When proponents of the electricity tariff increase started pushing the agenda for government to consider importing power from South Africa, we disagreed with the move and warned that such a solution would have the same effects on the economy as not having regular power supply. In making our appeal to government, our concern was that small businesses would close down, while the cost of doing business, even for major industries, would go up.
To our shock, Minister of Energy Honourable Mathew Nkhuwa went to Parliament to say increasing tariffs is the only option and those who will not afford to pay should shut their businesses.
“This tariff hike will apply across the board, big companies, mining companies…everybody will pay their bit! They have got a choice: if they don’t want to pay for the power, they can shut off. So, everybody will pay. There is a crisis; we expect the people to come to the party and resolve the crisis we got,” Nkhuwa insisted.
Surely, such a statement can only be expected from a random thug at Intercity who doesn’t understand anything about leadership and governance. From this statement, what we are hearing is a Cabinet Minister in charge of energy telling the nation that he doesn’t care if the economy shuts down.
Does he deserve to be in Cabinet, this minister? Is he worth his salt? Should we be proud as citizens to have a minister who thinks and talks that way to entrepreneurs? If you listen to him, he has no plans; he is just talking about importing power at a high cost.
We would like to alert the people of Zambia that since the government has refused to listen to any advice against another 75 per cent tariff increase, all eyes must now be fixated on the company that will be selected to broker this power import deal between Eskom of South Africa and Zesco. This is where the corruption happens and that’s where those in government get their reward for approving such dubious transactions.
We know that emergency power supply is exceptionally lucrative and that is where you find sharks that wait to rip-off desperate governments such as Zambia. They know that this emergency power supply opportunity only comes once in a long time and they have to steal as much as they can while the window is open.
We have not forgotten that scandal where President Edgar Lungu personally signed a sovereign guarantee for a South African company called Stag Africa to raise US$500 million on behalf of Zesco, when the utility only requested for US$350 million.
According to an investigation, which we published in May 2018, President Lungu went behind the Minister of Finance who is supposed to represent the State and signed a sovereign guarantee without involving the Treasury. Luckily, banks declined to endorse the guarantee because they knew the implications of such a transaction and the deal fell off.
We can speak with confidence that this emergency power import will create an opportunity for sharks to steal from the poor people of Zambia.
But we are telling this government of Honourable Nkhuwa that right now, the existing tariffs are choking people. Both domestic and industrial consumers are struggling with the electricity bills. If you increase tariffs again, how many people will remain in business?
You can’t say “pay or close your business”, is that the kind of language that should be coming from a leadership that got elected on the premise of lowering taxes and putting more money in people’s pockets? This is really sad.
In our view, Honourable Nkhuwa is not fit to be a minister, he is not fit to be a member of parliament. Mr Nkhuwa needs to be sent back to the village so that he should be lighting a koloboi alone. It seems that’s what he wants, he doesn’t want to support the growth of private sector businesses.
This Nkhuwa minister should not drag everyone else to that Stone Age mentality. We have evolved; we were in Stone Age, we moved to Iron Age and evolved to Industrial Age. What we are in now is called the Technological Age, and we can’t afford to have government ministers who think backwards. We want digital solutions to our Digital Age. In this Computer Age, we want advanced reasoning, not “pay or shut your business”. What kind of arrogance is that?
Nkhuwa must be saying “as government, we have observed that there has not been a lot of investment in solar energy at household level despite the removal of taxes on related products, therefore we are removing the waiver requirement from the Energy Regulation Board so that households can import solar at will”.
Government must be concerned that people are not moving away from the national electricity grid. They need to find out what is causing this because if people’s efforts to turn to solar as an alternative source of energy are not supported, pressure will remain on Zesco, and everyone knows that the power utility is now on its knees, it can’t support everyone.
This is not meant to invite sympathy on Zesco; the power utility is limping with a self inflicted problem. This company has been reduced to an ATM for PF campaigns. We were shocked recently when we saw the Zesco managing director going to open a school in President Edgar Lungu’s village in Petauke, named after the President himself. To date, we have not fathomed how that activity fits into Zesco’s core mandate of generating and supplying electricity.
After money is spent on such political events, Zesco comes complaining that citizens must pay increased tariffs because they are broke, and the minister in charge says “pay or shut down your businesses”. Is that not madness?