He who goes to bed with an itchy bum, the English say, will surely wake up with smelly fingers. They could not have put it more aptly to define nature’s way of revealing things that are done in secrecy.
Two months ago, Minister of Finance Margaret Mwanakatwe told the nation that Zambia was not in any debt crisis. She added that, just like a pregnancy conceived under the cover of darkness, it was impossible for government to contract debt and keep it hidden.
“We are not intending, and we have never hidden any debt. You can’t hide a debt. Debt is like a pregnancy, it will show. We are servicing our debt and Zambia is managing to pay its debts in line with its obligations,” said Mwanakatwe when she visited Ambassador to the United States Dr Ngosa Simbyakula in Washington DC.
Well, that pregnancy which Mwanakatwe was denying is now stretching her belly and she can’t hide it any longer. The symptoms of the debt that she conceived in secrecy, with the help of Mr Felix Mutati, have become so unbearable that she now wants the whole country to feel the morning sickness.
“The debt sustainability assessment exercise has confirmed that we need to undertake measures to bring debt risk to moderate from the current high risk. Total public external debt as at end March 2018 amounted to US$9.3 billion from US$8.7 billion in 2017,” Mwanakatwe admitted on Thursday.
“In order to address the debt situation, government has undertaken to indefinitely postpone the contraction of all pipeline debt until the debt is brought back to moderate risk of distress; cancel some of the current contracted loans that are yet to be disbursed. The Ministry of Finance will only fund projects that are at least 80 percent complete. The Secretary to the Cabinet has been directed by the President to immediately issue new travel guidelines that will reduce the number of travels and the size of delegations.”
Since June 2017 when then Finance Minister Felix Mutati fumbled with debt figures in the National Assembly, this country has accumulated more than US$2 billion in external debt, yet the government has never disclosed these loans to the public.
Then we have a minister lying to citizens that there are no loans that have been contracted in secrecy. Madam Mwanakatawe, twilanwafye nokushana, the taxpayers are demanding answers. How did external debt swell from US$7.2 billion in June last year to US$9.3 billion this month? Who borrowed this money and for what purpose?
Anyway, we have so many questions to ask about madam Mwanakatwe’s pregnancy and her smelly fingers this morning. But we would rather engage President Edgar Lungu and commend him on this positive step. We believe that it is never too late to do the right thing, and this is one hell of a bold step, considering the arrogance of our Head of State.
We once said to this government that it would not kill anyone to admit that we have an economic crisis exacerbated by excessive borrowing and unbudgeted expenditure, but the corruption gurus in the Patriotic Front have been arguing with this fact and encouraging the President to continue borrowing, even in the absence of the Finance Minister, in order to finance their clandestine activities.
We are glad that someone has spoken sense to President Lungu and for once, he has listened. We have seen that critics are already mocking him, saying that the fiscal policy pronouncements are a waste of time; but we strongly believe that if the Head of State puts his head to this and commits to improving economic performance, he will achieve.
Our only concern however, is that President Lungu doesn’t have a disciplined strategic team to help him on this score. What he has are a bunch of PF cadres around him and a majority of educated illiterate Cabinet ministers who don’t care about anything else that doesn’t fatten their pockets.
This government is obese with debt, and just like any obese person, it takes more than just the call of nature to lose weight. It’s senseless to adopt a stringent diet, but then continue with the same eating habits when no one is looking. These measures that President Lungu and his Finance Minister have put in place are easy to pronounce, but the difficult part is in implementation. Before he bans ministers and civil servants from travelling, let him lead by example and ask himself if he is capable of adhering to the rules that he sets for others.
Remember, Your Excellency, that you vowed not to make any international trips for the rest of this year? What happened? Even when your Finance Minister was announcing the new fiscal policies, you were already out of the country on an unknown mission.
Bwana Lungu, the house is on fire. Come back, sit down, put the whiskey aside and think about the direction in which you are taking the 16 million Zambians. Yes, you may have no vision, but all that you need is a television in order to see the problems that you are expected to solve. Take time to listen to the cries of the people who voted you into office, and then you can switch back to ZNBC and continue listening to yourself.