The government has gone into overdrive trying to defend the country’s reputation over fears that China is about to take over strategic national institutions and assets. In the past week, we have seen our diplomats abroad, government officials and PF propagandists, sweating to defend the Chinese agenda in Zambia.
We understand this panic because the story of Chinese takeover of Zambia’s national assets has gone wild like an uncontrollable bushfire. Zambia is being discussed on forums where it has never featured before; videos and cartoons have been created and shared on social media, leaving the world puzzled about what kind of a people we are to allow this loss of sovereignty.
The question is; are there any national assets that the Chinese are taking over in Zambia? The answer is yes! This fear of Chinese taking over assets is real and it has gotten Zambians very worried. If it has not dawned on our leaders, then truly we are being governed by a visionless team.
China has indeed already repossessed some of the assets in an indirect way. Let’s start with the Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation. ZNBC is repossessed because they have ring-fenced the cash flows of the national broadcaster for the next 25 years. Honourable, Dora Siliya knows very well that all business decisions at ZNBC apart from editorial policy, are under Chinese control which owns Star Times.
China, through Star Times, is in charge of the income wing at ZNBC because they have 60 per cent controlling stake in a special purpose vehicle called Top-Star which they are using to recover their loan, while ZNBC remains a minority shareholder. China put in their money – which by the way is embroiled in corruption, but to them it’s an investment, from which they must recover profits, even before ZNBC does.
China doesn’t believe that Zambia has the capacity and the required fiscal discipline to raise the over US$270 million digital migration loan, so to avoid incurring a loss from our failure to pay, they have decided to collect the money straight from the ZNBC viewers into the Chinese accounts.
That already is repossession. A normal lender gives you money to do whatever you want to do and will only wait for you to pay them back; a bank will lend you money to start a farming business and they will let you run the entity without dictating when you must start harvesting. But on this one, the Chinese have come to control the cash-flow at ZNBC. They have ring-fenced the cash flows; they are making the critical financial decisions.
As if that is not bad enough, China has gotten control of the signal; they are the signal distributor now and bullying any Zambian television investor who attempts to provide competition as a signal carrier.
Where has it happened in the world that a foreign company becomes a signal distributor on behalf of the national broadcaster? And they are even licensing local television stations, making them pay to carry their signal. This is a strange deal. It is complete repossession. It is happening before our own eyes, we are watching and they have taken over the broadcasting station. There is nothing that Ambassador Emmanuel Mwamba can say on SABC in South Africa that can change the reality. Your Excellency, we are under siege from China!
This is what Africa Confidential means. They are warning us that what happened to ZNBC will happen to Zambia National Airport Corporation, they are going to ring-fence the cash flows until they get their money and their profit. By the time they will give it back to us, it will have already been obsolete and Honourable Margaret Mwanakatwe’s successor will be looking for more money again to reinvest.
When AVIC International helps government construct the Lusaka-Ndola dual carriageway under the so-called PPP, and takes 27 years to handover the accompanying roadside hotel facilities that Honourable Ronald Chitotela is boasting about, the Chinese company will have already milked all the life out of that road. Again, in 27 years’ time, his successor will be going back to China for the same ‘help’. That is a takeover of national facilities.
Government is saying ZESCO is safe, but they know that the moment a Chinese company they are bringing on board lends money to the utility, the model we are seeing from the influential Asian nation is that they will immediately ring-fence the income for ZESCO. That is the fear Zambians have.
In fact, at this stage, even without a Chinese company lending money to ZESCO, we don’t see anything that would stop China from ring-fencing the cash-flow at the utility in order to recover any other money that Zambia may struggle to pay. They know ZESCO is a viable business whose profitability can easily be doubled by an order from the State House-controlled Energy Regulation Board.
President Lungu, Honourable Mwanakatwe, Honourable Dora Siliya and other PF pundits should not underestimate public sentiments over this matter because the public has read between the lines. They have seen what the Chinese intention and strategy is. ZNBC is just an example to prove that, in terms of Chinese takeover of national assets, it has already started.
If the mammoth presidential delegation which has just returned from eating Sushi in Beijing has not seen that ZESCO has been earmarked for takeover, this is the time for them to wake up and stop gassing; China is on the move.