PRESIDENT Hakainde Hichilema says his government remains committed to improving Zambia’s electoral environment to ensure respect for human rights, liberties and democratic space to campaign.

And President Hichilema has insisted that Zambia’s debt situation is “choking out a lot of resources meant for development.

Speaking when he met a European Union delegation at State House, Monday, President Hichilema said the August general elections were tricky and could have gone bad had it not been for the support of the EU and many others.

“We are really delighted as a country and appreciate the warm cordial relationship between Zambia and the European Union over the years, many many years. We are grateful, specifically for your support in promoting democracy in our country through your various election observer activities in elections over the years. It is important for us to indicate our gratitude to the EU for such and like you noticed yourselves, we went through a quite tricky election. It could have gone very bad but somehow with the support of many, including yourselves, it ended up reasonably well. Therefore, your observer mission and the work that your mission had done in 2016 was very helpful because it has inputs into the 2021 elections. And seeing our colleague there, who was a delegate in 2016 towards 2021, I think we are very delighted,” he said.

President Hichilema said his government wanted to improve the country’s electoral environment so that elections were carried out within an environment of rule of law.

“We welcome the return vision of the election observer mission, Madam Maria Arena. I understand she will be coming here in November. We look forward to meeting with her so that we can deal with some of the issues that are still outstanding in our electoral process. Trust us that we would like to improve the electoral environment in this country fundamentally so that we can learn from the negatives of the past. Amongst those is really the respect of the rule of law. To make sure that the elections are carried out within the environment of the rule of law which would make the environment transparent, open for various players, coupled with the importance of us respecting human rights, liberties and freedoms, democratic space to campaign. What we didn’t have ourselves,” he said.

“We want to make sure that is available to others in future elections so that the competition is fair. Yes, we won the election but we won the election against all odds. We had to employ secret ways of campaigning because we couldn’t campaign openly. We don’t want that to continue in this country and so we want to assure you managing director and the team. Hence her coming is important to us so that we can check the remaining things that need to be done to open the electoral environment and open it in a much better way of course within the confines of the law.”

And President Hichilema said the country’s debt problem was “choking out” a lot of resources meant for development.

“We are also delighted really that we were able to meet Mr Charles Michel in New York and we had a very fruitful meeting to discuss a number of matters, including the need for us to maintain the EU support that has been going on for years. But beyond that, to grow that support. To be honest, because we have inherited a very difficult economy, and you meeting with the Minister of Finance I think brought in specific details. But we shared with the president then in New York the need to expand on our cooperation and maybe to open areas that may not be available for countries like ourselves,” he said.

“By supporting for example, the debt issues which is really creating issues for us because it chokes out a lot of resources meant for development. Those are some of the things we discussed with him. Obviously, we made him aware of the fact that if you put debt service on one side, public sector pay on another, there is no money left for development and that cannot continue. So, that is the reason we need to deal with these issues. We raised the issue of COVID vaccines with him because COVID is a global problem and we would like to vaccinate more of our people. Support towards institutions of good governance is very important for us. Our zero-tolerance policy to corruption, we raised with him and I think those are matters you may have been briefed already.”

Earlier, European External Action Service (EEAS) managing director for Africa Rita Laranjhina said recent elections had opened a promising chapter for bilateral relations between the EU and Zambia.

“We want to take the opportunity to congratulate you on your landslide victory and we will also add our personal congratulations to the ones that you have already received from the president of the European Council and the president of the European Commission after the elections. We also know that you had an excellent bilateral meeting with president Michel two weeks ago. It was the first occasion for you to meet personally and to mark the beginning of a very fruitful relation between the European Union and the new administration here in Lusaka,” said Laranjhina.

“It is also important to congratulate the Zambian people on the general elections that were held in August and the way that this peaceful transition of power was possible. It is already the third time since independence that Zambians have experienced this peaceful transition and the democratic credentials of Zambia are an inspiration for Africa and the world. We think that the recent elections have opened the possibilities and a very promising chapter for our bilateral relations between the EU and Zambia.”