Former Bank of Zambia Governor Dr Caleb Fundanga, former finance ministers Ng’andu Magande, Situmbeko Musokotwane and Felix Mutati, former Commerce minister Dipak Patel and former Economic Advisor to late President Levy Mwanawasa have written to President Edgar Lungu and incumbent Minister of Finance Dr Bwalya Ng’andu, expressing concern over Zambia’s current debt position. These eminent leaders have not only pointed out the problems, they have also offered solutions and ideas on how the country can get out of its difficult situation.

“It may be true that external factors (climate change and COVID-19) have damaged the Zambian economy. But the main cause is man-made policy mistakes. The most significant mistake is excessive borrowing by the government, as well as inefficient and/or low priority use of funds. The Government needs to act now. We believe that Government must rapidly conclude a programme with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). This matter has been on the table for more than five years, without reaching a deal. We urge the government to take this matter with the seriousness that it deserves, and to come to an agreement before the end of this year. We believe that the most important matter in our economy is the debt problem. Excessive debt drives many of the current problems – huge repayments already mean that Government cannot fund budgeted programmes, mounting arrears are accumulating on many government contracts, and the business climate is strangulated,” read the letter signed by the six former government leaders.

As expected, this letter has unsettled the powers that be and the government praise singers within and around the Patriotic Front. The reactions to this letter are exhibiting a typical intolerance to advice from the Patriotic Front government. Some are calling these eminent leaders names and accusing them of stealing while they were in government. It seems in Zambia you are not allowed to comment on national affairs unless you wish to congratulate the leadership. When you say, Mr President here is an idea that may help our country, you are insulted and accused of pushing for regime change. What kind of a democracy is this that only has space for one voice?

Those who surround President Lungu must not mislead him into despising all advice that comes from people who are not serving in his government. These people who have written this letter served government at a very high level and have massive experience on how to get out of an economic crisis like we are right now.

What these former ministers have written is plain good advice which should not be rubbished. They are reminding government that every time you borrow money, you put your finances at risk. That’s why it’s important to do your research before committing to new debt. In simple English, there is nothing wrong or sinister about borrowing. Debt is good if it’s intended for a good cause, their opinion is that our debt was not properly utilised. Is that an insult? What research did the PF government do before contracting all the loans that have accumulated to over US$16 billion local and domestic?

The former ministers are on point! What has landed Zambia is this debt crisis is not debt, but consumer debt. Borrowing for consumption. At a household level, this is equivalent to acquiring a loan to finance a wedding or a vacation. Our government has spent most of the loans acquired on non-productive projects. That’s how the Eurobond went to waste. We heard from Parliament that Zambia Railways only woke up to find millions in their account with no idea what the money was for and how it was supposed to be used. Government borrowed on their behalf without a plan.

These former ministers are saying borrowing for a good cause is not good enough as it does not solve the debt problem. Prudence and staying within the budget guidelines is the answer. Anyone who has debt should be on a budget. Budgets are great for everyone, but even more important to those who owe other people money. Making a late payment on a bill you can afford to pay is not just careless, it’ a costly mistake. Late payments lower your credit score and increase the interest. This can also lead your lender to impose late-payment penalties and increase your interest rate, making your borrowing more expensive. That’s what the former ministers are educating us about. Is this an insult to the President? This is exactly what we saw when the Africa Development Bank imposed sanctions on our government over a US$1.4 million debt. Yes we are struggling with the balance of payment, but we don’t think the Republic of Zambia can fail to service a US$1.4 million loan. This is a careless mistake that says a lot about the lack of fiscal discipline.

Seeking help from financial experts is not a shameful thing to do. If you’re having trouble keeping up with your debt payments or you’re not sure how to tackle your US$16 billion debt, seek help from a financial expert. This is where the IMF comes in for Zambia, that’s what the eminent former ministers are advising the government. A credit counsellor like IMF will sit down with you and review your credit score and credit report. They will help you correct abnormalities on your expenditure and aid your balance of payment. Then you’ll work together to set up a debt repayment plan.

What is wrong with this advice? Where have the former ministers gone wrong? Who can know better about the solution for this country than former Bank of Zambia governors, former finance ministers, former commerce ministers and former economic advisors to the President when the kwacha was trading at K3 to a dollar? Who should we listen to, if not these prominent economists and finance experts?

Maybe we should wait for solutions from Mr Alexander Chikwanda and Ms Margaret Mwanakatwe. We couldn’t help but notice that the two are not among the former finance ministers advising government on this path. What do they have to say? We know Mr Chikwanda is the pioneer of the quest for an IMF bail out package and at the same time, he is responsible for a significant portion of Zambia’s debt today. Yes, it’s now water under the bridge, but what’s his advise?