Transport and Communications Minister Eng Brain Mushimba says government only channelled US$120 million towards resuscitating Zambia railways out of the total US$1 billion which was borrowed for purposes of recapitalising the company.
And Mushimba says he has been warned before that he may step on the toes of some politicians who own trucks, but he is not afraid and he will go ahead to sign a statutory instrument to transfer bulk cargo from Road to Rail.
Mushimba told News Diggers in an Interview that government decided to only apportion US$ 120 million to the Zambia Railways because resources were limited and there were many other competing needs hence it could not give the entire Eurobond to one sector.
“The Eurobond was contracted by the government of Zambia, US$120 million dollars of that Eurobond was given to Zambia Railways. When it was given to Zambia Railways, it was with the understanding that we needed to recapitalise Zambia Railways. We needed more money than the US$120 million but we said in this phase, lets give the US$120 million because obviously as a government the resources were limited and there were many other competing needs, we cannot lamp or give the euro bond to one sector. That wouldn’t be prudent. When we gave the US$120 million to Zambia Railways, the company had just been repossessed from Railway systems of Zambia, there was a concession that was signed under MMD, the concession was to invest in Zambia Railways. We found out after auditing that it didn’t invest as we expected and there was no value for money for us to continue with that concession,” Mushimba said.
He said the company had degraded and needed to be modernised.
“Zambia Railways had degraded overtime. The tracks were not properly maintained, locomotives were not properly maintained, derailments were the order of the day coming from the fact that the tracks and the permanent ways were not properly maintained. The speed on our tracks had gone to a low as 10-15 km per hour, security on transporting cargo was not guaranteed and goods were being stolen along the way. Tonnages that traditionally and historically have been transported using Zambia Railways had left and went to the roads, the heavy and bulk cargo went to the roads. The congestion on the roads as you can see is there and the road profile suffered,” Mushimba admitted.
“So that was the picture that we as PF government picked up and said we needed to do something. That something is phase one, lets give them US$120 million so that we can start, 1, with repairing of the permanent ways and the rail trucks. That has been done. 2, lets recondition locomotion and wagons, that is currently being done. I am suppose to go to Zambia Railways to actually commission the first set of locomotives that have been manufactured with a Malaysian company.”
He said despite the investment into the sector, there were still some deficiencies that needed to be addressed.
“Security has been beefed-up to make sure that cargo is not being lost. When all these things were done using the Eurobond, we saw some confidence by the market being restored in Zambia Railways. Tonnages have continued going up in terms of how much Zambia Railways is able to transport. I can acknowledge here that we are not where we want to be, there are still inefficiencies, but I think we have come from the dark days to days that show a lot of promise,” Mushimba said.
And Mushimba said if there were politicians benefiting from road transport who would harm him if he limited transportation of cargo on the roads, he was willing to die while doing what is right.
“That is a conspiracy theory that I head for the first time not too long ago. You know people say ‘there is no smoke without fire’ but being a politician, I have actually found out that there is also smoke without fire sometimes. That accusation or that conspiracy theory extended to even TAZARA that the reason TAZARA is the way it is, is because government officials have gone into transportation, they have bought trucks so there is no incentive to invest in it or in making it very viable and very available. You know when I signed SI 76 which restricted night driving, I was called to say ‘what are you doing? You are going to lose your job because there are powerful people that have trucks and now cant transport, two, your life is going to be endangered.’ then I said listen, even if I die in the service of my nation. Let it be because what I am doing I believe in it,” said Mushimba.
“When I make a decision I require a lot of information and we had gathered a lot of information to make the decisions we made. I didn’t care who owned the trucks, I didn’t care whose toe I stepped on. And probably I stepped on politicians, I stepped on commercial people but everyone eventually understood what we were doing. The point I am making is government cannot be stopped because of one sector trying to benefit at the expense for all of us, government is for all of us. Government is for all Zambians. Its not for a few people that may be connected politically and otherwise, its not for a few people that want to amass wealth and money legitimately through trucking.”