By Staff Reporter

President Edgar Lungu and Patriotic Front government are taxing Zambians to death, opposition United Party for National Development (UPND) leader Hakainde Hichilema has charged.

Commenting on government’s announcement of austerity measures, Hichilema said his party was dismayed and alarmed with the way PF was handling its austerity measures.

“We are greatly dismayed and increasingly alarmed with the way the PF are handling matters of wage payment to civil servants and teachers which is becoming a habit in perpetuity. Every month our teachers and civil servants receive their salaries way from normal time which exposes them to various defaults and subsequent heavy penalties from banks and other lending institutions, who they signed standing orders with,” said Hichilema. “Further, and consequently their creditworthiness is put in jeopardy with credit monitors and most importantly they are put in rental distress with their landlords and can’t also meet their food and children’s school bills, and the chain reaction goes on and on. In the meantime we see the PF buying hundreds of brand new state of the art four wheel drive SUVs and Edgar Lungu and his officials ever in the air to sign more deals in international conference halls while sleeping.”

Hichilema said the austerity measures were not justified because President Lungu and his ministers were ever on their campaign trail at the expense of tax-payers.

“Back home Mr Lungu is on a never ending campaign trail flying around the country at great expense to the tax payer and when we alert the PF on this extravagance to national resources because the economy is on its knees, they call us bitter and jealousy,” said Hichilema. “Meanwhile Mr Lungu is gleefully pleased with his officials that raid civil service work places when the PF are not reciprocating the workers by paying them on time.”

Hichilema further charged that the country was on autopilot.

“This country is on autopilot and Zambians must use available legal and peaceful means to reclaim it from such mediocre and uncaring leadership who are taxing them to death. We demand that teachers and other civil servants must be paid on time now and in future,” said Hichilema.

Zambia Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) President Nkole Chishimba last week warned Zambian workers to brace themselves for harsher times induced by the swelling national debt which was quickly turning into a national crisis.

Chishimba said dismantling the huge national debt was a mammoth task that called for huge sacrifices from all the citizens.

He said what was even more alarming was that workers in the public sector were likely to suffer another wage freeze.

“As the debt crisis deepens and austerity measures begin to take root, it will be practically impossible for government to offer any salary increment to its workers. Our understanding is that government has resorted to the introduction of austerity measures because it has failed to come up with logical alternatives to dismantling both the local and external debt stocks,” said Chishimba.

Chishimba said the introduction of 30 ngwee tax for all internet calls was yet another desperate attempt by government to raise revenue to repay the huge debt.

“We have every reason to believe that this is a tax that was not well thought out. We do not think that there were internal consultations before rushing to announce this measure. These are issues trade unions should question because the performance of the country has been negatively affected by over borrowing and lavish expenditure. Both public and private sectors are in serious trouble,” he said.

Chishimba said introducing taxes to offset national debt was a wrong way of avoiding a national crisis.

“It is surprising that government is introducing new taxes everyday as a way of raising money to repay debts. This is a wrong way of handling this matter because you are over-burdening workers with taxes when there is no corresponding increase in their income. The patience of workers should not be taken for granted,” said Chishimba.

Chishimba observed that some workers had suffered victimisation on political grounds.

“We have seen in some instances workers being retired in national interest because of their political affiliation. In a democracy, we do not expect workers to be victimised on political grounds. I know that things are tough but we must also act tough if we are to meet the challenges ahead” said Chishimba.

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