Please leave the poor operators of Hiace minibuses and stop increasing the gap between the rich and the poor, Chishimba Kambwili said in parliament today.

And Chasefu PF member of parliament Gerald Zimba says Zambia railways is milking money from government as opposed to contributing to the growth of the economy.

Meanwhile, Minister of Transport and Communications Brian Mushimba says his ministry has proposed to spend K346,679,870 on priority projects in 2018.

Debating the budgetary allocation for the Ministry of Transport and Communications, Kambwili said a proper system of regulating the conduct of Hiace buses must be devised because phasing them out would only affect the poor.

“Speaking on behalf of the owners of minibuses, minister this is also another decision which is against the poor people. Most of these people that run these minibuses are retirees who can’t even think of any other businesses. You know that right now road construction is for Chinese. All the major contracts now are for foreigners and now you want to take away the little that the poor have remained with. I can advice that please leave the poor. You want now to keep increasing the gap between the rich and the poor were the rich get richer and the poor poorer. Leave the poor operators of Hiace minibuses,” he said.

“All you need to do is to control them. Those boys in the stations are not even difficult but you want to chase them. Devise a proper system. There is a better way of regulating the conduct of business other than thinking of getting all the Hiace minibuses off the road.”

And Kambwili argued against the introduction of a national airline, saying Zambia’s economy could not support it.

“I stand to differ with the minister on the establishment of the national airline. It is common knowledge that all over the world, the airline business has been posting losses. Just here in South Africa we have seen how the South African airways has struggled. Even British airways is struggling. I do not think the economy of Zambia at the moment can support a fully run national airline by the government,” said Kambwili.

“We have so many things that are critical that we need to spend money on and I don’t think at this level we can be thinking of starting an airline that is going to be fully owned by the government. I can assure you that within two years I will be vindicated.”

And Zimba urged Mushimba to inform the House why the railways business performing badly despite money being pumped into the sector.

“Honourable minister, you will agree that the railway section is a very important aspect of the Zambian economy. The railway system is supposed to be the cheapest mode of transportation but in recent years the sector is actually milking money from the government. We have had challenges to revamp the railway sector. We need to do a postmodern on Zambia railways. I know its not profit oriented but government has an obligation to provide the service,” he said.

“Zambia railways pays a lot of fuel levy but why is it that only the road sector benefits on taxes that are paid on fuel levy? Honourable minister I would love you to bring up a statement to this house to tell the nation why Zambia railways is doing badly. What is the plan for the government and how you hope to revamp the sector.”

Meanwhile, Mushimba said his ministry would spend K346 million on priority projects in 2018.

“The ministry proposes to spend K346,679,870 on priority projects in 2018. The ministry has estimated to raise revenues amounting to K1,290,789,030 through its various revenue points. The ministry is therefore projected to report a surplus of over K900 million in 2018 to the treasury. In 2018 my ministry will finalize the national transport policy, the national transport master plan and the national ICT infrastructure master plan to clearly define the path to an efficient and integrated transport and communications future that Zambia needs in order to attain anniversary accepted standards in infrastructure and service provision,” he said.

Mushimba further said that feasibility studies aimed at modernization of Tazara and Zambia railways had been completed.

“In 2018, for the next few years, the ministry will maintain focus on revamping the railway sub-sector. As government, we are aware that efficient railway system reduces pressure off the road and enhances the movement of goods and services especially bulk and heavy goods. The railway sub-sector will be improved by investing in the rehabilitation and modernisation of Zambia Railways and Tazara permanent ways and the reconstruction of the inter-mine railway lines in mining areas. Feasibility studies aimed at modernisation of Tazara and Zambia railways have already been completed,” he said.

“In addition, we will refocus on the establishment of a railway development authority to drive the railway development agenda and separate the railway infrastructure development from railway operation services. This will further enable open access to the railway line by the private sector. The ministry also intends to expand the railway network through the development of new rail lines. Some of the green field projects that government will focus on in 2018 include: (i) The Chipata-Petauke-Serenje rail line. (ii) The North-Western rail line. (iii) Nseluka-Mpulungu rail line. (iv) The Livingstone-Sesheke rail line. (v) Kafue to Lions Den rail line. These rail lines once completed will lead to improved rail transport and network connectivity and contribute to the development of of an integrated, reliable and efficient transport system to Zambians.”

And Mushimba said the phasing out of Hiace buses would be gradual to ensure a smooth and transition.

“The other SI we are talking about is seat belts in public service vehicles. This is an SI that has been on the books for a while. We tried to make every public service vehicle have a seat belt. This SI because of the complexities and the transition that we have to accommodate is not kicking in until much later. Why we have given it a long transition period, is to make sure that all the consultation that needs to happen happens, because this PF is a listening government that consults and discusses these things before we make them into law. We are doing all the consultations to make sure that when the transition happens it is smooth and the benefits of the SI could be understood by everyone,” said Mushimba.