Zesco Limited managing director Victor Mundende has charged that Prime TV aired a “fake news” report, saying the power utility will lodge a complaint with the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) over the matter.

And Mundende says government does not interfere in Zesco’s operations, arguing that in fact, none of the projects currently being undertaken would have been possible without President Edgar Lungu’s support.

Meanwhile, Mundende has disclosed that Zesco has gotten rid of 3,200 general workers in compliance with austerity measures given to the power utility by the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC).

Speaking when he featured on Hot FM’s breakfast show, Monday, Mundende threatened to report Prime TV to the IBA over a report which aired on Saturday evening.

In the said news item, Prime TV reported that during a media tour of the Kafue Gorge Lower project on Friday, Mundende lamented that projects aimed at improving power supply are snubbed by some officials at the ministries of energy and finance.

But Mundende alleged that his remarks were edited to misrepresent what he told journalists during the tour.

“Like you have rightly pointed out, it’s just an issue of editing. If you looked at those videos, at one point I am standing, at one point I am sitting. This issue of fake news, if you have listened to the full clip, (it) was in reference to a question that was asked to us, this question was about the turbines in Kariba North extension. If you remember, Kariba North Bank, the initial installed capacity was four machines running; then in 2014, we added two generators, but then there were these stories wherever they came from that these two machines are not efficient, but what our colleagues chose to do was to get that and link it to climate change and saying that, ‘climate change is fake and whatever,’ but this is very unfortunate and the only thing, maybe, we can do is to lodge a complaint to IBA or whatever. I think it’s important that we inform the nation on the correct position whenever we are privileged to do so because misleading the nation for whatever gains I think it’s not right,” Mundende complained.

“Moreover, we are a Christian nation, we need to report truthfully and correctly. In the 10 commandments, commandment number nine says: ‘thou shall not bear false witness against thy neighbour’, but in this case, we find that in this country, when someone just says: ‘this house is on fire,’ everyone will believe that that house is on fire, but let’s be mindful of commandment number nine, which is very key. There was reference that I made into how governments have fared in bringing up generation capacity into the country and some people misconstrued it to say, look, it’s government, which is not performing. Firstly, I would like to commend all governments for the efforts they have put in in order for us to increase capacity in generation. I will give you some background, which I tried to give my colleagues, and they chose to edit.”

And Mundende insisted that Zesco was enjoying a good working relationship with government and was not receiving any undue pressure.

“We are never under pressure! Can you mention who gives us pressure because I don’t know those people, maybe my colleagues are under pressure, the (Energy) Minister (Mathew Nkhuwa) doesn’t give me pressure; the Minister has been very supportive, honorable Mathew Nkhuwa, very good Minister, he has been very supportive, working well with us. The President (Edgar Lungu) has been very supportive. Without the President’s support we would not even have been having all the projects we are talking about. You see, it takes the government’s will to do certain things, we are not going to do anything alone, we are an implementing agency of government, we don’t implement things on our own, government has to approve that and we are getting tremendous support. One thing that I’d like to point out is, if you look at what government is currently doing, I think they have passed the Acts, the Electricity Act has gone through Parliament, very soon, maybe, they will be Presidential assent and, thereafter, an SI (Statutory Instrument) from the Minister, honorable Nkhuwa, and that is the huge milestone in the electricity sector. Let me tell you that the team that we have at Zesco is a very professional team and if you want to give us pressure, try us, we will tell you the correct way of doing things and we have been doing that. So, what you can call ‘pressure’, maybe, I would call it support because, I don’t know what you call, pressure,” Mundende said.

Asked to respond to allegations that Zesco was run by cadres, Mundende said; “The same (way) you have mentioned their names, they also call me a cadre, I am an engineer! I don’t want to go into that, I have worked for Zesco for quite a long time and I will tell you that our team is professional…Everyone who works at Zesco is qualified to do what they are doing, we don’t just go and employ. For us, pressure is not an issue, but it’s how you handle it as a human being so anyone can come with their pressure, they will face us! We will manage that pressure and God has been on our side and I think we are doing so far, so good.”

Meanwhile, Mundende gave an update on how far Zesco had gone with implementing IDC directives.

“I think we have done very well in implementing those measures, even before the IDC came on board with those austerity measures, I think we had, as a board and management, began that journey. We have done a number of things, number one is that there is always this talk about labour, but you see, Zesco has been growing and what we did in terms of labour, the general workforce, I think general workers, we had about 5,000, as at now, we just have about 1,800. We have reduced quite significantly that aspect. We have, in terms of bonuses, I think, maybe, I am very unpopular from the time I came into office in 2015, we haven’t even been giving bonuses, which was a norm, and every end-of-year, there would be bonuses. We have done quite a number of issues, implemented all the issues that they have requested us to tackle. So, yes, IDC has been on us on a number of things and we are thankful that they have been steering the company to greater heights. We have our own vision, which we think will steer the company to even greater heights,” said Mundende.

“I don’t think we have ghost workers, and in terms of our costs, a lot of people say that, ‘your wage bill is very high!’ But it’s just 20 per cent of our costs, which is normal in industrial practice. I am hearing from you for the first time, maybe, you have seen the ghosts, point them to us. If people are so incompetent, if people are not performing, obviously, they are under supervisors, and the supervisors will report, and if we find that they are not performing, obviously, we terminate their employment. We terminate at all levels. By the way, if I am found incompetent, they will terminate my contract; there is nothing like cadreism or not, I terminate directors’ contracts if they are not performing.”