PRESIDENT Edgar Lungu says the presidency is like a prison.
In an interview on the sidelines of the State House media reception on Friday, President Lungu said the institution was lonely.
“The presidency is like a prison,” he said. “…And when you go there and you try to be yourself, they tell you that ‘you can’t do this, you can’t do that’. Others think I have diluted the Presidency because I am too free, I should be sombre…I find it very difficult.”
Meanwhile, the President stressed that the issue of ministers paying back to the treasury had been: “very active on our part.”
He said it was not as simple and straightforward “as saying ‘Edgar Lungu is eligible to stand in 2021.’”
“This is more complex because there are people who are out of our control now, who are no longer ministers, and we cannot say ‘we are going to deduct from your salary because the court has ordered that you surrender that money’,” he said.
“Some of them are our enemies and are saying ‘let me know how much so that I return the money’. But who will tell them? Me I don’t know how much is supposed to be returned. So, this is not out of disrespect for the courts of law.”
President Lungu added that the matter had: “caused more questions than answers.”
“We are looking for answers! If it calls for us to go to court and get the court guidance, we’ll do so. [It’s] not that we want to harass the court or show disrespect to the court,” said President Lungu in response to a question by News Diggers! Stuart Lisulo who sought the Head of State’s views on the Constitutional Court order for the ministers who were deemed to have stayed in office illegally when Parliament was dissolved.
Lisulo has asked why the ConCourt order on ministers should not be respected when he has respected the same court’s ruling on his eligibility to contest elections in 2021.
Meanwhile, President Lungu said the performance of the agriculture sector had been drastically affected by effects of climate change, which include droughts, floods, and the outbreak of pests and diseases caused by extreme temperatures.
He said with the production of crops declining, it was of great concern that production of the country’s staple crop, maize, had been declining.
“The production of maize in the 2018/2019 farming season stood at 2,004,907 metric tonnes from the 2017/2018 production of 2,394,907 metric tonnes. This represents a reduction of 16.3 per cent. The quantity of maize produced in the last farming season was only enough to meet our national consumption,” he said.
Further, President Lungu said the challenge of electricity power supply and load-shedding had increased the cost of production of mealie-meal.
He added that all aforesaid factors had contributed to the increase in mealie-meal prices.
President Lungu, however, assured the nation that his government had not just stood by as it was working round the clock to address the threats to our national food security.
“My government has issued a statutory instrument on maize and mealie-meal illegal exports. The SI will ensure that anyone found on the wrong side of the law is faced with harsh penalties, which include the extension of a custodial sentence for would be wrongdoers. This measure is aimed at deterring potential wrongdoers from engaging in smuggling. I wish to inform you that I am very happy with reports I am receiving that indicate that contingency measures are in place to ensure that there will be no shortages of maize and mealie-meal from now going into the next harvest in 2020,” he said.
President Lungu further assured the nation that his government had also put in place measures to guarantee relief maize and mealie-meal availability under the Disaster Management and Mitigation Unit.
He said his government had partnered with millers in Southern and Western provinces to stabilise the supply of maize and mealie-meal.
“I wish to assure the nation that my government will not stand aside and allow a situation where mealie-meal prices rise uncontrollably. The Food Reserve Agency has facilitated an agreement of private sector players, represented by the Grain Traders Association of Zambia and the Millers Association of Zambia to ensure that maize supply and prices of mealie-meal remain stable between now and the next harvest,” he said. “The agreement with the private sector is currently being actualised by the Food Reserve Agency and very soon the benefits will be seen by all.”
President Lungu noted that maize production in the country could only increase if farmers were paid what they deserve for their produce.
President Lungu urged farmers to go flat out to grow maize and other crops of their choice.
“I have often shared that to resolve the issue of escalating mealie-meal prices, the only sustainable solution is to increase maize production in the country. You will agree that production can only increase if farmers are paid what they deserve for their produce. I am, therefore, urging all farmers to go flat out to grow maize and other crops of their choice. I can assure you that your investment is safe and protected. My government, in partnership with cooperating partners and the private sector, is aggressively promoting climate smart agriculture through physical and electronic methods,” he said.
He added that with measures he had highlighted, coupled with the early distribution of inputs to farmers which government had managed to do, he was confident beyond reasonable doubt that maize production would increase, come the end of the current farming season.
President Lungu said as an interim measure, he expects the Minister of Agriculture, through the Food Reserve Agency, to find a way of offloading cheaper maize to millers to stabilise mealie-meal prices on the market.
“The construction of dams, which is currently going on throughout the country, will lead to increased productivity. This will lessen dependency on rain-fed agriculture. This project will ensure agriculture activities are carried out throughout the year, thereby improving food security at household and national levels. In addition, my government is working tirelessly to ensure that farmers have their inputs on time, and that all farmers that sold maize to the food reserve agency are paid promptly,” Lungu said.
The Head of State further noted that given the favourable rain forecast for the 2019/2020 farming season, and all things being equal, Zambia was likely to have a good harvest.