New Zambian leadership inherits “empty treasury”
After six failed attempts at becoming president, Mr. Hakainde Hichilema finally was sworn in as Zambia’s leader a week ago, representing the United Party for National Development. His new budget for the coming years is expected before month’s end, but there are significant roadblocks ahead, partly due to alleged mismanagement and corruption under the regime of former President Edgar Lungu.
In his first interviews as new head of state, he focussed on the combating of government corruption, as well as obtaining an accurate assessment of the full extent of the internal looting. The president said to the BBC: “We inherited a very bad situation from the prior administration. We knew it would be bad but we are only digging in now, finding out that the country’s debt position was not fully disclosed to our incoming administration by the outgoing one. … We will be on top of it very soon in terms of knowing the extent of the damage that has been done. There is a lot of damage. … We are talking about the level of corruption, as we see a lot of illicit movements of funds. We are also discovering that there are a lot of government employees were not actually working, but they are on the payroll of the treasury department.”
As to the new administration’s plans for renegotiating debt with the country’s creditors, he said that the “new leadership was here to do serious business and to control frivolous expenditures.“ Hichilema explained that before his administration could request leniency from creditors such as the IMF or China, which owns about a quarter of Zambia’s sovereign debt ($12.7 billion in external debt!), his party leadership needed to show constraint and proper self administration and guidance. “Then we can walk to the IMF with our heads high.”
His first cabinet appointment was that of the Minister of Finance, thereby emphasizing the importance of reconstructing the Zambian economy.