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Don’t place rail sector in private hands – Mutale

A railway expert, Emmanuel Mutale, has opposed the idea of engaging private companies to operate the rail sector in the country until the industry is fully developed.

In an interview, Mutale explained that engaging a private entity to operate some railway companies would not add any value to the rail industry.

He said rail facilities were strategic infrastructure that should be operated and managed by the government, and not a private operator.

“I have worked in the Zambian railway industry for many years. What is worrying me is that we have had the rail infrastructure in this country for a long time and we have trained engineers, commercial/marketing experts and other professionals to manage our rail companies who should be consulted, let alone appointed as board members,” he said. “Unfortunately, we are now hearing that there are some suggestions that some private operators would be engaged to run the existing railway industry in the country. Already there’s a South African private rail company, which has managed to solicit for some traffic from some named companies in Zambia. And this private rail firm is using the railway line to transport cargo from Kapiri Mposhi to Dar-es-Salaam and back alongside TAZARA operations. In other words, there are two companies operating on the same rail line, a very outlandish arrangement.”

Mutale, who is currently the Zambia Freight Forwarders Association chairman and is also head – marketing with Federation of Clearing and Forwarding Associations of Southern Africa (FCFASA) said he would like to know the arrangement between the operator and TAZARA.

“I am not privy to the [memorandum of understanding] MoU that TAZARA has signed with this private operator, but I am opposed to the idea of having a private entity operating the railway company, using the TAZARA railway line to move traffic. And yet, this whole arrangement is not adding any value to TAZARA, if not de-marketing the institution generally under TAZARA management because they must be offering some incentives, such as lower rates, and so on; that TAZARA can as well do,” he said.

“In fact, TAZARA has another responsibility of repairing the railway infrastructure because of the massive wear and tear that the railway line is subjected to, whose cost is not shared evenly with the private operator. Furthermore, my contention is that that cargo being moved by a private entity can easily be solicited for by TAZARA management. It is my considered view that operations of railway companies would be unattainable if left in the hands of a private entity because any private operator’s priority and preoccupation would be to realise surplus over their operation costs, which would later be externalised.”

He argued that government was best placed to manage the rail industry in the country.

“It should also be noted that rail facilities were strategic infrastructure that should be operated and managed by the government, and not a private operator in a situation like ours, until we attain an acceptable state of infrastructure,” said Mutale. “When you want to bring a private investor, that investor should start with railway infrastructure development, instead of bringing on board a private operator that would just use the infrastructure and leave it in a dilapidated state. Government should also draw lessons from what happened to Zambia Railways when it was placed in private hands and, subsequently, changed its name to Railway Systems of Zambia, that had the concession crafted in their favour.”

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