UNITED Party for National Development (UPND) leader Hakainde Hichilema says Mopani Copper Mines and Konkola Copper Mines (KCM) would have remained viable businesses capable of surviving COVID-19 had government taken proactive measures to strengthen them.
And Hichilema has condemned government for closing Prime Television and sending its workers into unemployment at a time when businesses need help to survive.
Speaking when he featured on Radio Pheonix’ Let the People Talk Programme, Tuesday, Hichilema said government was responsible for the mess in the mining sector.
And Hichilema said the government had not handled the impasse between Mopani Copper Mines on the Copperbelt and Mine workers well.
“I don’t want to provoke the UPND versus PF emotions, but we have to say things as they are. If PF was handling the issue with Mopani the right way, we wouldn’t have the crisis that is there. It goes without saying, if this was handled the right way by being proactive, we wouldn’t have had to deal with all this. If you remember during the 2020 budget presentation, many of us said we need Zambia to use concentrate capacity, smelting capacity which is underutilized. We thought we can maintain jobs that are related to those activities in that mine but no one listened to us, they wanted to raise more money from putting a duty on concentrates and they forgot that by doing that, they were essentially keeping the capacity here underutilized, and if it is underutilized, you cannot keep jobs. The point I am making is that if those things were done earlier, we would have been in stronger positions in those mines now to protect the jobs. We are weaker now because we did not take the right decisions proactively on time. And when suggestions were made, they were viewed as political, but they were not political, they were business and commercial decisions that make sense. So we found ourselves that in the mines, we are in a weaker position,” Hichilema said.
“Don’t even talk about KCM, we told them where to put KCM, we advised them not to put KCM in liquidation. But we told them, just put KCM under management so that there is business continuity while you are looking for a solution either to find a new buyer or to find solutions with existing shareholders. But did they listen to us? No! They called us names. If they did what we advised them to KCM and Mopani before even Covid came, the two mining companies would have been stronger businesses to withstand this Covid infection. But they didn’t. So that’s PF for you, they don’t listen to anything we advise them to do. So I hope people have understood the relationship and also that thinking ahead is necessary.”
Hichilema said government should admit its mistakes and urgently seek solutions to save mining jobs.
“They must admit that these mistakes were made and left businesses in weak position. The economy lives in businesses. It is HH’s cattle that is the economy. In terms of the mines, look at it as metal that will earn you foreign exchange; if that’s all that matters to you, look at it from that angle. Once they agree that there were mistakes made, then they must go in and say ‘we are together, let’s now see what is possible. How can we reduce the pain? How can we stop the number of jobs to be lost? Together, the government and the mining companies and other people, including us who have views, must be brought on the on the table. That’s what we would have done if we were in government ourselves. But we are not in government, we are giving these ideas because,” he said.
And Hichilema said any sensible government would not close down businesses at such a time.
“The fight against coronavirus is the fight for everybody; we need everybody on board to contribute to the efforts of fighting this disease. So this is not the time to close companies like Prime TV which employs Zambians, that is not what a government which understands that we are in a war situation can do. The enemy that we have at the moment is COVID-19. The world over, governments are looking at how to support businesses to remain open so that the economy somehow continues to move and also, employment does not get lost. But here, you are closing Prime Television, which is the exact opposite. So this shows you that this government does not mean [well], when PF says they want to support small businesses to grow, they are lying because hey are not doing that,” said Hichilema.