Minister of Transport and Communication Brian Mushimba has refuted allegations that government has decided to concession TAZARA Railways to a Chinese Company called China Railways, saying they are still studying the best ways to modernise Zambia Railways Limited and revamp TAZARA.

Speaking when he featured on Pan Africa’s News Feedback Programme on Sunday evening, Mushimba explained that talks about concessioning TAZARA to the Chinese was just another way of looking at other options so that government doesn’t borrow.

Asked whether it was true that government had decided to concession the Tanzania-Zambia Railways (TAZARA) to a Chinese Company called China Railways, Mushimba said that information had a lot of misrepresentation, falsehoods and inaccuracies.

“I took a call last week from ZNBC on this, and also from Diamond TV on this, and I gave the same information. ZNBC ran a story accurately, then I don’t know what happened to the information I gave to Diamond TV. I don’t know whether it was the information that ended up in that column with a lot of misrepresentation, falsehoods and inaccuracies. Here is a true story; we as PF government, we are desirous to make sure that Tazara and Zambia railways are revamped and do their part in transporting heavy and bulk cargo, decongest our roads, spare our roads, also create employment in the railway sector. Railway sector is an important sector,” Mushimba said.

Mushimba, however, stressed that government didn’t want to borrow.

“As we are studying the best ways to modernise Zambia Railways and revamp TAZARA, we look at all the options that are available to us. One option is borrowing, which is debt. You know how many people have raised concerns about borrowing and debt? The same people that brought this story, they are the same people that are screaming about borrowing and debt! So, we don’t want to borrow,” he said.

And Mushimba observed that as government was doing these studies, the Chinese were present because they felt duty-bound.

He added that the Chinese invested blood and sweat to construct TAZARA.

“We are saying ‘what other options are available to TAZARA?’ We have done the studies, we know how much is required to turn the operations around, to modernise them. ‘Where do we find the resources?’ TAZARA is an institution that was born out of a tripartite arrangement. It was Kenneth Kaunda, Julius Nyerere and Chairman Mao of China. And the Chinese have stayed interested because they built it. So, as we have been doing these studies, the Chinese have been there because they feel duty-bound. This is something that they invested blood and sweat to construct. Some of the people died when they were constructing this,” he recalled.

Mushimba disclosed that during the discussions on how to revamp and raise resources for TAZARA, a conversation came up about concessioning TAZARA to the Chinese.

“So, in the discussions around how we will revamp and raise resources for TAZARA, the conversation came up to say ‘how about a concession to the Chinese?’ They know Tazara, they know how it was constructed, they know its gaps, they have money. They want to use TAZARA to move some of their cargo, so can’t we create a win-win situation with the Chinese?’ So, we started discussing around there. Can we concession it and put conditions to say ‘every year you are going to invest X amount of dollars into it and by the year X when we take it back, we would have invested all the money that we need invested without Zambia and Tanzania putting in anything’,” he said.

Mushimba said at the end of the day, government wanted a modern TAZARA that everyone would be proud of.

“And if we concession it to you, because we own it, Zambia and Tanzania owns it, are you going to pay rental fees, concession fees and are you going to keep our employees, are you going to train more of our people? So, these are the conversations that are happening. It’s another way of looking at other options so that we don’t just go borrow and debt. So, whatever decision is made, is made between Zambia and Tanzania and we go together with whatever decision ends up being made. At the end of the day, what we want is the modern TAZARA, a TAZARA that you and me are going to be proud of! And we don’t want to borrow, can we explore other options,” Mushimba added.

He also said the investment being done at Kenneth Kaunda International Airport (KKIA) and other airports was to ensure that the airports were still functional even after fifty years after Independence.

“There are certain facilities that need to be there for them to be classified a certain class and be given a certain rating. Those certain facilities have to be there. They have to come with the airport for it to be designated in a certain designation. The investment we are doing in KKIA and the four international airports is not investment that we will turn around two, three years down the road and redo it again, no. We are investing for the long-haul so that for the next thirty, forty, fifty years, that airport will still be functional. So, there’s a lot of thinking and downloading of the international recognised standards for an international airport that will live the test of time,” Mushimba said.

And he said government was not doing anything other international airports were not doing.

“The President travels and he receives dignitaries. Today (at) KKIA, we don’t have the facilities for him to host his counterparts if they came and didn’t want to come inland, if they came for a quick meeting and want to fly back. This KKIA that we are building is going to have those facilities. We are not doing anything other international airports are not doing,” said Mushimba.