AT US$6,353.50 per tonne, copper prices on the international market are stirring excitement and renewed hope for producers of the red metal.
Given this scenario of rising prices, Zambia, one of the world’s biggest copper producers, is expected to take advantage of this boom to earn foreign exchange and grow the economy.
Copper mining has been the mainstay of the country’s economy for over five decades. It is the goose that lays the golden eggs.
However, at a time when the country is expected to maximise earnings from the increased prices of copper on the international market, there is a threat on production.
Mopani Copper Mines (MCM), which has invested heavily in copper production, has suddenly suspended production due to a misunderstanding over tariffs with Copperbelt Energy Corporation (CEC), the electricity suppliers to mines.
We understand that this matter is before the courts of law and our comment is but only limited to the impact of the stand-off rather than the legal rigmarole or interpretation thereof.
The economy has already felt the negative impact of the stand-off between the copper producer and the electricity supplier with thousands of miners being forced to stay at home.
In a country with a strong extended family system where one worker looks after an average of 10 people, the ripple effect is devastating because more family members have been affected by the disruption of mining activities.
Apart from the miners, contractors who live off the mines for their sustenance have also been hit.
This has translated into stalled economic activities on the Copperbelt Province and beyond.
When MCM and other copper mines cease production, it means the Zambia Revenue Authority will not collect any tax for the treasury.
And reduced tax collection also means Government will have limited resources to spend on developmental activities and the social sector.
Besides, MCM is one of the most generous copper mines this country has because its footprint goes beyond mining.
MCM is the proud sponsor of 12-time Super Division league champions Nkana Football Club, and supports rugby and golf, among the many sports activities.
It also supports Mufulira Wanderers Football Club through monthly grants, apart from the many corporate social responsibility projects.
Therefore, this scenario should be avoided at all costs because Zambia is in a hurry to develop.
Every effort must be made to remedy this situation. Thankfully, most other mines are paying the new tariffs effected recently. This is good, but they too surely must be watching this Mopani-CEC impasse closely because they would want an even playing field.
Other mines are in the same situation and have adhered to the new tariffs. These must be commended because other than keeping the workers in employment, they are producing the much-needed copper that keeps Zambia’s economy alive.
The mining sector has enough arbiters to bring CEC and MCM to the table and iron out this matter amicably and promptly.
Both parties need each other for the benefit of the economy.
We hope that the Ministry of Mines and the Zambia Chamber of Mines will resolve the power supply restriction imposed on MCM by CEC over tariff hikes.
The economy should not suffer over misunderstandings that can easily be resolved through dialogue.