EMMANUEL Mbambiko says no private sector investment is secure when a government goes to an extent of takeover to supposedly resolve a conflict between an employer and its employees.
He also says it is a mirage for anybody to think that Mopani Copper Mines (MCM) in Kitwe and Mufulira will be revived by the government. “Mopani is going to be killed,” he warns.
Mbambiko is the Kitwe Chamber of Commerce vice-president in charge of commerce.
The Mast spoke with Mbambiko, an academician, on the teething issues at Konkola Copper Mines (KCM) and MCM.
He was quick to indicate that the Chamber had not yet sat to discuss that.
“But I have my own position,” Mbambiko said.
He then gave a brief background on how Zambia found itself in the state where her mines were privatised.
“The question is ‘is it something that we looked forward to at the time when it was being done?’ The answer is it was a mixed feeling,” he said.
“When you read the book which Francis Kaunda wrote, selling the family silver, and you read the two books which [Andrew] Sardinis has written, the first 50 years of Zambia and another one, a venture in Africa, and a few other books that people have written…”
Mbambiko noted that: “in fact, people have done PhDs on the subject of mines.”
He indicated that even now the issues at KCM and MCM were PhD subjects.
“So, in other words we continue to be guinea pigs where people can sit and learn about us. Learn about how we are handling or mishandling this whole mining sector!” he said. “At the end of the day, what we all looked forward to after privatising the mines was to try and see if efficiency will get into the mines and then government will effectively collect the taxes which they couldn’t collect during ZCCM days.”
He highlighted that during the Zambia Consolidated Copper Mines (ZCCM) days, the situation got to a point where the government was out-sourcing money to sustain the mines, “because the mines couldn’t just be sustained.”
“The whole idea of privatising them was for the government to galvanise effort and support its activities. ZACCI (Zambia Chamber of Commerce and Industry) pushed the agenda to have the mines privatised,” Mbambiko explained. “Indeed, the mines were privatised and did the private sector benefit? Yes!”
On KCM, which the government forced into a contentious liquidation, Mbambiko said, “Vedanta went to a point where they could not pay creditors, which was very immoral of them.”
He added that issues to do with safety were also highly compromised, “which was immoral of them.”
“But that’s the reason why the government is there; if one is not paying the creditors, government must not protect such a one. They should ensure that the arena is open for such a one to be dealt with,” he said. “Vedanta were literally untouchable! But at some point Vedanta found itself where it is.”
Mbambiko, however, does not feel that what the government did at KCM is good for business.
“Absolutely no! It was not good for business because you cannot get to a point where a government finds itself taking over. It means all over us who are in the private sector running our businesses are not secure,” Mbambiko said.
“You dare not run business in an environment which is insecure. That is one of the sins government committed in KCM – the fact that the government could exercise its muscle.”
He continued: “and you could see Mr [Edgar] Lungu coming out in the public, saying ‘this matter will go nowhere.’”
“Meaning therefore that he is saying ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega; once I have decided, you’ll go nowhere.’ Now, you are running business, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s a mining business or any other business, and you can hear someone speaking with power, make you feel that you have nowhere to go and then you see them take over your entity,” he said. “Insofar as I’m concerned, that is not good for business. All the businesses are under threat! It means that government can walk into Kansanshi mine and do what they did to KCM. What will stop them? They can get into Mopani and do what they did with KCM. What will stop them? They can get into The Mast and take over. There is nothing that will stop them! For business, that is worrying.”
Mbambiko underscored that from a business standpoint, the government’s actions around KCM must be condemned: “and condemned to the fullest.”
On the complete acquisition of MCM from majority shareholders Glencore, Mbambiko said: “Mopani will no longer be run efficiently.”
“That’s not a negotiable thing!” he stressed.
“Look at whatever entity the government is running, including the councils, they are just a nightmare. Government is not there to run business. No! So, to get into Mopani and hope that Mopani will be a different story is a mirage. It will never just happen. So, Mopani is going to be killed!”
He hopes MCM, in the acquisition agreement, said it would not release its assets until they are assured.
“If they (MCM) release their assets, they are in trouble, because their assets are going to be run down very quickly. That also is not good for business because it has created a lot of insecurity and you cannot do business in a country where there is no security,” he said. “Going forward, if there is anybody who is going to come and invest in this country, they must be those that are called opportunists who would want to come in and just take over quickly like a pungwa (hawk) or like a mwankole (raven) and buy, sell and run away. [But] you can’t afford to run the mines with such kind of attitude.”
Mbambiko added that a mining venture was long-term.
“What the government has done [on MCM], from my point of view, I do not agree with them. They have taken us backwards and it’s totally unacceptable,” he noted. “Immediately, inefficiency, cadreism are going to set in. I know that the labour movement may really have fought hard to ensure that this happens…I’m not sure when their elections are happening…”
He explained that for the mining labour movement, “as far as they are concerned, they want to maintain a high number of membership.”
“The more the members, the more the income for themselves! For me, even the union is being short-term, because their members are not going to be there for the next one year,” said Mbambiko. “If they survive the next six months, they will be very fortunate. So, that’s what I can say and I do not have an apology for saying this.”