Editor's Comment

Zambians deserve more from mines

MINE owners should heed President Edgar Lungu’s warning about the imminent take-over by Government because citizens do not seem to have benefitted from their investment.
Copper is the country’s goose which lays golden eggs for the country’s socio-economic survival.
Citizens who worked and lived On the Copperbelt during the era of the Zambia Consolidated Copper Mines (ZCCM) and before will attest to the milk and honey days.
Miners were arguably one of the well-paid employees and lived comfortably in accommodation offered by the mines.
But the post-privatisation era of the mines has been a nightmare as workers and suppliers have been at the receiving end.
The facilities left by ZCCM, including football clubs, apart from Nkana, have either been weaned or neglected as in the case of Nchanga Rangers and Konkola Blades football clubs.
The country has of late seen a tendency by some mining firms to arm-twist Government each time new taxes are announced.
In the end, Government and citizens have ended up being hostages of the mineral endowment. This cannot continue.
In view of the recent happenings on the Copperbelt, where a gloomy picture is being painted by the mines in the aftermath of the sales tax which comes into effect on June 1, President Lungu has warned that all mining companies that are exploiting workers by paying low wages and treating Zambians like slaves should leave the country.
This is long overdue and Zambians cannot wait for the President’s pronouncement to pass. It is ironic for Zambians to remain poor and continue being oppressed in the midst of plenty.
While President Lungu says there are investors on standby to take over the affected mines, maybe Government should handle the issue differently.
Instead of giving the mines to foreign investors, Government should encourage Zambians to find partners to run these businesses so that they contribute to the country’s development through the taxes they pay.
Currently, mining houses pay lower electricity tariffs than household consumers and their contribution to taxation is also far lower than the personal sector.
Government is always refunding them value added tax because they over price inputs and under-declare sales prices.
Therefore, giving these assets to another foreign owner does not help our economy. Why can’t Zambians be allowed to own their economy like Nigerians have done?
The largest cement plant in Nigeria is owned by a local [Aliko Dangote], all the oil blocks are in local hands and all the big banks are in local hands.
Does it mean after five decades, there is no Zambian qualified and experienced enough to woo partners and run our mines?
Perhaps the government should also focus on diversification now.
Copper mining has been going on for over a century and has seen the reduction in copper production.
The Copperbelt receives a fair amount of rains every year.
This makes the region suitable to become a bread basket of the country, also given its soil fertility in the rural and peri-urban areas.
The upcoming Copperbelt expo should help the technocrats in the region identify more alternative economic ventures.
The region can no longer continue relying on copper with a yawning food market in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

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