Copperbelt Risks Being A White Elephant

SPEECH DELIVERED BY GOVERNANCE ACTIVIST DAVID KAPOMA AT A PRESS CONFERENCE
ON 11TH DECEMBER 2015 IN KITWE ON THE STATE OF THE COPPERBELT.

Copperbelt Risks Being A White Elephant

Members of the Press, Zambia has continued to face challenges in various sectors of the economy due to poor leadership and failure by successive governments to respond to the root causes of the problems we are faced with. Among the sectors that have been affected is the mining sector which always suffers as a result of various reasons one of them being the dwindling copper prices at the international market.

President Edgar Lungu admitted during his press conference that job losses in the mining sector were inevitable owing to the many challenges the sector is facing. He said government could not prevent mining companies from rationalizing their labour force as part of the survival strategy to forestall possible closure all together.
We are now over fifty (50) years after independence and yet we do not have economic freedom as a country. Our people are living in abject poverty as if we are still under our colonial masters.

The situation on the Copperbelt will have long term negative repercussions not only on the country’s economy but also on the lives of the former miners who have been laid off. The government tried its level best to try and serve jobs in the mines but their best was not good enough and did not produce the expected results.
I can only conclude that our government is not skilful enough to deal with the challenges our country is facing.

Members of the press, I address you this morning as an ordinary citizen concerned about the lives of those who have lost their jobs, their families and the people they look after. People here on the Copperbelt have seen increased levels of poverty, especially with the hike in prices of essential commodities such as mealie meal and electricity tariffs. Most ex-miners therefore, should brace themselves for harder times as I can only predict that the situation will not improve any time soon.

It is very sad that very soon we shall be celebrating Christmas and yet others will have to do so on empty stomachs. Schools will be opening in January and they will have no money to pay for their children’s school fees and buy uniforms, yet the people we entrusted to manage our economy will be enjoying themselves drinking expensive whiskeys, partying, throwing away leftovers, going for holidays in foreign countries and when January comes they will be sending their children abroad for school.  Ladies and gentlemen these are realities we are always afraid to talk about.
What is happening on the Copperbelt is the exact opposite of what the Patriotic Front promised the Zambian people during the 2011 campaigns. We were promised more jobs, lower taxes, and more money in our pockets, but what we have seen instead is more suffering and misery the Zambian people are going through.

The current economic state on the Copperbelt is desperate and calls for concerted efforts from all stakeholders, INCLUDING opposition political parties in order to sustain existing operations and avert the continuation of the current spate of suspensions and Job losses in the mining industry. I want to urge President Edgar Lungu to open up to advice given to him by various stakeholders and put the interest of the people first. And those close to the president, please start telling the head of state the truth and avoid telling him only what you think he wants to hear.

Members of the Press, I wish to warn the PF Administration that the Copperbelt province risks becoming a huge white elephant left for tourism purposes if they do not embrace dialogue and ideas coming from other stakeholders. They will be the ones to pack their bags next year as the people of Zambian have the powers to do so using the secret ballot. The PF should be alive to the realities on the ground, and the fact is that there are no guarantees come 2016.

The PF government has maintained its stance that most of the challenges our country is facing are due to external factors. The President fortunately reminded us and confirmed that the buck stops at him. These external factors ladies and gentlemen have crippled the Zambian economy resulting in increased poverty levels across the country and the worst ever loss of jobs in the mining industry in a very short space of time. In this vein I expect the PF Administration to stop heaping the blame on the external factors and show leadership in mitigating the economic difficulties our country is facing.

Members of the press, the PF ministers have not helped President Lungu in providing direction in resolving the economic challenges the country is facing. It is very disturbing that offices like that of the Finance Minister, the Bank of Zambia governor and advisors to the head of state have lamentably failed to provide solutions to mitigate the economic challenges. The PF ministers have been concentrating on politicking and making money for themselves while the people who voted for them are suffering.

On a positive note, it is not my nature to just condemn and ignore the good things that the government is doing. Even if I do not entirely agree that we should be building roads with borrowed money. I want to commend the PF administration for finally listening to the cries of the people on the Copperbelt province. For a very long time the province has been neglected in terms of infrastructure development, and therefore the move by the government to build roads in the province is a very welcome move. I only hope that the projects will be done in a prudent manner and corrupt free.

Members of the Press, in my conclusion, I want to make the following recommendations to the government that I feel will create new opportunities in the province and help sustain operations in the mining sector.

1.      Government should grant “emergency loans” to small scale local mining companies’ to help them scale up production as a way of creating new employment opportunities in the Mining sector. I note with concern that all the mining companies laying off workers are foreign owned and do not have the interest of Zambians at heart. They are here for profit making and will always pull out when faced with challenges.
I believe that empowering local people to own mining companies would help in creating and sustaining employment for the Zambian people. In as much as we are trying to promote diversification of the Zambian economy, Zambia’s dependency on mining will not reduce any time soon hence the call to involve local people in the sector.

2.      The government should promote diversification in the mining sector. Here I am talking about gemstones like emeralds and green Tomalin and many others. It is unfortunate members of the press that mining in Zambia is always associated with copper production. There are a lot of minerals that can be mined in this country other than copper. Just here on the Copperbelt, we have Kagem mine, the world’s single largest emerald producing mine. Zambia could have been earning foreign exchange through the export of other minerals such as emeralds when copper prices dwindle on the international market.

3.      Government should create an enabling environment for new businesses to flourish on the Copperbelt. This I believe ladies and gentlemen that will provide an opportunity for those who have lost jobs in the mining sector to find new opportunities other than in the construction and agricultural sectors which the President wants former miners to take advantage of. This may include increasing the small scale businesses taxable income thresholds in order to help them stay in business and plough   their extra income back into their companies.

These measures ladies and gentlemen if implemented will help restore  fiscal sustainability and macroeconomic stability on the Copperbelt, as well as help avert the expected exodus of ex miners who might be moving to other provinces to seek employment opportunities in other sectors of the economy.

As mentioned earlier in my speech, the President needs to open up to advice given to him by various stakeholders and put the interest of the people who put him in office first. We should not allow politicians to continue making money for themselves while the people who voted for them are suffering. Ladies and gentlemen need to STOP this.

THANK YOU AND GOD BLESS ZAMBIA
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