By Miles Sampa, MP
The other day we heard the Mines Minister Hon Kabuswe turn himself into a complainant and not the solution provider to the KCM quandary. He has been doing that since 9 months ago. While he basks in champagne and caviar, KCM workers and Chingola residents are starving and desperately getting worse off.
I remember about 2013 when I felt so strong that our PF Government should not borrow any further external funds at that point. I thought the first $750M Eurobond should have just been the only one contracted until after some 5 year later when funds had been absorbed or simmered into the economy and produced tangible fruits or results.
When a vote was brought into Parliament to increase the burst threshold or ceiling of what the Country can borrow from the international lenders, I refused the collective responsibility government dictum and abstained the vote (records present in the Parliament hansard). Of course I got into trouble but my fears have come to pass some 10 years later and my conscience vindicated.
That’s how I feel now about the current status of our mining sector. My conscience tells me we are at crossroads and if certain shrewd decisions are taken or not taken, we can make or further sink the economy of the Country. At the heart of this argument is the Mopani and Konkola Copper Mines (KCM).
Unlike what most may be anticipating, the IMF deal or money is not available for any domestic projects and recurrent expenditures for the people. IMF funding is some book entry meant for balance of payment restructuring. All it does is give or enhance credibility and goodwill to the country for likes of World Bank, EU and others money institutions to ‘unlock’ grants and other concessional funding. It’s this consequent funding that Government would have the ability to spend on actual projects like water reticulation, housing, roads, rail lines and on some recurrent expenditure.
With all that may have gone wrong economically last year 10 years, the current and economic oxygen for the nation is from our Copper mines. Mopani mine is 100% under Government hands and they are at liberty to continue running it or invite international equity partners or investors.
As for KCM, it is a very hot potato and likely to explode in our faces some day if not handled well. My objective and non political view is that the mine is actually still in the hands of Vedanta who acquired it legally in 2004. The money they made in their 18 years at the mine was being retained or reinvested back underground including on the potential ‘jackpot’ Konkola deep.
While they could have been cashing out to shareholders via dividends, account books retained the money by investing and developing the mine. This means no major profits were recorded for income tax but mineral loyalty was being paid. The last government misconstrued this for tax invasion and moved in with receivership gloves.
Matter has been in various local and international courts thereafter but the reality is that Vedanta still legally owns the mine. We run a huge potential risk of compensating them bigly when judgement is made against us. This is because commercial agreements and transactions are made through signed contracts. Only what is in the signed agreements makes it inside the court rooms and not ‘he said , she said’ arguments.
Chingola is on ice and there is no money in circulation for the residents and entire country partly because KCM is non functioning. No one is there to dig the copper out which employs several bread winners. At the moment the so called care takers are importing copper ore from Congo for the KCM smelting plant at a minimal fee. A case of a maize farmer importing maize for their milling plant when they have a huge field full of maize.
KCM can only start contributing to the treasury when if it’s fully operational. The briefcase local and international ‘consultants’ posing as advisor to the Ministry of Mines and Ministry of Finance on KCM are just conmen looking for a quick stipend. Anglo American is such a big conglomerate with huge repution to protect and they would never risk stepping their feet on a mine that has unresolved ownership legal battles.
The Mines Minister and Mines PSs appointed by the President seem to have no say on Mines other than become complainants aswell. Some briefcase conmen are busy misleading ZCCM-IH so they indentify other briefcase unlisted conmen investors to pose as new buyers for KCM. Upon arrival all they will do is sale any bit of remaining assets they will find and then declare the mine ‘too flooded’ before bolting like Anglo did in 2003.
Maybe we should start ‘Naming and Shaming’ these conmen upto no good for the President and the Country.
Just like I did on over borrowing risks in 2013 (record mut be at Statehouse and MOF), I place on record that if KCM is not given back to Vedanta soonest, Chingola residents will become destitute and the Government will years from now have to compensate Vedanta with billions of dollars. This will be when and not if international commercial courts make judgements in favour of Vedanta against the Zambian Government.
The new investors we are keen to attract in the mining sectors have their eyes on events at KCM. It’s a sensitive sector wherein if you touch one investor unfairly, means you have touched and annoyed all. Get Vedanta to start operations at KCM today and if current government policy is to restructure ownership away from them, exit clauses inside signed contracts of 2004 should be evoked.
KCM is hostage to a political problem of a few years ago and can only be resolved by a today political solution.
Two wrongs don’t make a right.
Miles B. Sampa, MP
Former deputy Minster of Finance
Former deputy Minster of Commerce, Trade & Industry
Opposition PF Parliament Shadow Finance Minister.