Luiwa UPND member of parliament Dr Situmbeko Musokotwane on Wednesday caught Minister of Agriculture Micheal Katambo lying on the floor of the House when he said the AVIC International bid had not yet been approved when the signed MoU indicated that the plan to relocate NRDC to Shibuyunji was in force.
And Speaker of the National Assembly Dr Patrick Matibini had to ask Katambo to control his emotions whilst providing answers on the heated topic.
Giving a ministerial statement on the ‘alleged’ sale of NRDC to AVIC International, Katambo insisted that the college was dilapidated and not conducive for learning.
“There has been public outcry that government has sold NRDC which falls under the Ministry of Agriculture. The government has not sold the Natural Resources Development College. The then chief government spokesperson [Kampamba Mulenga] issued a statement on this matter on 31st January 2018, I will echo what the then spokesperson said. NRDC was built in 1965 to cater for a student population of 300. The student population has since increased to 2,024 and it is projected that the population will hit 4,000 by 2019. Obviously, the current infrastructure cannot cope with such a high number of students. It can only accommodate not more than 650 students who have to share rooms while the rest of the students either have to come from their homes or rent boarding houses around the college,” Katambo said.
“The college sits on a land size of 304 hectares and it is surrounded by residential areas namely Mutendere, PHI and Avondale with no room for expansion whatsoever. Let me inform the House and the nation at large that in 2007, Chief Shakumbila of Mumbwa District came to the aid of government and offered 1,662.23 hectares of land to NRDC. The offer of this land was confirmed to His Excellency President Edgar Lungu, the President of the Republic of Zambia when he visited Mumbwa and met chief Shakumbila. In 2017, government received an unsolicited bid from AVIC International to develop a brand new NRDC at the land in Mumbwa. Given its foresight, the PF government accepted the offer from AVIC and signed a Memorundum of Understanding MoU which is an expression of intent. In the MoU, AVIC International Engineering Company proposes to construct a financial centre at the current NRDC Lusaka campus. Once developed, the financial centre will bring a new look to the city of Lusaka and it will create employment opportunities for Zambians.”
He also claimed that the bid from AVIC had not yet been approved but in the same breath asked Zambians to support government’s move to construct a new NRDC.
“Mr Speaker, government is waiting for a detailed proposal from AVIC International on the planned development of the NRDC Campus in Shibuyunji. The benefits of the new NRDC campus is that it will offer a conducive learning environment for students who will be able to learn and undertake practical applications in agriculture. Once developed, it will be self sustaining as it will engage in income generating activities given the abundant land of 1,662.23 hectares. Mr Speaker, the current NRDC Campus clearly does not offer a conducive environment for both students and lecturers. Therefore, the move by government to build a new NDRC Campus should be supported by all well meaning Zambians,” he said.
But during follow up questions, Mazabuka UPND member of parliament Garry Nkombo compelled Katambo to lay the MoU on the table of the House for scrutiny.
“The accepted convention under Parliamentary practice is that when you make reference to a document, this document which you are calling an MoU, but at the same time an expression of interest, do you mind this afternoon, to lay this document here so that when we engage you and your government who are primary suspects of selling this piece of land of NRDC can be acquitted of this accusation?…can you lay it so that we see the exact provisions of that MoU which you are calling an expression of interest? To me, the two are mutually exclusive, it can only be one or the other,” requested Nkombo.
Before responding, Katambo complained about Roan PF member of parliament Chishimba Kambwili’s running commentaries which he said were not expected on the floor of the House.
“Mr Speaker, from the onset let me express my displeasure, this is an Honourable House. There are people who are calm, cool and able to listen. I am able to listen and take advice from any of you but the way Honourable Kambwili would come in, calling me a thief is not good,” Katambo lamented as opposition members jeered.
He then turned to face Kambwili and said, “You said so, I am your brother and you say like that?”
Speaker Matibini asked him to take a seat and reminded him that there were proper channels of registering a complaint.
“Let me give guidance. There are channels of expressing grievances and whatever is uttered within the four corners of this Chamber is recorded, I can assure you. So if you have any grievance, please don’t hesitate to communicate that grievance. In the meantime, let us focus on our business. I have indicated, clearly that this is a very emotive subject but nonetheless, we still have to proceed in an orderly fashion,” Speaker Matibini ruled.
Katambo then rose to respond to Nkombo’s request.
“A Memorandum of Understanding is a document expressing intent, an expression of intent. I will lay it down for the sake of proof, Cabinet has not approved this,” Katambo said but Speaker Matibini asked him to sit down after noting his emotional disposition.
“Honorable Minister, I think you need to appreciate that you are dealing with an emotive subject and since you are dealing with an emotive issue, it is advisable that you yourself maintain temperament. If you yourself are emotionally charged, we will not proceed,” Speaker Matibini guided.
The Minister obliged and laid the MoU on the table of the House.
“Cabinet has not approved, any decision can be changed, we are able to listen to the citizens, so that we come up with what the citizens would want, we are a listening government. The President is a listening President so I will even lay the MoU on the table for you honourable members of parliament to peruse and give your ideas and intentions. But what you should understand is that we should deal with positives for the good of the students. If we dwell on the negatives we will make our students suffer,” Katambo said before laying the MoU on the table.
After reading through the MoU, Dr Musokotwane found that the minister was not telling the truth, when he said the MoU was not in force.
“We have the document here, the MoU you are talking about and it states: ‘this MoU shall enter into force and effect when duly signed by the authorised representatives of both parties and shall remain in full force and effect for a period of two years from the effected date’. And this MoU was duly signed by the PS in the Ministry of Agriculture on behalf of the Zambian government and of course AVIC Interational representatives. So this MoU is actually an official document between the government of Zambia and AVIC International. Mr Speaker, can the honourable Minister clarify his statements to say that this MoU has not been approved by Cabinet and is therefore non binding on the part of the Republic of Zambia when it has been signed by the representative of the Republic of Zambia?” asked Dr Musokotwane.
In response, Katambo struggled to weave his way out of a contradiction and simply insisted that the bid was not binding and “anything could change”.
“Firstly, Honourable professor, my dear father, understand that this is an expression of intent as an MoU and then [understand] that a feasibility study has to be done, a detailed report has to be done. Then we will do the final approval. Anything can change the way that document you have is, anything can change,” Katambo said.
Namwala UPND member of parliament Moono Lubezhi asked Katambo whether the Attorney General was aware that the ministry signed the MoU.
“I also have the MoU here. May I know whether the Attorney General was aware that you signed this document? Because it was signed for and on behalf of the government of Zambia by the Permanent Secretary Julius Shawa?” asked Lubezhi.
In response, Katambo said: “I just answered the Honourable professor. I said whether signed [or not], anything can change because feasibility studies and other documents have not been approved. So we will wait for approval, there is room for adjustment whether that document is signed. That’s just an expression of intent, anything can change.”
But after Speaker Matibini reminded him that he had not answered the question, Katambo said: “All processes and all government dealings also pass through the Attorney General. The Attorney General also gives his side of the document the way it has been structured.”
Meanwhile, Katambo also said out of all the unsolicited bids government received, the one from AVIC International was the most attractive.