PRESIDENT HICHILEMA’s INTERVIEW WITH THE BBC WAS WRONG
By Sean Tembo – PeP President
1. When you are President of a country, it’s the same as when you’re a CEO of a company; your job is to paint a good picture about the country that you’re leading, in the eyes of your own people and the international community. That is because you need to build confidence. When you build confidence, local investors will bring back the money that they had stashed away and invest it locally because you as the President has painted a rosy picture about the country’s future outlook. Similarly, foreign investors will make the country to be their number one investment destination, because the future outlook is bright.
2. That is why l was shocked when l watched President Hakainde Hichilema’s interview yesterday with the BBC’s Lukwesa Burak. The President painted Zambia’s future economic outlook in the eyes of the world as black. Not grey or brown, but black. He did this in two ways; firstly by saying that Zambia’s debt burden is bigger than the PF government had disclosed. In other words, that there was hidden debt, but without revealing how much that hidden debt was. The journalist asked him how much is the hidden debt that we are talking about here, and the President said that his Government is yet to determine. So why go to the media to alarm the world if you have not yet determined the exact amount of the so-called hidden debt? How do you even know that the debt is hidden before you confirm it with the actual creditors? In auditing we don’t take any debt on face value until such a time that you meet the creditors and they confirm the details of the debt and they have provided its amortization schedule to-date. So far President Hichilema’s Government has not convened any creditors meeting that we know about. His alarmist statements are based on the small bits of exaggerated information that his “sources” are giving him in the system, in a desperate quest to save their jobs under the new Government.
3. The total effect of the President making such a wild statement about hidden debt, which is not quantified is that he is leaving up to the world to speculate about the quantum of the alleged hidden debt. The world is now thinking; could the alleged hidden debt be US$1 billion? Maybe US$5 billion? Or perhaps it is US$15 billion? Or maybe US$75 billion? Well, nobody knows for sure but one thing is certain; there is no investor from anywhere in the world who will want to come and invest in Zambia. No one. And for sure, immediately after the President’s alarmist statement, the yields on our Eurobond dropped by about 600 basis points which is a bigger fall than that which was caused by pre-election uncertainty. This means that we will now struggle to refinance our Eurobonds when they fall due in 2022, 2023 and 2024.
4. When l featured on Radio Phoenix “Let the People Talk” earlier this week, l made it clear that the international community had a lot of confidence in the new administration as witnessed by the gain in the yield of our Eurobonds the moment that Mr Hichilema was announced the winner of the general elections. I also made it clear that such investor confidence will make it easier for us to refinance our Eurobonds once they become due in the next couple of years, and that it will remain until such a time that the UPND Government messes it up themselves. Unbeknown to me that the President was actually planning to do just that; mess up the investor confidence through unsolicited wild statements that are not backed up by any actual figures!
5. Suffice to mention that the issue of hidden debt is not the only unsubstantiated wild allegation that the President has made. During the interview President Hichilema repeated his previous baseless claims that he was inheriting an “empty treasury”. During my interview on Radio Phoenix on Tuesday, l debunked that claim by the President and l estimated that on the day of his inauguration on 24th August 2021, there was approximately US$3 billion in the coffers. And for sure, during their quarterly media briefing this week, the Bank of Zambia indicated that our gross foreign reserves were standing at US$2.9 billion, which is not too far from the US$3 billion that l had estimated earlier. Suffice to mention that the $2.9 billion reserves that we have at the moment is largely due to the SDR allocation that we received of US$1.3 billion. But this is the largest amount of reserves that this country has had in the past 13 years or so. Even in 2011 when the PF took over, the MMD Government only left about US$2.4 billion. So the question then becomes; if the US$2.9 billion reserves is the highest that we have had in 13 years, why is President Hichilema insisting and telling the world that he has inherited “empty coffers”? Why unnecessarily alarm the world?
6. That is the question which the Zambian people should be asking themselves. Why is President Hichilema unnecessarily alarming the world? In my view, it is because of self-aggrandizement. President Hichilema wants to exaggerate the extent to which the economy was damaged by the PF so that he can use it to escape some of the grandiose promises that he made to Zambians before elections such as free education from nursery school to University. And to some extent, the BBC’s Lukwesa Burak was able to figure that out and decided to pin him with a question of whether he will still go ahead with his promise of free education in view of the extremely bad state of the economy, to which he started making it conditional that free education will be provided to bright students only. But why is President Hichilema playing politics with our economy so early in his tenure of office? Why is he putting his personal and partisan interests ahead of the national interest? Where is he going to take this country in the next 5 years if politicking is more important to him than genuinely turning around the economy and improving the lives of the Zambian people? And when we stand up and condemn such selfish actions, they say it is too early to criticize. Well, it is also too early for them to start messing up our country.
I am very worried about where we are going.