TIMBER Association of Zambia president Charles Masange has condemned Zesco’s decision to award contracts for the supply of wooden poles to foreign companies, saying he smells corruption in the deal.

Recently, Zesco shortlisted 10 Zimbabwean and South African companies for the supply and delivery of 9 and 12 metre wooden poles, an act which has caused an uproar on social media.

Zesco Limited Board Chairperson Vickson Ncube, however, justified the decision, saying the company opted to engage foreign firms for the supply of wooden poles because Zambian companies lacked adequate capacity to meet the demand.

But in an interview, Thursday, Masange said government, through Zesco, should deliberately empower local timber producers with timber treatment equipment.

“In trade, we have the capacity, all what they do, we have got those eucalyptus which we use for poles, Zesco is giving a lot of down payments to those people, it is a matter of those who don’t have the capital now because they will be given down payment. Why can’t Zesco deliberately empower them with equipment so that they can treat the poles? It’s a matter of the vacuum; you buy a vacuum, you put the poles there. Zesco is a parastatal, government can deliberately empower timber producers and we just put a vacuum we start cutting our eucalyptus and start treating,” Masange said.

“We are in SADC but if only maybe there were about three companies, foreign, then I would have understood and not the all companies. I smell corruption and the new deal is to fight corruption, how can that be happening in the new dawn government? I condemn it 100% as a Christian.”

And Masange asked Zesco to cancel the contracts.

“Why are we poor in this country? It is because we are not sensitive to the outcome of decisions that we make. Zesco cannot say Zambia has no capacity to supply poles. Myself I was travelling with the management of Zesco to UPIDIA conferences which is on African level. What it is that if Zesco have found that we have no capacity to supply poles, still according to CEEC’s conditions you can’t give all those contracts to foreign companies because CEEC has nine pillars which is supposed to empower Zambians. What they would have done deliberately is to give the orders to Zambians, then Zambians can source even from Zimbabwe,” he said.

“A supplier to supply to Zambia must partner with Zambians because what we are aiming at as a country is to retain foreign exchange and to empower Zambians. For example, Botswana can never make such a mistake, not even Tanzania, all our neighbours, but here we are saying no, we are a liberal economy. Imagine how much foreign exchange will go out of this country, poles are expensive. I am a timber producer – it is billions of dollars.”

Masange said most of the shortlisted foreign companies were merchants and not suppliers.

“And those people who are supplying from Zimbabwe, from South Africa, most of them are just merchants. They are not the producers of poles. If they are merchants, why don’t you give to Zambian merchants then those guys can come to Zambians so that at least even the quarter of that money remains to help our economy, remains to help our GDP? You can’t externalise all that money, that is a wrong decision which needs to be reviewed and revoke all those contracts given so that they re-advertise to Zambians,” said Masange.