Stealing the real economy while giving the Zambian poor masses bones- Azwell Banda

Azwell Banda

Stealing the real economy while giving the Zambian poor masses bones

By Azwell Banda

Copper, cobalt, manganese, lithium, nickel and graphite are among the core materials the world needs, if it must transition out of “dirty” energy into “clean” energy.
Coal, oil and gas as sources of energy are on their way out, as evidence mounts of their disastrous impact on our earth and its ecosystem. There is a world stampede by developed countries and supper powers to secure the raw materials needed to transit from coal, oil and gas, as sources of energy, onto clean energy.

Believe it or not, even the war in Ukraine, besides the grains, has something to do with the abundance of coal, oil, gas and iron, and of course rare earth minerals including lithium. Lithium today is also known as “white gold” because of its great value in the transition to electric mobility and the global transition to clean energy. The West and the East are prepared to shed a lot of blood, to secure their access to these important materials. Trillions of dollars are at stake in this war.

In Zambia, 21 months of the UPND in government, there are obviously brutal and muddy battles going on, over the large, lucrative key copper mines on the Copperbelt. The Zambian government, from the time of privatisations in the 1990s to date, has tied itself up in extremely difficult to undo knots, over these large mines.

A thorough, high quality and independent forensic investigation of the goings on in these mines from 1991 to date would unearth evidence that would shock the masses of Zambia, over how our politicians have pocketed huge rents, commissions and bribes as they “sold” these mines to foreign mining companies.

The Zambian government has even constructed a government business architecture to facilitate the transmission of rents, commissions and bribes to the politicians in government. The UPND government of Hakainde Hichilema, a government of privatisers, has inherited this extremely dubious, faulty and completely rotten government business architecture.

ZCCM-IH portfolio includes shares in the major coper mines, on behalf of the Zambian government and people. ZCCM-IH is 60 per cent owned by the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) whose board is chaired by the President of Zambia and includes at least three key ministers. The ministers of finance, agriculture, and commerce are board members of the IDC. IDC is a mammoth operation with 36 companies in its portfolio (information from its website). The IDC is theoretically supposed to spearhead Zambia’s industrial development.
A lot has been written about the extremely weird arrangement where the President of Zambia chairs the board of the IDC, clearly placing this structure outside executive supervision and accountability. Ultimately, all the other members of the board of the IDC must bow before the President, who appoints them. How such a board actually functions in reality is a matter of conjecture. But it controls state businesses and investments which span the entire economy of Zambia. It is insane, the structure of the IDC and its board. The current parliament has in fact recommended that the President should not chair the board of the IDC. HH is hiding behind “the rule of law” – claiming this is what the law says, and he has to obey it. And yet he has had more than 21 months now to undo the obviously ill-intentioned legislation which makes the President of Zambia the chairperson of the IDC board, among other poor laws.

We already know about the dubious 3.1 per cent loyalty deal involving FQM and ZCCM-IH over Kansanshi Mining Plc. For a misery 3.1 per cent loyalty payment, quarterly, FQM are now 100 per cent owners of Kansanshi Mining Plc, and all the criminal charges against FQM directors have disappeared. ZCCM-IH minority shareholders have revealed that they were denied full information over the deal. This deal could not be made without the involvement of the IDC, a 60 per cent shareholder of ZCCM-IH.

There is a fierce boardroom war going on over Konkola Copper Mine (KCM). Vendata who conned our politicians and got the mine at the price of a rotten rat have been busy literally campaigning to get the mine back. We now know that through Vendata, should it get KCM back, Glencore will be back too, through the back door.

Hakainde Hichilema, as IDC Board chair, has immerse powers over any boardroom negotiations involving the key copper mines on the Copperbelt, in which ZCCM-IH has a stake. Hakainde has on several occasions stated that he prefers secret boardroom negotiations to our courts, over government commercial concerns. Zambians are not favoured with full detailed records and minutes of such boardroom negotiations. Parliament has thus far not been involved in certifying these negotiations above board and in the best interests of Zambia. Zambians are merely informed about the decisions reached between the “investors” and the relevant state-owned company.
Gifted to Hakainde Hichilema and his UPND privatisers by the departed PF government are immense powers and authority, through the leadership structures of the IDC and its businesses. Hakainde Hichilema sits at the top of the government economic empire like a mafia godfather. He is accountable virtually to no one, but himself. His is the dream position of any billionaire owner of a business empire.
As HH presides and negotiates in secret boardrooms multibillion dollar deals over the government business empire with foreign money, poor Zambians are thrown Constituency Development Fund (CDF), teaching, health, finance, defence and other few government jobs. Assuring the “private sector” of protection of their investments from “nationalisation” and offering them massive “incentives” including several favourable tax schemes, Hakainde Hichilema and his friends both in and out of government are poised to change the Zambian economy, in their interests, permanently.

HH says negotiations over KCM have taken this long because they are complex. Over public property, courts are the best fora to resolve complex matters involving competing property rights. Boardrooms are not court rooms qualified to offload massive public businesses to the “private sector”. Zambians who care to know understand how Zambians were reaped off in the privatisations soon after our 1991 reversion into a multiparty neo-liberal state. Lawyers, accountants, economists and “consultants” of all types became US dollar millionaires overnight, from the reckless privatisations of state businesses, as the majority of Zambians sunk into extreme poverty and joblessness. One day a full forensic audit, even if it is only to warn posterity about how not to be robbed of state companies by thieves, will be conducted.
Fighting over CDF money to set up a desk making company, to build a footbridge, to build a class room or two, to paint a clinic, to pave a gravel road, to set up at artisanal school, and so on, is not what will evenly fast track development in Zambia. Note that CDF is expended outside a coherent, systematised national set of development priorities over the whole country. Anarchy and chaos (individual private greed for money) determines where the CDF money is spent. Zambia’s natural wealth, properly managed and centrally planned for, has the real potential to lift the entire country out of its poverty. It is the meanness and selfishness of our political rulers that stands in the way of achieving this kind of national development.

Zambia’s real economy is mining, agriculture, tourism, manufacturing, construction, energy, finance and trading. All these sectors have something to do with the IDC, whose board President Hakainde chairs, and accounts to himself, apparently “by law”.
While our hunger, unemployment and generalised poverty reduces the majority of us Zambians to a pitiful hand to mouth existence, it is wrong to ignore the massive natural and other wealth, Zambia possesses. The government of Zambia, through the IDC, has a commanding position on Zambia’s economy. And today, this immense power is in the hands of Hakainde Hichilema, by law, and our Constitution.
We need full public exposure of the full minutes of all the boardroom negotiations to confirm Zambians are not once again being robbed in broad day light by privateers and their “investor” friends, especially over KCM, and all the other copper mines. Parliament must assert its constitutional right and duty to supervise transactions over public property.

At almost 60 years, there are many Zambians qualified to run our mines, for Zambia, very profitably, than Vendata or any foreign miners. The UPND is focused on completing the privatisations from where they left them, in the 90s. They are not interested in placing these mines in the collective ownership of Zambians. This way, they are guaranteed of their personal share of the spoils. Once more, Zambia’s real economy is being stolen, as the Zambian masses sink deeper into excruciating poverty.

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