RE: A SAD STORY OF A RETURNING ZAMBIAN WHO INVESTED IN THE COUNTRY AND LOST EVERYTHING-THE CASE OF A WRONG INVESTMENT IN THE TIMBER SECTOR
Your Excellency Sir, I know that you do not know me and most likely you have never heard about me before. I am a returning Zambian who heeded the call by the former Presidents to return and invest in Zambia. Every time we had a Zambian President visit China and meet the Zambian community there, they all echoed one thing, “Zambians in the Diaspora should return home and invest in their country”.
In 2012 after consultation with my family and business associates, I finally made up my mind to come back to Zambia permanently. In the same year I even started my company called Green Lake Zambia Limited specializing in Construction and Real Estate Development.
The company has been in operation since then and we have done a number of construction projects for both the government and the private sector. In the same line we have invested in Real Estate Development and have employed over 200 Zambians during the course of our operations in the past 5 years.
Your Excellency, I was one of a few privileged Zambians in the Diaspora who successfully relocated and quickly found his footing in the country. Perhaps this was easy for me because prior to my relocation, I was spearheading investment projects for the company I was working for in China (Sunshine Kaidi New Energy Group) as an International Business Manager. I had been to Zambia several times on investment projects and I knew the environment very well which made it easy for me to settle down.
You Excellency Sir, as a way to diversify our business in other areas other than construction and Real Estate Development, Green Lake responded to the advertisement in 2016 by the Forestry Department for indigenous Zambian companies to apply for concessions throughout the country. As a company, this was a great opportunity to diversify our business and be part of indigenous Zambians who were going to take part in the sustainable management of our Natural Resources.
Indeed Sir, in December, 2016, the Forestry Department issued us with a Medium Scale Concession License in Chief Katyetye Chiefdom in Isoka District.
As a company that is committed to making use of the opportunity in line with our long term strategy of investment in local production and value addition, we went further to buy various sawmilling machines, equipment and trucks for the same business. Indeed we were very happy with our decision, and in the beginning everything seems to be going on very well.
Your Excellency, our excitement about this investment was short-lived as a few months later; the Forestry Department issued a suspension on all timber transactions throughout the country.
In May, 2017, without any prior communication from the Forestry Department or any government institution, we were surprised that our site was visited by a group of soldiers who told us that all licenses were revoked by you, Your Excellency, and that we were operating illegally. This came as a very big surprise to us.
Your Excellency, the soldiers arrested the workers they found on site doing nothing because there was a suspension and took them to Isoka Police station cells. They stayed in custody for over four days as I was out of the country at the time and had to cut short my business trip and flew to Isoka via Mbeya in Tanzania.
As I write to you Sir, the case is still in court and my workers keep travelling to Isoka for mention as the DPP has not provided any direction for the case to date.
Your Excellency Sir, I also regret to inform you that apart from the harassment and abuse that my workers went through during their arrest despite them being in possession of all legal papers, in July 2017 the soldiers came back to our timber processing site and confiscated all our timber and took it to the DCs office.
Your Excellency this was done without any seizure order or repossession order from the courts. All what the soldiers told us was that they were operating under orders. This is in total disregard of the fact that our company has all the legal documentations and government receipts for all the timber production and conveyance licenses for which we had paid through the Forestry Department in Isoka and Chinsali.
As I write to you Mr. President, ZAFFICO is in the process of loading our timber and export it to China. Last week ZAFFICO took some Chinese to check our timber which we harvested lawfully and we are in possession of all the legal documents.
Your Excellency Sir, we invested everything that we had in our timber business to buy machinery, employ workers, harvest the timber and process it. This came at a huge price to the other businesses that we do like construction and Real Estate Development. For the past Eight months we have been hopeful that things may normalize and the industry will be regulated and our timber would be given back to us so that we can go back to business and at least recoup our investment.
As things stand now, there is no hope left. Our timber is going to be loaded by ZAFFICO and be sold to the Chinese who are in Isoka right now.
Mr. President, this is indeed a bitter pill for me as a returning Zambian who heeded government’s call to come back and invest in the country. For many years, Zambians cried that they were taking very little ownership in the management of their Natural Resources like Mines and Forestry.
Our getting of the Concession License made us believe that finally government had realised that Zambians needed to be at the centre of controlling their Natural Resources. Our plan as a company was to acquire all machinery needed to go into not only semi processing for export, but also further into finished products locally for both local and international markets.
However, this is never going to happen because our investment has been grabbed from us. As I write Your Excellency, the company is at a verge of collapse; our cash-flow is weak as we invested everything that we had in a business that has failed to take off since early this year. In a couple of weeks, we may completely go bankrupt and our creditors will foreclose on us. I will lose property and everything that I have worked hard for and all the investment that I brought in the country. My workers will be jobless and so will I.
Your Excellency, Sir, just for your information, I am one of the Zambians that have been educated at a great cost to the country. I was a recipient of the Zambia-China Joint Scholarship which enabled me to study for a Bachelor of Engineering in Civil Engineering at Guangxi University in China where I graduated as a top student in the Civil Engineering Department, and I am also a recipient of the Beit Trust Scholarship which enabled me to go and study for a Masters Degree in Management at the University of Leeds in the UK where I graduated with a distinction, and I was among the top ten students from the Business School.
I chose to come back and contribute to the economic development of my country but a few days from now, I will lose my business and I will be jobless. In short, I am back to square one where I was after completing my Bachelors Degree in China.
Indeed Sir, this is my story, I do not know whether to regret my coming back to Zambia or whether this is a call to leave the country and never to come back.
Owner of Green Lake Zambia Limited
& Legacy Sawmills Limited