PRESIDENT Edgar Lungu has told Mopani Copper Mines to engage in civil and decent business practices rather than blackmail the government.
Meanwhile, President Lungu says former health minister Dr Joseph Kasonde was one of the finest men he ever worked with.
Following a restriction of power supply by Copperbelt Energy Corporation to the mine, Mopani threatened to retrench close to 5000 miners.
Some miners have warned President Lungu that he will be the biggest casualty once they are sent on the streets.
Briefing the press at Twangale Park in Lusaka this afternoon, President Lungu’s press aide Amos Chanda said the Head of State had instructed his ministers of mines and energy Christopher Yaluma and David Mabumba, respectively, to deliver “a very clear and equivocal message to management at Mopani to engage in civil, decent business practices rather than undertake actions that may be understood or misunderstood to be acts of blackmail against the government”.
“So the ministers of mines and energy will be engaging Mopani to deliver that clear message that tariff adjustment is just one of the components of the broad reforms in the energy sector that government announced. On November 26, 2015, the President gave very clear message that the subsidies in the power sector, subsidies on fuel and even in agriculture were going to be removed and Cabinet has passed policies and decisions and government is following through. If those reforms have been accepted in the consumer sector by the poor households, the President expects that all sectors of the economy, both business and consumers, must accept the reforms that have been set in place,” Chanda said.
He said President Lungu had asked the Minister of Mines to engage Mopani and understand what exactly they wanted to do, “otherwise the actions they have undertaken in recent days appear unacceptable to the government”.
Chanda said the minister would outline other measures to ensure that Mopani workers were not disadvantaged.
“The President understands that a court case is ongoing; there is a dispute between Mopani and CEC but the President does not understand how that court process and any disputes between Mopani and those who supply them power can extend, for instance, to termination of payments to contractors, particularly those that are only Zambian, and suppliers; threats of retrenching workers and the whole range of activities, failure to abide by all agreed normal business practices,” he said.
Chanda said all other mines had agreed to pay new electricity tariffs, save for Mopani.
“They are all mining the same copper; copper price on the global market had improved, that’s why the President is not satisfied [with Mopani’s actions]…that probably there could be other issues behind the stand off between Mopani and the power suppliers because other than Mopani, all have agreed, they have signed agreements and they are on the new tariffs,” he said.
Chanda explained that President Lungu’s primary responsibility was to protect the welfare of Mopani workers.
“The government will act responsibly to ensure the interest of workers are protected,” he said.
Chanda hoped Mopani, as a corporate citizen, would not engage in acts of arm-twisting and blackmailing the government.
And Chanda said the police service had informed State House that it had not stopped a UPND card renewal exercise at Mulungushi International Conference Centre.
He said even if the exercise had stopped, the police would have been guided to allow that process to proceed.
Chanda also said State House regretted police’s action to stop the thanksgiving prayer service for the release of UPND leader Hakainde Hichilema and five others.
He said police were under pressure given the proclamation of a threatened state of emergency.
“The action to stop a church meeting is regretted because even under the current environment where there are emergency regulations, police are expected to exercise judgment, very good judgment as they try to balance the need for public security on one hand and also the need to ensure that civil liberties of citizens are not infringed upon,” Chanda said.
“We must understand that police have been under extreme pressure to ensure that public security, in the light of what has happened in the past, is safeguarded. But it’s with regret that happened. Now I can reveal that positive intervention was made, the police was overruled by the Minister of Religious Affairs and she directed that that church meeting could proceed that same day. The political contacts within UPND called me that the only reason they would not proceed on that day was that some people had already gone back and it would have been difficult to call them back.”
He said State House was not influencing police actions.
“The police are being encouraged to exercise very, very good judgment as they police the country. Only when circumstances exist where public security or danger to public property is visible, then they would stop a public procession.
I am just happy that on their own, [police] they have decided that the card renewal will go ahead. But then the President told me that had they stopped it, he was going to ask me to speak to the IG to allow that process to go on,” Chanda claimed.
He urged Zambians to reduce on activities that could make the police to be on the defensive.
“For instance, it’s an act of irresponsibility that we tell the police that the action they have taken is not correct, they must therefore engage the organisers of the church service and then you are calling the police commissioner and you put him on tape! How are we going to have a sensible conversation with the police service if every phone call you get from either you a journalist or from the UPND political leadership is recorded because that process when commissioner Phiri (Nelson) was not engaging with the organisers of the event, it’s a privileged conversation, he could even genuinely make mistakes in that conversation, but how is he going to be free the next time?” Chanda asked following a leaked conversation between the organisers of the thanksgiving prayers and Lusaka Province police commissioner Nelson Phiri.
He appealed to all political players to be civil when engaging the police in order to give them confidence.
“We must all try and contribute to actions that engender national unity and create an atmosphere suitable for dialogue rather than actions that seek to polarize the environment,” Chanda said.
And Chanda said President Lungu did not summon South African opposition leader Mmusi Maimane and Julius Malema last week.
“He requested to meet them and they agreed. Two hours later, they told us that they were unavailable and we left it there,” he explained without delving into the statement that was issued by Zambian High Commissioner to South Africa Emmanuel Mwamba announcing the summoning of the two South African opposition party leaders.
He explained that President Lungu was informed that there were some people who wanted to picket at the SADC meeting but was of the view that the message could have been delivered directly to him if he gave chance to the leaders to talk to him and that contact was made with the leaders.
Asked whether he thought the issue had been trivialized after the South African opposition leaders refused to meet the Head of State, Chanda said democracies were noisy.
“It’s how you distinguish the sense from the noise that makes you a better citizen or an integral member of that democracy. Democracies, by their very nature, are noisy but it becomes a problem when the media become part of that noise,” he said. “Those who have been elected, they will continue to govern and the noise continues. If we attempt to shut out the noise completely, we will be shutting down democratic space. Within democracy, work gets done and the noise remains noise.”
Meanwhile, Chanda said President Lungu described Dr Kasonde who died last night as a dedicated gentleman who was committed to duty.
“The President sends his condolences and wishes the family of Dr Kasonde God’s grace in the tough period ahead of them.
Dr Kasonde was a very fine man, very hard working, with an extraordinary commitment to detail. He was a perfectionist who wanted things done in a perfect manner. In medical circles, he was simply one of Zambia’s finest, one of the very best. In politics, he remained a decent man with extraordinary grace in his interactions with people both in PF and those in the opposition. He represented the best of politics,” said Chanda.