Coronavirus disaster: Zambia’s former finance ministers order President Lungu to declare a lockdown

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FORMER Finance Minister Ng’andu Magande says Zambia should have a lockdown as quickly as possible to preserve lives.

Magande says Finance Minister Dr Bwalya Ng’andu should cut down his fellow ministers’ salaries if he doesn’t have money to buy food for people in an event of a lockdown.

Last week, Cabinet debated a total lockdown during a special meeting after Health Minister Dr Chitalu Chilufya suggested it was the best way to stop the spread of Covid-19. However, President Edgar Lungu said Zambia could not afford a total lockdown because the country was already landlocked.

Surprisingly our equally landlocked neighbour, Zimbabwe, which is facing even more serious economic challenges than our own nation is experiencing, started its 21-day lockdown today.

Dr Ng’andu said he did not have money to buy food for people in an event of a lockdown. But in an interview, Magande said a lockdown was inevitable at this point. He added that a lockdown should have come as quickly as possible saying Zambians were still recovering from the issue of gassing which left them traumatized.

“People have just gone through this [issue of] gassing and haven’t recovered from that. It was traumatic enough. Now can you imagine if these 28 people (Coronavirus cases as at Saturday) if you hear that these people have died now, that is the same trauma we have just been going through with gassing. One of these rich people said ‘for the first time, guns of war, soldiers, military planes have all been silenced’. Now something that does that and you are saying ‘no, I think we will be able to contain it (the virus)’, how do you contain it?” Magande wondered.

He said during the lockdown, Zambians can eat locally grown nutritious foods like bondwe.

“I feel this lockdown should have come as quickly as possible. This time of the year, there is some green maize around, there is a lot of vegetables [like] kalembula, chibwabwa, bondwe, name it. Most of these things are not even expensive to grow and are even nutritious foods to eat. They are also around because of the season so we can’t die. Because how many people eat T-bone and other foods we import? I think it’s very little food that we import,” he argued.

Magande said government should focus on preserving life above all else.

“What does a lockdown mean? It means you are locked inside your country. So it means you stop moving, and stop allowing foreigners coming [in the country]. The point is, all these people going out or coming in, what are they producing? People will tell you to say for example ‘the mines are producing copper, so if we have a lockdown then they can’t take the copper…’. The question some of us always ask is ‘what is the contribution of copper to a livelihood of a person in Kasama or Sesheke’? When you ask that question, people start saying ‘don’t you know’? We assume we know yet at the end of it, if you follow up what the money from the mines is doing, you will find [that] it’s not helping my relatives in Chadiza, in Choma,” Magande said.

“At the moment we are talking of imports, if you went to Nakonde, you will perhaps find 100 cars trying to clear from outside the country. So even amongst the list of our imports, we can isolate imports that are not urgent and just say ‘we will only bring these things’. The trucks that you see now stranded in Livingstone at the holding place, what are they carrying? Some of them are perhaps carrying steel rods from South Africa going to Congo. Is that why we should keep our borders open? No. But then the death of one person whether it’s in Nakonde or Livingstone, that is a Zambian whom we are losing who could invent something that makes us independent. For me, choosing between suffering because you are not importing everything you want and losing a life, I would prefer that we preserve lives.”

Magande wondered why anyone could get a salary of K100,000 per month in the current situation, urging Dr Ng’andu to cut down his counterparts’ wages.

“When a situation like this arises, then he (Ng’andu) should stop paying his own people, his fellow ministers. He should tell them that ‘I will now pay you 20 percent of your salaries, this is enough for your families’. Why should anybody in this kind of situation perhaps be getting a K100,000 a month? If Coronavirus now starts taking people away, it will just be extending the kind of disasters we are already experiencing,” Magande said.

“So who is going to be giving us food? Everybody is in a crisis. The biggest countries [like] Britain, both the Prime Minister and the minister are in quarantine. This [Coronavirus] doesn’t choose. It will take anybody. So the [Finance] Minister can stop most of the things that are happening now. These Permanent Secretaries are getting fuel, when there is a lockdown, they will not need fuel to travel. A lockdown means no body should travel. The budget which they are not going to utilisee can be used to buy food for the people.”

UPND chairman for economic affairs Situmbeko Musokotwane has also shared the same sentiments, saying there is no other option but to effect a lockdown in Zambia to contain the spread of Covid-19 because experts have already advised that taking a gradual approach to this crisis is catastrophic.

Musokotwane has further urged government to come up with a comprehensive plan on how to sustain businesses and individuals who might become economic victims of a lockdown.

Addressing a press briefing in Lusaka, Sunday, Musokotwane who is also a former finance minister said a lockdown amidst the coronavirus pandemic was inevitable despite the negative economic effects that would come with that.

“There is no debate on whether we should take the gradual approach or we should take a lockdown. As far as the medical experts are concerned, the only sensible thing to do is to introduce a lockdown. If you talk to doctors here or listen to what other experts across the world are saying; they are saying if you do a gradual approach, you are just delaying the day of reckoning. So you might as well just do the lockdown from the very beginning. The debate of whether you do gradual or a lockdown is more of an economic debate than a health debate because health experts know what to do. So here is the thing, those who saying we should do gradual are scared of a lockdown because with a lockdown, the economy is going to be brought to its knees. If you close shopping malls, basically you are stopping people from transacting. If you close factories because you want to stop people from moving, it means production is stopping and the economy is slowing down…so the gradual approach is an attempt to contain the virus while at the same time making the economy move forward,” Musokotwane said.


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