Book Review by DICKSON JERE
Author: Dr Mbita Chitala
Title: Corporate Capture – The Political Economy of Electricity Management in Zambia (2014-2021)
Publisher: Zambia Research Foundation
Chapters: Twenty One
WE can ignore – for now – the poor editing and packaging of the book even though it could have been done better.
However, the stuff in the book is jaw dropping! The author, Dr Mbita Chitala, name names and does not shy away from controversy. He began by stating how he found himself on the Zesco board. President Edgar Lungu handpicked him in 2015 to be chairman but only to be rejected by Energy Minister Dora Siliya. How a minister can undo a presidential choice remains debatable!
“It was therefore not surprising when the Minister of Energy, Ms Dora Siliya was removed from the energy portfolio and replaced by another politician David Mabunda,” he writes, adding that the Siliya-appointed Board was dissolved and another one appointed which Chitala chaired from 2017 to 2020.
The author has no kind words for the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) and in particular its Chief Executive Officer Mateyo Kaluba.
He calls him names and described him as “rude” and never accepted Dr Chitala’s presidential appointment.
“…the IDC members inundated me with requests and directives some of which were clearly unlawful and I declined to attend to them in detail either their impracticality or their unlawfulness,” Dr Chitala shoots straight in his 21- Chapter thriller.
He accuses IDC board members of orchestrating his dismissal from Zesco because he, among other things, refused to use the firm for Patriotic Front (PF) fundraising ahead of the 2021 elections.
He also accused IDC of trying to asset-strip Zesco and get paid management fees from its coffers – a very serious accusation I must say!
On the status of the State-run power utility, Dr Chitala simply states that “Zesco was insolvent and required urgent recapitalisation from the shareholders.”
He said the situation was worsened when Government started to import power from Mozambique but passed on the bill to Zesco.
“The said power was overpriced and Zesco was not in a position to settle the debts of US$240, 672, 550. I argued that it was not in Zesco’s interest for Government to lumber the whole debt obligations on Zesco.”
Dr Chitala also discloses in his 202 page book that Zesco wanted to buy CEC which he said the private company had captured Zesco and undermined the profitability of Zesco.
He writes: “The second proposal was for the outright purchase or nationalisation by Government. However, nationalisation was not favoured because it could have faced challenges especially that CEC is public listed company.
The former deputy Minister of Fnance also mentions the controversy surrounding the possible sale of Zesco land in Livingstone where the Chinese investors were planning to put up an amazing park. He accused Justice Minister then Given Lubinda of having tried to persuade him to sell the eight hectares land.
“All these matters together with my strong attitude to protect the integrity of Zesco were seen as conduct of insolence that required the parting of ways,” Dr Chitala said.
The author also talks about football which Zesco financed as part of it social corporate responsibility. A subsidiary – Zesco United Football Club Limited – was formed but doing very badly in terms of finances and was not well managed.
“The board’s desire was to change this and professionalise the club so that it could be managed independently and professionally,” he said.
Dr Chitala resigned from the board just a day before he was fired! He had been tipped of his sacking and therefore preempted it on his Facebook page. “I announced my retirement from Zesco board on 2nd December 2020 and a day later I received the letter from IDC terminating my appointment,” he disclosed.
But curiously the author does not state how and why President Lungu handpicked him or preferred him twice as Zesco chairman. Were they friends? Who recommended him to the President?
The book is an interesting read from whichever angle you look at it. It is good literature for those interested in studying electricity management in Zambia as the book gives historical developments since colonial days.
The author must be commended for writing this book – notwithstanding its shortcomings. Zambians must write. However, the timing of the book looks like well-timed – just after the PF government lost elections. It adds to the narrative that PF was bad! I am sure those mentioned will give their side of their stories one day!