The Zambia Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ZACCI) has challenged government to prioritize Zambian investors in the award of contracts to re-develop ‘wasting and idle assets.’

Works and Supply Minister Felix Mutati disclosed, Sunday, that the level of competition among local and international investors willing to re-develop “idle and wasting” assets is already high.

Mutati outlined that his Ministry has so far received strong interest from companies from various countries such as South Africa and Japan, following that initial market sounding at Government Complex last week.

This comes in the wake of government’s intention to re-develop five properties in Lusaka, including, Herbert Young Hostels, located next to Pamodzi Hotel, and Jacaranda Primary School, among others, because they have been deemed to be idle and wasting assets.

Reacting to the move, however, ZACCI president Michael Nyirenda wondered why government usually prefers foreign companies and investors when it comes to awarding of tenders.

He said local investors are fighting bureaucracy because government has heeded to the Biblical verse which says: ‘a prophet shall not be respected in his own country’ and used it in the awarding of tenders.

“It’s a very sad development for us Zambians that government prioritises engaging foreign developers, instead of a local one. The question we usually ask ourselves is: why doesn’t the Zambian government want to make Zambians rich? I always wonder why we are afraid, as a nation, to have local developers or to prioritize the local investors when developing these assets. Why are we afraid to create millionaires? Government is focused on picking foreign competitors and not our own foreign competitors, because our competition [is] the bureaucracy. They are the ones who are even discouraging you, instead of encouraging you to participate in these investment opportunities. That is what is happening. So, the moment we don’t change that culture, we will never have meaningful development. I always wonder why is it a culture issue? Is it a jealousy issue? That you don’t want your locals to be the major beneficiaries? It’s like this Zambian government has heeded to the verse in the Bible, which says that, ‘a prophet is not respected in his own land.’ It’s like it’s very true in Zambia than anywhere else,” Nyirenda told News Diggers! in an interview, Tuesday.

“Because, if you bring two investors, a local one and the foreigners, government would believe more in the foreigners even if we presented the same proposals with the same words. A foreigner with a similar proposal would win the tenders. So, my appeal to government is please give major priority to Zambian developers when awarding these contracts to redevelop idle assets. Because I usually look at that, is it a cultural issue or is it because we don’t believe in ourselves? They should put Zambians first in whatever sector whether be in mines, be it construction, we should come first. We shouldn’t even be talking about 20 per cent given to Zambians, we should be talking about 100 per cent! We should be doing things ourselves. Zambians are not given chances; I have seen several construction where there are no Zambians. So, if a similar construction is to take place, how are Zambians going to carry it out if they are not given chances? It’s impossible.”

Nyirenda also wondered how the local citizens would benefit from the redevelopment of idle assets.

“This kind of development has always raised questions. If we are going to develop any model, I know that we have had the PPP (Public and Private Partnership), but it’s not been operationalized because government has changed it. Initially, when you look at the Act, it supposed to have government and the private sector running the PPP together. What has happened in the past in that you run the programmes. Now, here is a scenario: you want to run a PPP project, and yet you expect the private sector to participate, but then you don’t engage them. So, then, how are you going to perform? Because then it is going to be hard if there must be some level of competition. If you are going to buy tomatoes, you should compare when it’s Shoprite, whether its Pick ‘n Pay or the market where you will buy tomatoes,” said Nyirenda.

“You need to know the face value of these tomatoes. The same goes for these projects. We need to be very clinical in that we might be made to spend much more money than we should have. But they must also ensure that the redevelopment of these assets are as transparent as possible. The PPP Act itself is supposed to involve the private sector. What offers is government giving to the private sector in the country? There must be good offers. Without such engagements with the private sector, it is very difficult to see meaningful benefits for our investors. So, I think we need more engagement and more transparency so that when the development process finally takes off, no one cries foul. All this must be taken into account.”