DON’T imagine fuel [prices] going up to K50 by end of this year, we are praying it won’t, says Vice-President Mutale Nalumango.

The Vice-President was responding to a question from acting leader of the opposition in Parliament Davison Mung’andu on whether government was considering increasing civil servants’ salaries in view of the fuel increment.

“Clearly, before your party formed government, His Excellency President Hakainde Hichilema showed meticulous, methodical and very important calculations on how he is going to reduce the price of fuel. Now they have kept increasing these pump prices of fuel leading to the cost of goods and services increasing. Are you considering, your honour the Vice-President, increasing the salaries for all civil servants, constitutional office holders, because this is the second time you are increasing fuel? You found the pump prices at 15, now it will be at 26. I can assure you your honour, from the look of things, you are likely to hit 30 before the end of the year. Even 40, 50, which erodes disposable income for civil servants. Are you considering increasing salaries for all civil servants and constitutional office holders so that they are cushioned by this increase in fuel prices,” asked Mung’andu.

In response, Vice-President Nalumango said the acting leader of the opposition was inciting well-meaning civil servants, adding that government was praying the price of fuel wouldn’t hit K50 by the end of the year.

“Madam Speaker, it is generally in the interpretation of factors surrounding us. Like I said to the earlier question, the environment is not the same. I may not be very good with figures like you referred to My President, but I think the time we came into office, fuel must have been US$70 per barrel, today it is about US$150 plus per barrel. And how do you expect a non-producing oil company country like us to react to that? I think let us think together as leaders. And to start trying to incite very well-meaning civil servants of this country who actually help us to make policies that they need a salary increment, that is not the way things move. We are governed by the rule of law and many civil servants, if not all are unionised, they have negotiated for this year and government has responded, responded well,” she said.

“And therefore for the honourable member, Madam Speaker, to start saying ‘are you going to give them’ and praying even in his speech because what you say is what you get, to think that fuel will go up to 50 by the end of this year. We are praying it will not. We are trying to cushion the cost of fuel. We will not have our people die because of the cost of living, we are monitoring and following everything, every step all the way. So, the fuel issue, yes has gone up, we pray it can come down. But this government is monitoring and we should continue monitoring. Don’t imagine it to go up to 50. These are external issues and we will continue to cushion our people.”

And when asked by Matero PF member of parliament Miles Sampa if the government had lived up to its promises, citing the increase in fuel, Vice-President Nalumango said the promises were genuine.

“The promises were extremely genuine and we will strive to make the lives of Zambians better. The price of fuel is not only affecting us and I hope that the honourable member is giving the statistics as being a true record, I don’t have those statistics of having other countries reducing the cost of fuel because the cost of fuel is increasing all over the place. I don’t know the mechanisms those may have used. But generally, this is an external factor which has affected us,” she said.

“Life is not the way it was in August last year because if it was, then you would say ‘why are you increasing’ but I think all of us know that the war that is going on now has an effect on the cost of fuel. Indeed, we will continue to monitor as government and together as Zambians as we move on the path of ensuring sustainability in terms of the cost of fuel. Yes, it increased yesterday but for us it is as a result of external factors upon which we have no control.”

Asked by Kabwe Central UPND member of parliament Chrizoster Halwindi if government was considering entering into a bilateral agreement with Angola so that Zambia could start importing oil from that country, the Vice-President said it was a long term alternative.

“Indeed for a lot of us we keep asking, Angola is near and they produce, why can’t we have this bilateral agreement, our fuel will be cheaper. But I am informed that right now, the oil that comes from Angola may not be processed here to the finished product that we need here. We don’t have like Indeni, we don’t have that at the moment. But indeed it is important to continue to have talks and see whether we can actually either have a plant or an industry that can process that fuel to a usable end. For now, it may not be an alternative in the immediate but in the long term, it is one of the things that government is considering,” she said.

Meanwhile, Zambezi East UPND member of parliament Brian Kambita asked when the government would allow the export of timber.

In response, Vice-President Nalumango said an audit was being conducted.

“The concern is basically about the business in forestry products, timber in particular. This question is when the suspension of the export of timber is going to be removed. I think what was suspended was more of the issuance of licences to deal in timber, particularly the Mukula, that is another issue, Mukula will be dealt with. But there was a lot of illegality in the Timber or Forestry issues and a lot of work has gone in by government, they have been doing audits. I should believe that that is a concern of all of us because that was the source of livelihood for some people. Not just North-Western, there are also other areas of Zambia where we are endowed with a lot of trees culminating into Timber. At the end of the audit which is almost done, it is our belief that there will be issuance of licences so that people can participate. For Mukula, we still have a bit of work to do,” said Vice-President Nalumango.