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Mothballing Indeni

IT seems the mothballing of Indeni Petroleum Refinery was an already concluded poem by the time Hakainde Hichilema’s administration took the instruments of power. We wouldn’t be surprised to see Zesco meeting a similar fate! Well not necessarily placing Zesco on care and maintenance but it could be sold, unbundled or whatever would be appetising to this far-right leaning government. We are talking of a government that plays ball with cutthroat neo-liberal measures without hesitation. The analogue leading to placing of Indeni on care and maintenance has been one of rallying citizens’ opinion – developing a narrative with outlandish claims that the refinery is almost obsolete, it’s the cause for high fuel prices in the country and the huge subsidies on fuel that otherwise should be channeled to other sectors such as education and health.

As Noam Chomsky observes, “That’s the standard technique of privatisation: defund, make sure things don’t work, people get angry, you hand it over to private capital.”

The closure of Indeni, we pray does not bite the economy in the medium nor long term. If Hakainde and team’s calculations are to boomerang, the consequences will be ghastly!

We mean if concerns from the industry are to come true, UPND will pay a high price for choosing private sector interests against the national good. Remember, trust is like the silence of the night, once you lose it you can’t get it back!

Time alone will tell.

According to Indeni sources, “What is most interesting is how the government has been convinced that a solution that was considered unsustainable as far back as 1969/1970 [importation of finished petroleum products via pipeline and road haulage] can work without compromising security of supply. Broadly, it appears that the bigger picture has not been taken into account. Obviously, mothballing Indeni means jobs will be lost; an interesting start to an administration that promised to create more jobs. Further, road haulage of fuel may prove to be a logistical nightmare. Data available from ERB (Energy Regulation Board) indicates that as at September, 2021, the country had a fleet of 838 licenced road tank vehicles (fuel tankers) and certified by other authorities like the Zambia Compulsory Standards Agency. Is this fleet adequate? We wait and see. Closure of Indeni also means that Ndola Energy Company (NEC), which produces electricity using Heavy Fuel Oil (HFO), cannot run. In fact, this has been the case throughout this year. NEC’s outage has taken a good 110 megawatts of the national grid. On another front, the country is confronting not ‘if’ but when the fourth wave of COVID-19 will set. Indeni being offline means no production of LPG, a major product in the production of medical oxygen. One can argue that the country will import the product, and indeed quite so. For all practical purposes, how would we fare if sources of supply like South Africa decide to restrict exports of the product for them to deal with the impact of the fourth wave? Would one be wrong to assume that the country is being held to ransom by a clique with vested interests?”

We really hope this government has done its homework and the country won’t end up regretting the move to annihilate Indeni as was the case with majority Zambian assets in the infamous privatisation spree of the 1990s. It seems history has a tendency of repeating itself! Who will be winners and losers in Hakainde’s energy reforms?

Eduardo Galeano noted in Open Veins of Latin America that, “In return for insignificant investments, the affiliates of giant corporations jump over customs barriers erected – paradoxically – against foreign competition, and take over the internal industrialisation process. They export factories or, not infrequently, corner and devour those already existing. For this they can rely on the enthusiastic aid of most local governments and on the power of extortion with which international credit organisations endow them. Imperialist capital captures markets from within, appropriating the key sectors of local industry: it conquers or constructs the decisive strongholds from which to control the rest. …There is certainly nothing competitive about a capitalism that today exports factories as well as merchandise and capital, that penetrates and hogs everything: this is a global industrial conglomeration by capitalism in the age of the multinational corporation, of the giant monopoly embracing every kind of activity in every corner of the earth. …For them the nation is not a task to undertake, a flag to defend, or a destiny to fulfill: it is no more than a hurdle to leap – for sovereignty can be inconvenient – or a succulent fruit to devour. But is the nation a destiny to fulfill to the ruling classes in each country? The grand march of imperialist capital has found local industry defenceless and unaware of its historic role. The bourgeoisie has enlisted in the foreign invasion force without shedding tears or blood; and with the…economy getting steadily weaker over the past two decades, the state’s influence upon it has been reduced to an all-time low by the good offices of the International Monetary Fund. …In these lands we are not experiencing the primitive infancy of capitalism but its vicious senility. Underdevelopment isn’t a stage of capitalism, but its consequences. (Our) underdevelopment arises from external development, and continues to feed it. A system made impotent by its function of international servitude and moribund since birth, has feet of clay. It pretends to be destiny and would like to be thought eternal…”

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