THE Kitwe Chamber of Commerce has described 2020 as a dark year where government has constantly interfered with local businesses, leading to disruption and heightened uncertainty.

And the Chamber has predicted that government will increase its populist agenda going into 2021 ahead of next year’s crucial general election in a bid to mobilise votes.

Chamber vice-president in charge of commerce Emmanuel Mbambiko described 2020 as a ‘dark year’ for local businesses in the area in view of government’s excessive interference in abrupt take-overs of company assets.

This year witnessed government arbitrarily take-over the Copperbelt Energy Corporation’s (CEC) transmission and distribution lines via Statutory Instrument (SI) Number 57 of 2020 and accelerate a proposed take-over bid of Mopani Copper Mines via ZCCM-IH.

“For us, 2020 is not COVID-19, it’s been interference of government in the business affairs, and we have said government can spare us the agony by keeping on their lane. For us, 2020 is a dark year for business because of these levels of interference,” Mbambiko said in an interview.

He pointed out that government had tampered with companies’ security of tenure, which had disrupted several businesses.

“From our point of view, it’s not only CEC as our member; we have had three of our members in trouble: Mopani Copper Mines Plc, KCM and CEC. It has created a lot of uncertainties, which is not good for business. We saw KCM, maybe not the best of examples because they were defaulting on suppliers. But then, they (government) came to CEC and took over the (transmission) lines. So, the manner in the way it was done, this means that anyone of our members’ business can be taken over by government. Therefore, it means there is no security of tenure; that does not help in building the confidence to invest,” he said.

“So, as a Chamber, for us, that has given us backache. As if that was not bad enough, we saw government hit on Mopani, and Ministers speaking publicly that ZCCM-IH were to increase their stake in Mopani. Eventually, Mopani said to government, ‘Fine, if you want to increase the stake, don’t increase the stake, buy everything.’ Now, government got stuck! The point being, again, security of tenure is being tampered with and it’s not good for business. So, we have cried on behalf of our members. But obviously, government listens to who they want to listen to and you get the feeling they don’t give a damn whether your business falls or not because if they were caring, they would have come to the table with CEC, they would not have been interfering in the operations of Mopani.”

And Mbambiko feared that government would increase its populist agenda in 2021 ahead of next year’s crucial election to gain more popularity and sympathy from voters.

“We really hope and pray that the space for business will be left alone. However, going into an election year, one can probably anticipate the populistic policies sometimes government makes. If they try and seek popularity, what they could possibly do, and I hope they don’t do it, is to try and still drive the agenda by grabbing Mopani, hoping that they will get the sympathy of the voter,” he said.

Asked if the Chamber remained optimistic that CEC’s ongoing impasse with Zesco Limited arising from the controversial SI 57, which declared the Kitwe-based power utility’s infrastructure as common carrier in May this year would be resolved, he hoped for a lasting solution.

“We are just hoping and praying that government relooks at this whole thing and plays a neutral game. They must not only be seen to be neutral, they must act neutral. That way, they’ll generate the confidence levels, and probably businesspeople will begin to think that, ‘it was probably one of those hiccups, but government means well’,” replied Mbambiko, who also appealed to the Kitwe City Council to revise the high fees businesses have been subjected to paying since the outbreak of COVID-19.