ECONOMIST Trevor Simumba says Chinese investors think Zambians are content with little things because they have seen how easily corruptible government officials and politicians are. Mr Simumba has also observed that Chinese nationals living in Zambia have tremendously benefited from the country’s resources more than the citizens. His comments come in the wake of a statement from Chinese Investor and Marco Polo Tiles CEO, Yaochi Huang, who says Zambians are content with little things because they are not ambitious.
Trevor SIMUMBA: “When he says Zambians are content with little things, he is talking about politicians and public officials who are easily corrupted. The comments Mr Huang made are based on the interactions he has with Zambians, politicians and other public officials. And unfortunately, as we all know in the last ten, 15 years, Zambia has lost a lot of integrity. I do not agree with him that Zambians are not ambitious, Zambians are very ambitious. Obviously someone like Mr Huang who has come from China and he sees the kind of welcome he has received, the incentives; he has been able to make US$ 43 million out of Zambians tax payer money, an investment that IDC made into his company. So obviously he would have those kinds of attitudes towards Zambians.”
We could not have put it any better. Mr Simumba has read this story and development with the political astuteness that it deserved. A person who does not know Mr Huang and his relationship with the current government is bound to praise him for his remarks, which some Zambians may find to be simply factual. But there is more to this statement than meets the eye. This is why we are glad that some alert Zambians like Mr Simumba have refused to be fooled by this Chinese investor who is now calling himself a legend in Zambia.
First of all, the people of Zambia need to put a few pieces of the puzzle together before they can understand what Mr Huang is talking about and where he is coming from. The first piece of the puzzle is knowing Mr Huang and the business he does in Zambia. In January this year, we reported a story in which the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) paid US$44.8 as consideration for the purchase of a minority stake in Mr Huang’s tile-making company.
When this transaction was queried and people demanded to see the valuation report that was done to arrive at the share price of about US$2,000, IDC failed to produce the document, but insisted that due diligence was done. The second piece of the puzzle is to understand how a broke Chinese businessman, as Mr Huang confesses in his interview with French media, suddenly became so rich and powerful to the extent of influencing State Institutions to break the law and breach their own investment guidelines.
These things don’t just happen from the blue, there is connivance that happens in the background. Some “little things” must have exchanged hands for the IDC to lie to the people that the Chinese company had been profitable when in fact not. They lied to the people that the Chinese company had been in existence for longer than five years, when they knew that was not true. They lied that valuation was done and the share price for Marco Polo was a good deal when they knew it was a rip off. This goes to show that some Zambians in IDC were not ambitious and they became content with some “little things”.
The next piece of the puzzle is to ask Mr Huang how much taxes his business pays to the Revenue Authority. The people of Zambia will agree with us that in the recent past, state media has been awash with news of how profitable Marco Polo has become. We have been told that they are already paying millions of dollars in dividends to IDC. But can Marco Polo publish its tax returns and annual financial reports for the people of Zambia to see how this viable company is meeting its tax obligations? We don’t see this happening because it would expose the “little things” which some Zambians at ZRA are settling for.
The final piece of the puzzle is to understand why a foreign investor would publicly declare support for the sitting President as his preferred candidate. Unless Mr Huang has now been given citizenship status and will be voting this year, it is not in his place to decide who must rule this country. We note that Mr Huang and President Lungu seem to have a very special relationship. And of course they do, we must say, because Mr Lungu is the chairman of IDC, a government institution that paid a whooping US$44.8 million to Mr Huang’s accounts. It is not surprising to us that in 2017, barely a year after Marco Polo was incorporated, the entire President went to Commission the plant, an event which a minister would handle. Some “little things” were at play here.
By the way, if we are to ask Mr Huang what he means when he says Zambians are content with “little things” he would have difficulties explaining this in plain English because it is loaded with innuendo. The “little things” that he is referring to are things that he has been giving Zambians who he expected would demand for more. To his surprise, the little things he gave them were enough and those Zambians he interacted with were content. It is at that juncture that he concluded that the people of Zambia are not ambitious.
So Mr Simumba is right when he says Mr Huang is referring to government leaders who are easily corruptible. This Chinese investor is speaking from what he has seen in the people that he interacts with. Zambians are very ambitious, but the government does not recognize their efforts and ambitions because the poor people of this country don’t have the “little things” to give the politicians.
We refuse to be fooled by Mr Huang and his fellow “ambitious” Chinese. Being successful in business is one thing, but taking advantage of poor people because their political leaders are cheap nincompoops who settle for “little things”, is not something to be proud of. To us, when we hear Mr Huang telling foreign media that Zambians are not ambitious and they settle for little things, all we see is the US$44.8 million talking.
But there is nothing that happens under the sun which stays hidden forever. One day, the unambitious Zambians will know what was motivating this kind of language from people like Mr Huang who have found paradise in this country, and they will surely demand for “big things” from the Asian colonizers.