European economies are facing some challenges. Asian economies are experiencing contraction and the Middle East is not stable for business and Investment. There are a lot of signs that indicate that Africa is the next frontier for investment. I would like to get you point of view on this matter and how do you see Zambia within this context?
The first thing we realise is that Africa has a lot of land, and resources such as minerals and others. There is always room for future investment in the country. Given the resources that the country has, they would be assured to get their investments back.
Zambia offers a very good and stable political environment. If one invests in Zambia, one is assured of getting their returns properly. Our strength as Zambia is the people themselves, because when they look at you with a smile, they mean it.
Economically we are trying to use this position to our advantage by making it a hub in the transport, airline and other sectors. If one has to travel from the east to the west, one has to pass through Zambia. People have to go through Zambia using our roads and our railway network to go to the neighbouring countries.
In your own words, what are the main challenges in the transport and communication sectors?
When we came into power we had a situation where our road network was about 67,000 kilometres, and we came up with about 40,000 kilometres, which we called the core road network.
This core road network was the minimum requirement for economic development and sustainability.
Because of the strategic geographic location of the country, government decided to implement the Link Zambia 8000 road project aimed at linking Zambia to its neighbours. This project is meant to link Zambia to other countries, also for intra-connectivity and linking one provincial headquarters to the other within Zambia. This was done with the view of easing the movement of goods and services and also reduces the costs of doing business.
Government has also seen the need to improve the rail network, to ease the transportation of bulky and heavy goods, which will ultimately ease the stress load on the roads. So, part of the Euro Bond we got was invested in the rail sector.
This was aimed at creating some sort of a web-hub to ensure that all the rail lines should be connected at the centre.
We want to connect Zambia to the Nackara corridor, the northern corridor and others.
TAZARA has a similar concept and connects Zambia to Tanzania. Could you tell us about that?
Zambia already has railway connection with Tanzania. The government had to look at the concessions available such as the Zambia Railways, which connects Zambia to the southern corridor.
We had to bring it back by trying to revamp money because there was very little in terms of recapitalisation. Therefore, with all these rail systems, which we are working on, Zambia becomes a hub. We will connect the TAZARA at Mpika to the Nackara corridor, and we will connect the TAZARA to a place called Naseluka in Mpulungu and we will connect the Zambia Railways at Chililabombwe-Chingola to Solwezi in the North-western province and Jimbe in Angola on the Benguela Rail.
With all these in place also comes the need for water transport, which is also very essential. For a long time, the various water bodies in the country have mainly been used for fishing and irrigation.
We want to see what we can do to improve these water bodies that can be utilised as transport ways. We have signed an agreement with Angola for the Lubungu-Kana corridor. We are going to do 10 kilometres to Kana, which will also have a one-stop border post.
Government also intends to carry out a big project to establish the navigability of the Kafue River and if there will be possibilities of people using it as a means of transport, besides the procurement of water buses for Lake Mweru, Lake Bangweulu, and the Western province rivers so that people can use water not only for fishing and irrigation, but for transport also.
We are also considering the possibility of coming up with a national airline. Documentation for this process has already been done, and the process is awaiting Cabinet’s approval.
President Sata mentioned that he would reintroduce Zambia Airways again. What happened to that project?
Yes, we want to do that, because we are looking at it holistically. We do not want to leave out one mode of transport.
All modes of transport will be looked at so that the costs of transporting goods and people will become cheaper. These services can be provided at a cheaper rate and the cost of doing business can also be reduced.
What are some of your ministry’s roles and responsibilities in the several projects you have mentioned?
The ministry’s role is to ensure that are these projects are effected, implemented and executed and cost effective rates and also effectively.
We are also responsible for the communication sector and therefor we need to ensure that communication is also improved.
Under a project called Universal Access, government intends to rollout mobile telecommunication networks to all parts of the country. This project is meant to underserved areas.
To this effect, the erection of telecommunication towers in all parts of the country has commenced to take place.
We have moved from 74 per cent coverage to 84 per cent coverage. We are also carrying out another project under the same Universal Access to put up 270 telecommunication towers, which will increase the 84 per cent coverage to 100 per cent coverage. So our role is to provide policy direction and supervision of the project.
What about the fibre based network that you are implementing. Can you elaborate on that?
Optic fibre offers a very good infrastructure for communication and will enhance our communication capacities & capabilities.
The optic fibre being laid around the country will serve as a backbone for future development because it allows for the utilisation of various technologies.
When connected, it will improve communication set up, the Internet speed, and will introduce a new culture of electronic Internet based services such as e buying, e learning, e-commerce and others such as e-government.
However, e-government process is also another project the government is working on and the process of linking all government ministries through government’s wide area network has been completed.
Putting up of video conferencing facilities will result in a reduction of costs associated with holding of meetings and travels to others parts of the country, unless under extremely necessary circumstances.
Your ministry has great ambitions and you have been talking about several projects. Is the private sector involved in these projects?
For projects like the Link Zambia 8000, which involves substantial amount of money, the private sector is involved through public-private partnership (PPP’s). Initially, government had envisaged that this project could be implemented using government and donor funds, but, but through PPP’s, the private sector has been brought on board.
I believe it will be a bit smarter because if we can have PPP’s in place, they can put up a road, and put up tollgates and get their money back.
Government has so far managed to push a document on the collection of toll fees, which was approved by Parliament, and will soon be implemented.
We have already procured contractors to do six already, and we are now looking at the aspect of PPP where the private sector can construct roads and collect toll gate fees, with agreements on how government can get a share.
What is the timeframe for these projects like the roads under Link Zambia 8000?
Link Zambia 8000 should be completed by 2018. There are also projects such as the Kenneth Kaunda International Airport, which started last year.
Our target to complete this project is 2016, while works at the Livingstone airport are about 97 per cent complete.
The Ndola International Airport whose works should be started and finished within three years.
Are there plans made by the government to construct another international airport in Lusaka bigger than the current one?
These plans are not for Lusaka but for Ndola. And the airport will be bigger than the one we currently have in Ndola.
This is because there is no room to expand the existing one in Ndola. It also proves to be a very expensive venture to proceed with so we thought of setting up a green-filed to begin another project with all facilities such as hotels and others, which will be achieved through PPP.
What is your biggest ambition as a minister?
My biggest ambition is to change the lives of people. If I can change the lives of people, change Zambia, to a level where even buying of equipment can be done online with ease, then I would have achieved my goal.
If we can change the lives of people, improve their living standards, then I would have lived to my ambition.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
We have been independent for the last 50 years, and we are grateful to our forefathers for what they did for this country. Jubilee is about looking back and set up new ambitions, which will improve Zambia. Our hope and prayer is that the Lord be with us all and we move in that direction.