Analysis: BENEDICT TEMBO
LUSAKA City Council (LCC) has opened a Pandora’s box by declaring a dispute with China Henan over the joint lease agreement signed in August 2001 for the development of Luburma market in Lusaka’s Kamwala area.
Interestingly, Minister of Local Government Vincent Mwale openly declares that “all we want is a win-win arrangement between the council and the developer”.
On his Facebook page, Mr Mwale said Government has called for a review of the agreement with the developers of the Town Centre Market, which was also leased for 60 years.
Mr Mwale says the contract provides for reviews to be done every five years, and should they not agree on a win-win arrangement, they will go for arbitration.
“Stand with us,” Mr Mwale says in soliciting for support from his followers on his Facebook page.
And truly, Mr Mwale has received overwhelming solidarity because nobody expected either the local authority or indeed the minister to challenge the Chinese, widely viewed as untouchables.
“This is the right thing to do. We are with you. Let the lease be reduced in line with the draft land policy which puts 25 years renewable. It’s time we corrected all wrongs and manipulated decisions over land-related agreements,” read one message in reaction to Mr Mwale’s quest for solidarity.
Others have observed that the market is slowly getting dilapidated.
They described the decision to review the agreement as one of the best.
“We have been taken for granted for far too long. It is sad,” wrote another.
The decision to challenge China Henan’s exclusive use of the market for a period of 65 years is a very bold decision and probably overdue.
There will be a lot of lessons to be learnt from this legal battle between LCC and the Ministry of Local Government, on one hand, and the Chinese firm, on the other.
It may signal the petitioning of several other development agreements Government has signed with foreign firms.
For instance, one of the grievances by LCC and Ministry of Local Government is that the 65-year lease entailed improving the structures and generally keeping the premises in a good state until the handover.
However, the joint lease has not been reviewed for over 15 years contrary to the provision of the agreement.
Sometime last year, LCC initiated this review to revisit the agreement in a number of areas, including the lease period but both parties failed to reach a consensus, leading to the local authority declaring a dispute last October.
While the Ministry of Local Government has rolled up its sleeves to reclaim the market on behalf of the citizens, the Ministry of Mines and Minerals Development has on the other hand continued sparring with the mining companies.
Minister of Mines Richard Musukwa has to this effect threatened to cancel or terminate deals with some mine owners breaching development agreements.
Maybe, Mr Musukwa can draw strength from LCC or Mr Mwale by reviewing some of the agreements.
It is time for citizens to take up the initiative and ask Government to review the various agreements which may not be in good standing with the expectations of the public.
The author is Zambia Daily Mail editorials editor.
Analysis: BENEDICT TEMBO