There are very few success stories Zambians can objectively talk about when it comes to privatization. This is a fact that many, including those who were in government at the time this process was being undertaken, can attest to – several Zambians were left miserable, many died as a result of being thrown out of jobs that they and their families survived on.
Hence the questions posed to Mr Hakainde Hichilema, which are begging for answers. He participated in the process of privatizing Zambia’s key assets at a high level, and is seeking the highest office of the land, and should therefore be accountable to the Zambians whom he wishes to serve. Ms Edith Nawakwi, the FDD leader, now tells us that the government which she served at the time as Finance Minister listened to the advice of Mr Hichilema that the lowest bidder for Intercontinental Hotel in Livingstone was the best bid. The government then acted based on the advice of someone who took part in the valuation of the assets, but he is being taken to task now to state the role he played in the process.
Simple questions are being such as: “How can Mr Hichilema be the Chairman of the Negotiating Team and Be a Director of the Company they are negotiating with? Should he have declared interest and recused himself from being Chairman of the Negotiating Team? Why did Hakainde Hichilema incorporate Sun International Zambia just after the Tender was opened and Sun International listed as the Preferred purchaser, did he know that he was going to award the bid to Sun International? And did he enter into an agreement with Sun International to offer them the Hotel and Game Park at a Reduced Price in exchange for being a Shareholder and Director in Sun International Hotel?”
Corruption or impropriety of national resources must be condemned at any level, and at any time. No one should be spared from such scrutiny.
Further, what those asking Mr Hichilema questions are interested in knowing is: whether or not there was conflict of interest in the handling of the privatization of some assets, the seeming failure to declare interest before or during the transaction or at closure of the deal, the possible insider dealing, seeing that he later gained from the same assets he and others were tasked to privatise, and lastly, to know in whose interest he acted when advising the MMD government about the best bidders. Did he act in his own interest or that of the Zambian people who were his clients? We don’t think Mr Hichilema should have difficulties tackling these simple questions.
This is an opportunity for Mr Hichilema to clear the air and explain what happened during the process of privatization and why, for instance, he managed to accrue the benefits being pointed out today. We see absolutely nothing wrong with him responding to this to put the matter to rest. The only problem is that the opposition leader’s advisors and supporters are ready to jump at anybody’s throat for the sake of keeping their leader away from responding to the pertinent questions being asked.
What must prevail is a healthy debate in the democratic space that we enjoy in this country to ensure that each individual being called out is given a chance to explain themselves. Ms Nawakwi herself was put in a tight corner by ZNBC’s Grevazio Zulu that she equally played a role as minister in government, and what she did for her part was explain the processes that were followed to arrive at the decisions that were made. The same is expected of any leader, including Mr Hichilema who leads the country’s biggest opposition party, and all others who took part in privatizing our country’s key assets.
In the final analysis, Zambia’s situation is such that one would not be wrong to say the private sector was given a leeway to unfairly benefit from the privatization process such that the negative socio-economic impact became far reaching and worse than ever imagined. The economy was left on its knees. This reminds us of what happened in Russia and other former Soviet Union countries where the world witnessed billionaires being born overnight from a clearly haphazard privatization process.