LAST week, Patriotic Front Secretary General Davies Mwila announced that the ruling party had appointed a task force to ensure that the negotiations for the Bulk Power Supply Agreement (BSA) between Zesco and Copperbelt Energy Corporation (CEC) are concluded before March 31, 2020. Mwila, who also unveiled former Finance Minister Margaret Mwanakatwe as the chairperson of the task force, said the move was made in the interest of protecting the 400 jobs at CEC.
“The other matter that we deliberated on was the issue of Copperbelt Energy Corporation. The Bulk Supply Agreement between Zesco and CEC is coming to an end this month-end and government is not renewing the contract. But as a party, we have taken keen interest seeing that the negotiations have taken long and we’ve appointed a task force to be headed by Honourable Mwanakatwe, our chairperson in charge of commerce, honourable Yamfwa Mukanga, our chairperson in charge of elections, and chairman for legal affairs honourable Brian Mundubile. Basically, their role is to ensure that the parties who are involved in the negotiations conclude these negotiations as quickly as possible. Our interest as a party is on the 400 workers, we don’t want the employees to lose their jobs. So we have asked the parties involved to conclude negotiations as quickly as possible,” Mwila announced, adding: “The agreement will come to an end this month-end and there is a temporary agreement for one year, so within one year, we are supposed to finish all the discussions and come up with a new agreement.”
Since this announcement was made, questions have been asked, and they should be asked. What is the Patriotic Front’s interest in a commercial agreement between a parastatal and a private corporate institution? Since when did the Patriotic Front become the supervisory body for corporate institutions or the arbiter of corporate disputes? This doesn’t make sense at all.
We are asking because there have been plenty of corporate disputes in this country, and the Patriotic Front has never shown its nose in the affairs of those companies. We have seen companies with more employees than the 400 jobs at CEC being closed down after failed negotiations with government institutions. The Patriotic Front never appointed a committee to intervene and save jobs. If anyone needs an example, The Post Newspaper is one such case. over 1,000 jobs were lost after the Zambia Revenue Authority refused to negotiate any terms of whatever it claimed from the newspaper in taxes. Instead of intervening, the Patriotic Front was celebrating the demise of the newspaper.
Now don’t get us wrong, we are not saying the jobs at CEC are less important or not worth saving because the number is less than in other cases, absolutely not. Our contention and puzzle is around the different kind of treatment the Patriotic Front seems to be giving here. The interest appears a little too much, in our view, and it’s causing us to wonder whether the party is more powerful, capable and interested in resolving a commercial dispute than the government, through the relevant line ministries. Does it mean government ministers take instructions on the running government from the party?
So what is Mr Davies Mwila talking about? Like we said, this does not make sense at all. What is more worrisome is that this announcement about the appointment of a committee came from the party and not the office of the Chief Government Spokesperson. So where does this leave the Cabinet? Is this to suggest that the entire Cabinet has no desire to protect the 400 jobs? Is this a declaration that the Patriotic Front has more powers and influence in Zesco than Cabinet? Someone needs to explain these things to the Zambians, and in the absence of that explanation, people will be left to speculate.
If we may ask, how will this committee get involved in the negotiations? On what basis will party officials be talking to the executives of CEC and Zesco? As far as we know, the Patriotic Front is just a party like any other. Zambia is not being governed by the Secretariat of the Patriotic Front, there is a government in place, or at least there should be. Allowing the PF to do this kind of assignment is not any different from allowing the opposition UPND to meddle in the affairs of corporate institutions in the name of saving jobs.
Government’s official position on the Zesco- CEC agreement has been that the BSA will not be renewed. No one in the line ministries or at State House has announced that there are now negotiations between the two entities and what these negotiations are about. The public is not aware whether the BSA is being extended under the same terms or the deal has been revised. This is why questions must be asked as to why the Patriotic Front has gotten ahead of government on this issue.
Like we stated in our previous opinion, it has been discovered that the government has had no plan to implement after the expiration of the BSA. They simply wanted to take over without due regard to the implications of such an action and the ripple effects that would accrue to the country at large.