[By Edwin Mbulo in Mongu]
THE railway sector can mitigate the unemployment danger that Zambia is currently grappling with if properly managed, says Nathan Zulu.
But Zulu says Zambia Railways needs to be recapitalised as most of its equipment is obsolete with the rail track needing urgent rehabilitation.
In a statement to The Mast, the Railway Workers Union of Zambia president said he agrees with President Hakainde Hichilema that the transport sector in Zambia is lopsided in favour of the road sector.
“The rail sector should be put on the centre stage of economic revival that the new dawn government has embarked on. It should be noted that the sector is labour intensive and will mitigate the unemployment danger that Zambia is currently grappling with especially among the youth,” Zulu said. “The rail sector will equally reduce on the cost of doing business if properly managed and putting in place policies that will result into making the sector competitive.”
He noted that the sector had not seen any meaningful investment in the recent years apart from the injection of US $120 million from the Eurobond, which “in our considered view did not yield the desired results”.
Zulu said despite the actualisation of Statutory Instrument Number 7 of 2018 that regulates that 30 per cent of selected cargo be moved by rail, the sector is still finding it difficult to increase the market share which hovers below 15 per cent.
“There is need for the government to put in place a mechanism that will police business houses especially mines to adhere to the Statutory Instrument,” he suggested.
Zulu said the sector has also been hit hard with the issue of rates.
“The issue of allowing foreign trucks back has adversely affected the competitiveness in regards rates. Mining houses are finding it easy to negotiate low rates with foreign transporters who have already made their money on the inward trip and can afford to give lower rates which would just be a bonus. In view of this unfair competition, there is need for government to come up with interventions. Similarly, the issue of fuel levy needs to be relooked at as the proceeds of this levy only benefits the road sector,” he said. “It should be noted that the rail sector is one of the biggest consumers of fuel and as such the accruals from this fuel levy should equally go to the maintenance of the permanent way (railway line) infrastructure not just just for road maintenance.
However, most importantly, there is urgent need for the government to quickly recapitalise Zambia Railways. Most of the equipment is obsolete with the rail track needing urgent rehabilitation if Zambia Railways has to meet its objectives and play its pivotal role in the economy.”
Zulu said Zambia Railways needs rolling stock (locomotives and wagons) and rehabilitation of the rail track to allow the company play its role in employing the youth, reduce the cost of doing business, improve workers’ conditions of service and bringing back the yesteryears of offering a seamless service as the wheels of the nation.