditure. It is important to understand that if you are so highly indebted compared to what you have, what you have compared to what you need, you have nothing. Madam Speaker, you cannot talk about the President traveling as an issue of empty coffers,” she said.

“At that moment you need everything that you can to get to the UN General Assembly because as the President goes, he will be surely meeting with investors and we need them if we have to grow the economy. He is going to meet with the IMF, we need the IMF. It will give comfort to the people whom we have borrowed from. When that happens, it becomes easy for us to restructure our debt. This is therefore very important, it doesn’t matter how much we have, you have to prioritise, ‘what do you start with’. And therefore the travel of the President is not an indication that we have money, it is simply that this must be done.”

Vice-President Nalumango further said Zambians would soon appreciate President Hichilema because prices of goods were expected to gradually reduce due to the appreciation of the Kwacha.

“It is true [that] the President now of the Republic of Zambia as president of the opposition then, made pronouncements that as soon as he is sworn in the Kwacha will appreciate against the Dollar. This has become a fact! I will not shy away that there were other factors other than my President being sworn in. But it is true that immediately he was sworn in, the Kwacha appreciated even more. The swearing in of the President or even just the winning by UPND with President Hakainde sent confidence to the investors and the international community,” she said.

“Now the question is when are the people of Zambia going to enjoy the fruit of this appreciation? The appreciation of the Kwacha is one thing, it does not take care of things, for example, things that were imported into the country at a very high Dollar cost. Therefore, what should happen is gradually the stock that was imported at high cost goes down or finishes, the new imports start coming in, the people of Zambia will benefit, because the goods and services also will start going down. We need a little patience, the process has begun. Sooner than later the Zambians will appreciate the coming in of our President and what he stands for.”

Meanwhile, Vice-President Nalumango said government would implement the free education promise progressively.

“We have as a party espoused free education as the very apex of the education system. What it means is not what some members may be saying, there is no pronouncement as to ‘I am sworn at 10;00 hrs and 14:00 hrs free education’. Yes, free education is important and we will pursue it, but this means progressively. Right now, the statement which I was asked by the leader of opposition was that we have said ‘there is no money in the coffers’, if there is no money to do even the very necessary, even having no drugs in hospitals, how are we therefore going to immediately implement as they allege? We never said that, we said progressively,” said Vice-President Nalumango.