THE Zambia Association of Manufacturers (ZAM) has asked Zesco to consider reducing electricity tariffs by at least half of the last increment to help the manufacturing sector thrive during the COVID-19 pandemic period.

And the association has called on the government to ensure that the current “Buy Local” interventions continue even after the pandemic is over to guarantee growth of both the manufacturing sector and the local economy.

In an interview, ZAM vice-president Chipego Zulu said the hiked power tariffs had increased the cost of production, hence the need to reduce the cost of electricity so that manufacturers could maintain production in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic.

“When it comes to electricity, I know it’s a difficult thing to discuss, but we do recognise that last year, the electricity tariffs did go up by over 100 per cent in some sectors. I believe including manufacturing, should have been a 130 per cent if I am not mistaken. It was lower than the commercial of 200 per cent, however, the fact is that the tariffs did go up exponentially and this increased the cost of production for local manufacturers. Now as we are looking at local manufacturers to step up their production in the midst of this pandemic, obviously the costs of production do have an impact on their capability to do so and so with regard to electricity, it would be a welcome incentive to reduce those tariffs for the manufacturing sector even if it’s by half of what they had increased because that would at least minimize the impact in terms of cost of production,” Zulu said.

She emphasized the need for Zesco to quickly resolve the challenge with the independent power producer that has a fault on one of its generating machines, leading to increased load shedding.

“…for the manufacturing sector, we have said this time and time again with regard to electricity and the steady supply of electricity, it is a necessity for the manufacturing sector and for us, we would encourage Zesco to resolve the challenge with the supplier as soon as possible so that we return to a lower number of hours of load shedding. And as an association, we have engaged with them to minimize the impact of the increased hours on the manufacturing sector and of course we are looking forward to a situation where we have no load shedding in the country…It’s critical that we constantly have a steady supply of power that is affordable in the midst of this pandemic,” Zulu added.

She said the manufacturers had responded to the call for the steady supply of products to help in the fight against COVID-19.

“…So we have seen the textile sector respond to that adequately. We have seen the soap and chemicals sector as well increase their production of sanitizers, amongst other cleaning materials, and it is critical in the response to COVID-19 and we have also seen our engineering sector come up with a number of innovations. When you are looking at hand washing facilities for instance, now we do have on the market facilities that ensure that you are not actually using your hands [to access what is needed] when you want to wash your hands…” Zulu said.

She said it was “quite interesting” to observe that sometimes, it took situations such as the COVID-19 outbreak for the country to realize what ZAM had been advocating for in terms of having a strong manufacturing sector.

“We see in the national development plans, talking about growth in various sectors underpinned by value addition. However, the practical steps that are required to realize that growth have been slow in terms of implementation…[but] we have seen the drive coming in from the government,” Zulu said.

“Specifically yesterday [Monday], the Minister of Finance, commerce, I think about five ministries met with a contingent of our colleagues from South Africa talking about the need to have Zambian products in the chain stores, more Zambian products. Definitely, we have made strides in the recent past but there is a lot more that can be done in ensuring that locally manufactured products get a fair amount of shelf space in our chain stores…”

She further called for a continuity in the use of local products so that the space for local manufacturers was created and maintained in the medium to long term.

“Beyond that, we are looking at procurement from the government itself and we commend so far the effort that has been made to ensure that they buy local products in response to COVID-19 and as a government, it would obviously be great if that continued going forward as opposed to being an immediate reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Zulu.