INFRASTRUCTURE, Housing, and Urban Development Minister Charles Milupi has called for patience among contractors and suppliers, saying government is grappling with the debt situation.

When asked whether there was any progress made in paying road contractors and suppliers, Milupi said government was in a tight financial situation which was caused by PF.

“The whole budget for roads for the whole year is K4.9 billion. We told you that two years ago under PF, it was K10.5 billion, last year under PF it came down [to] K6.5, under us, it came down further to 4.9 [billion]. It shows the desperate financial situation the country is in. When you are saying pay now, now that 4.9 is just not to pay nkongole (debt), it is also to carry [out] maintenance, to carry out rehabilitation, to do all the things that are required to be done on road. Out of which, if you have issues on Ndola Road, the issue of potholes all over the place, they are all supposed to come out of that. There is a narrative that is being pushed that the liquidity situation, contractors are not being paid, so I am putting this so that you can understand the tight situation we are in. What government is doing is trying to deal with the debt situation,” he said in an interview.

“You cannot deal with the issues of the economy without dealing with major debt, the 27 billion that we owe. I think we want understanding because if we don’t have understanding people will be pushing through false narratives. For example, the new dawn administration has not issued even a single contract, not even one. These are PF debts, the contractors owed money, the ones you are talking about, these have culminated from PF days. They were issuing contracts without revenues, without budgets to support them. So we are dealing with a big problem, it requires a level head to sort it out, not to be pressurised into this.

And Milupi said any contract going forward would have to be supported by a budget.

“We would like to sort out that debt. We will be looking at contracts, which ones can be terminated without costing the government. Some of these contracts are costing government money, we are not able to fund them but we are incurring standing charges, incurring interest and so on. So we have to look at what we can do to save government more money. So any contract going forward will have to be supported by a budget, because when they finish their job, they get paid. That is the normal way to run things,” said Milupi.

“Government is still grappling with the debt situation. It is the question of putting the economy right so that there is liquidity in the nation to pay. In the meantime, people have to be bear with the government because it was a difficult situation that was left to us by the PF. In terms of these roads, I think the amount owed is a phenomenal amount, you are talking about a lot of money, over K125 billion. That alone is more than our budget, more than the locally generated revenue in the budget for this year. This year, it is 99 billion, we owe the road sector on the construction sector 127. You see that we need people’s understanding for us to sort [that] out. Someone can say ‘why don’t you go and borrow’, we can’t borrow, we are already an over borrowed state. So that is why we are now discussing with creditors to see if we can stretch out what we call restructuring. People don’t really appreciate what these people left, they left a big mess. It is a question of over commitment not by the new dawn administration but by the PF administration, coupled with inability to generate the required revenues in the economy.”