FORMER Commerce Minister Bob Sichinga has advised President Hakainde Hichilema to ask for help from any individuals or institutions with progressive ideas which can put Zambia back on track.
In an interview, Sichinga insisted that six months down the line, UPND did not seem to have a plan.
“The President has every right to call on any Zambian, it does not have to be an association, it does not have to be a grouping, he can call on any Zambian and say ‘I believe you have the skill to help the country’. He can also create committees, he can set up working technical groups, he can call upon the Economics Association, he can call upon the ZICA the accountants, he can call upon the metallurgy and engineers and say ‘colleagues can we put our heads together. What is your feeling about what we should do to be able to create these opportunities for the country so that we can have value addition’? If you get the copper instead of selling it in raw form and you process it into electric cables, you are going to increase the exports by as much as eight to twelve times in value,” he said.
“So instead of getting $8 billion, you can get as much as $64 billion in terms of your export if you are producing high quality in terms of your commodities. And these institutions, these associations, these accountants, engineers, economists should be playing that part. Also, you have got the business associations who should be playing a part. So in agreeing with the comment you made, have they been invited, have they been brought in? Have individuals that have got these skills and experience working with the mines, working for agriculture, working for the industry, have they been called in and asked ‘can you please help us, here is a framework we want to participate’.”
Sichinga said government was denying the country an opportunity to create wealth from copper.
“Now there is no plan, we are still exporting blister Copper. When you do that, you are exporting inside those blister coppers; gold, silver and vanadium, which is when you put in the refinery, that is what comes out of it, that is what we call refinery slides. Refinery slides we were processing them at Ndola refinery to produce gold, silver and vanadium. The gold was going to the Bank of Zambia, silver was being processed into chains and so on and so forth. That is the only way you are going to create jobs. Where is the plan to utilize our copper?” Sichinga asked.
“Not only that, there is something else that is going to be beneficial if we withdraw from the London Metal Exchange. You remove 800,000 metric tonnes of copper which we are producing, can you imagine the price increase that will come from that? So there is no plan. There is no plan whatsoever to take advantage of what you already have. That benefit is going to these companies that are taking your copper and saying it is being exported to Switzerland, there is no copper that is going to Switzerland. So Zambia is denied of the opportunity to create wealth from its copper. Where is the plan? For me, this is what I expected the new government to be worried about and we are six months down into their government administration, where is the plan?”
And Sichinga said value addition through local copper production could absorb about half of the youth’s population with the right skills.
“The country is producing around 800, 000 plus metric tonnes of copper, that is what it is doing. How much of that stays in the country? There are three companies that produce copper cables, and with Neelkanth which just came in, it probably means four. They don’t use more than 10,000 metric tonnes out of that 800,000. Now between us and Congo, we are the biggest producers of copper in Africa and including major producers in the world. So your natural opportunity is to use what you have in your hands, which is your copper, as your mainstay for raw materials to produce the electric car cables that the president has mentioned,” he said.
“99.6 pure copper is what is needed to make those electric car cables. That in itself can absorb half of the youth population if they have the right skills in metallurgy, in electrical, in mechanical engineering. All these must be the training basis for generating the jobs and the skills that are necessary to fill those jobs.”
Meanwhile, Sichinga observed that at the moment, agriculture was at the bottom in terms of contributing to the country’s GDP.
“Agriculture at the moment is at the bottom line in terms of [its] contribution to GDP of the country. It is very low, it is very low just look at the economic report of 2020. The biggest contributor to GDP was mining, followed by trading, including manufacturing. So you want to convert that this time we want to make agriculture right at the top, therefore we are going to have a scheme beyond FISP, attach processing to it. In other words, you want to make sure that once they have harvested, they are not just selling raw maize, not even to Congo. But if we are to sell to Congo, why not process at local level then sell it as mealie meal to Congo?” asked Sichinga.
“We have said we are going to grow agriculture, fantastic! It is very true our biggest potential is in agriculture in terms of value addition, but you are asking people in the rural areas where most of the agriculture is taking place to contribute K800, K400 per bag of fertilizer. Are they going to raise such kind of money and why that price? Why are you buying fertilizer at $1,400 per metric tonne when you can buy it at less than 400? When I was minister, we bought fertilizer from Saudi Arabia at $393, how come you are buying fertilizer at 1,400? And if you buy 50,000, you know what that entails. You are talking about 50 million US dollars and you are passing that cost on to the people that are supposed to buy that fertilizer, even if that fertilizer is subsidized. You can imagine if you bought it at 393 or $400 how much subsidy you would need and how much production that can create because you can’t have value addition when you don’t have the raw materials.”