The KCM overkill will haunt Lungu

It happens sometimes that an artiste takes to the stage and get’s people clapping as soon as he or she starts the performance. This can be an exciting feat, especially if that particular performer had previously been booed off stage for being a horrible entertainer. As the crowd cheers on, the performer get’s overwhelmed with morale, and suddenly the pressure to keep the clapping audience on its feet creeps in – he wants to impress further than he has done already.

This is the point when tactic and logic must be applied. One can choose to leave the stage while people are still clapping and pretend like you had even more dazzling performances to do had you been given more time; or you can choose to exhaust your time but also expose your limits.

This analogy describes what the Patriotic Front government has done to Konkola Copper Mines on the Copperbelt. We cannot remember any big decision that this PF regime has made since 2016 which got the approval of as many ordinary citizens as well as opposition political parties. Zambians have been booing almost everything the government does – justifiably so because in many cases it has been scandal after scandal with nothing done in national or public interest.

But the government takeover of Konkola Copper Mines was a totally different act. Very few critics disapproved of it, and even those few who did, could not do so publicly for fear of being labeled unpatriotic. Critics had to tread carefully to make their point, because the collapse of business at the mining giant was too visible for anyone to ignore. As a result, what we saw was the opposition UPND, National Democratic Congress, economists, lawyers and civil society organisations, all publicly uniting behind the government move to takeover Konkola Copper Mines.

Of course those who are blessed with visionary thinking expressed fear that the good move may have been motivated by illegitimate intentions, so they urged authorities to proceed with caution. But all in all, Zambia was on its feet, clapping and cheering President Edgar Lungu for boldly acting to preserve our much sought after precious natural resource.

Unfortunately, that cheering put President Lungu and his team under pressure to impress beyond the measure they had already achieved. Suddenly, the desire to sustain the clapping from the audience got the better of the PF government and that’s how they screwed up a perfectly good performance. Mr Lungu failed to leave the stage when many expected him to, after kicking out a bad investor. Instead, the President has chosen to exhaust his absolute power by not only liquidating a business house that needed resuscitating, but also sending his boys to take possession of the company’s assets.

Suddenly, those critics who could not make a case against the government are now coming out, like prophets to say, “we told you, these people had no recovery plan for KCM, apart from looting its assets”. Indeed, when you look at what has happened since President Lungu declared the takeover of the mine, there is nothing that gives hope that these people know what they are doing.

We are not economists, and we aren’t lawyers either, but we doubt that this is how a struggling multibillion-dollar business is supposed to be handled, especially if your country’s economy is on it’s knees, investor confidence is next to zero and your national debt is going through the roof. It seems this was not about saving KCM or preventing job losses, it was about creating a new resource base for political activities, and there will be adverse management consequences if that is the plan.

Taking over Konkola Copper Mines was risky enough to the watching global financial market, but now appointing a PF official as provisional liquidator could not be further from decent logic. We appreciate the fact that the President looks at things from a bird’s eye view, as Mr Amos Chanda puts it, because he knows more than we do but this move smells of transgressions.

We are more than certain that the financial market will react negatively to this news, further straining the economy that the government is battling with. If this matter goes for international arbitration, Zambia will have a tough time coming out clean from this hasty and unplanned move because out there, adjudicators will not tolerate what Zambian Judges tolerate.

Being appointed provisional liquidator of a big mining company, is good for Mr Milingo Lungu’s CV, despite being in a conflicted position as deputy chairperson for legal affairs of the ruling party’s Central Committee. If he succeeds to protect our country’s stake in KCM using this dramatic approach, we will be the first to hero-worship him but it won’t be easy.

Elders have the tendency of pointing at an innocent child nearby whenever they release silent gas, but it becomes difficult to accuse someone else when there was a clear bang coming from your bottom.

President Lungu had deniability from the criminality used to liquidate The Post newspaper, but the whole nation heard the KCM directive from Mr Lungu’s mouth – he will not be able to distance himself from the foul smell around the KCM debacle.

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