GOVERNMENT has so far spent close to K1 billion on Rupiah Banda's rentals, says finance deputy minister Miles Sampa.

During an MTN media breakfast yesterday called to discuss the country's economic performance, Sampa said the government was also spending almost the same amount on rentals for the estate of late president Levy Mwanawasa.

Justifying the allocation of K1.4 billion for the construction of houses for each former head of state, and current President Michael Sata's retirement house, Sampa said the government wanted to plan in advance to ensure it did not incur huge bills on rentals in future.

"For allocations towards the presidential houses, in the 2013 budget we have put K1.4 billion towards the construction of President Sata's house. But we have also put K1.4 billion for each of the houses of late president Mwanawasa, Chiluba and fourth Republican President Rupiah Banda," he said.

"When president Mwanawasa died, the then first lady, Maureen and her family were put in a lodge where they had to live for several months. Even now, the immediate past president, Rupiah Banda , when he left State House, because there was no house for him, this government has to pay rentals for him and I can confirm, to this point since he left State House, the government has spent close to K1 billion in rentals."

He said those condemning the move should refer to the 2010 budget where Banda's government allocated K7 billion for the construction of his house.

"If the MMD had been responsible and built houses for their presidents at the time, government would not have been incurring rental costs that we are incurring now. To show the double standards of the opposition…even Rupiah Banda, in 2010 when he was the president, he budgeted K7 billion towards the construction of his house," Sampa said.

And Sampa said the government has zero rated duty on motorbikes to encourage more people to buy, a move aimed at reducing motor vehicle traffic on the roads.
He said government had also reduced duty on boats to encourage more activity on the lakes.

Sampa said the government was also supporting the Small and Medium-size Enterprises (SMEs) as they had a potential to create jobs.
Meawhile, MTN Zambia says it is getting all its system ready ahead of the January 1, 2013 rebasing date.

Chief marketing officer Philip Besiimire said the mobile phone provider was working with the government to ensure that it adheres to all the pieces of legislation such as sim registration and kwacha rebasing.

"It does take quite a lot of effort on our side to get our systems ready and that's why we appreciate and we assure that it is something on our radar to ensure that come 31 December, we ensure that we are compliant and that every system on our network does support this rebasing," he said.

Besiimire further said MTN now has about 3.5 million customers on its network.
"We are close to 3.5 million customers at the end of September. Mobile money portifoilio continues to grow significantly. The biggest drive is the increase in payment options such as Zesco and DStv bills," said Besiimire.