By JOHN CHOLA
Friday August 27, 2021 was the day Hakainde Hichilema made his first Cabinet appointment and swore in Dr Situmbeko Musokotwane as his Finance Minister.
After the swearing-in ceremony, President Hichilema stated that Zambia expects nothing less than delivering financial prudence and channelling resources to key areas, but most importantly fixing the debt situation.
At his first media briefing immediately after being sworn in, Dr Musokotwane cited mining as one of the key sectors he will attend to in a bid to maximize production.
His administration shared the views of many Zambians that the country did not draw maximum revenues from the industry as it should.
Dr Musokotwane said the issue of raising mining production was very fundamental and vowed to do everything possible to move mining production from the current slightly over 800,000 tonnes of copper to over one million tonnes per annum.
“We need to be encouraged by the current high copper price which in recent times had even hit US$10,000 per ton. We must work hard to create a much better environment for mining production that should be able to raise production to two million tonnes per annum,” said Dr Musokotwane.
Going forward, his treasury team would ensure Zambia did not only raise copper production but that there was value addition so that the country starts to produce processed copper for export.
In pushing value addition, Dr Musokotwane aims to revive the Multi-facility Economic Zones (MFEZ) which has been largely dormant in the last 10 years. Zambia has such zones in Lusaka South and Chambishi.
“We will promote value addition to our copper production by producing essentials like copper alloys, fridges, starter motors and others to be manufactured from the MFEZ,” Dr Musokotwane said.
Dr Musokotwane also assured the country that Government would examine the mining companies case by case to find out which entities were enabling the country get a fair share of the proceeds and which ones were not.
“For those from which we have not been getting a fair share, there will be hard questions, where is the problem and how can we resolve that. In 2011 our colleagues in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) were producing less copper than Zambia but today they are almost producing double the amount that Zambia is producing. That’s why even the economic stress there in the DRC, you don’t hear it much as what Zambia it is in Zambia, what’s the trick, is raising production,” he said.
The national budget was under stress and unless the new administration did something, it would serve to only pay salaries and servicing the debt which would render it meaningless.
“The answer is to talk to the creditors who Zambia owes money so that they allow us to pay at a slow pace, renegotiating repayment mode and period to be stretched at a longer period of time so that we unlock a bit of cash for us to do something meaningful in the budget,” Dr Musokotwane said.
He affirmed that it was important to get the IMF as the authenticator who would assure the creditors that the administration was remedying the state of affairs and building up the growth of the economy.
He said President Hichilema’s administration was determined that before November 2021 the country should conclude the discussions aimed at getting back on the IMF programme.
“The World Bank has also indicated that there is some money Zambia can access to be put into the budget. Hence the money from there and from the IMF coupled with improved revenue inflows as briefed by the ZRA Commissioner-General because of higher copper prices and better tax collection methods, I can almost guarantee that the stress on you the citizens of Zambia will definitely be less next year and the exchange rate should move,” Dr Musokotwane explained.
The exchange rate was expected to move partly also because confidence in the Zambian economy had returned and investors who had moved dollars out of the country because of fear, would now bring back their investment.
“To all foreign investors; you have nothing to fear, this is a Government that is going to be friendly to enterprise business, if you dare bring your dollars in the country it’s up to you,” Dr Musokotwane said.
The Finance Minister emphasized that wastage of public money must come to an end as there would be no useless seminars and trips. More money should go towards improving the economy.
He warned civil servants would not be protected by anyone if found engaging in corrupt practices but be reported straight to the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC).
Service delivery would now take place during an agreed period of time, failure to which those responsible should face serious questions.
Dr Musokotwane said the prevailing high level of poverty was because of stagnated economic growth hence the journey was to grow the economy in the nextt 10 years.
“We are benchmarking that our economy in the next 10 to 15 years should grow like that of Mauritius, Thailand and Malaysia. Money that was being wasted should now be well spent to grow the economy.”
President Hichilema told Dr Musokotwane that he was alive to the fact that his party’s victory was youth-centred and as such the Ministry of Finance was key in ensuring that the economic vision was given life as that would lead to many other developmental programmes such as jobs and business opportunities for the youths.
“We also emphasized to the New Minister of Finance that our task is to seal off all financial loopholes and ensure that the resources are channelled to right beneficiaries across the country. Our people need food, water, quality education and quality healthcare services,” said President Hichilema.