Friday, 20 March 2009


By Gershom Ndhlovu


If the letter purportedly written by former minister of finance Ng’andu Magande wrote to transport and communications minister Dora Siliya about bailing out Zambian Airways which has since suspended operations published on the internet a few days ago is genuine, there is nothing wrong with it, at least on face value.

In the letter, reference number MFAL/102/ dated 26th June 2008, Magande is purported to have stated:

“By the company asking the National Airport Corporation for deferment of some charges, the company is indirectly asking for assistance from the Government so that it can go through this turbulent period and be able to survive. If the condition in the industry was normal, Zambian Airways could have easily borrowed and could be able to address its cash flow problem. However, investors or lenders usually wait and see for this period to be over before they can think of putting more money in the company. Hence the company has difficulties in finding this extra finance and its survival is very much threatened….

“By preserving Zambian Airways, the Government will actually be reinforcing the Zambian economic empowerment policy. In fact the government has, on a number of occasions repeatedly said the Zambian economy will be private sector led or driven and it will be disastrous to see private sector companies fold without rendering any assistance especially during crisis time.

“Zambian Airways is not asking for a grant but a deferment and NACL (National Airports Corporation Limited) will eventually get the money back. Ultimately, Zambian Airways will be assisted and will eventually grow, employment will be preserved, its contribution to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) will be sustained and investors’ confidence will be maintained.”

Even though it is difficult to prove the letter’s authenticity, it is difficult to see any underhand motive, if any, with Magande as finance minister then trying to help the troubled airline which is clear in the above paragraph. I am sure that at the time the letter was written, nobody knew the immediate political future of the country in terms of change of leadership which followed the death of President Levy Mwanawasa a few weeks later.

The rest, as they say, is history. The then Vice President Rupiah Banda contested the republican presidency and was challenged, among others, by Magande who lost and was eventually dropped from Cabinet and now risks being expelled from the MMD where cadres are calling for his blood because of his role in the Zambian Airways saga.

Equally unfortunate is that the people who tended to support Magande’s candidature for presidency are being hounded out of the ruling MMD of whom two MPs, Jonas Shakafuswa and Lameck Chibombamilimo were dropped as deputy ministers and expelled from the party and have since taken the matter to court.

Obviously, the nation is awaiting with baited breath, documents that President Banda has regarding what interest Magande had in the Zambian Airways financing issues but if those documents include this letter, or is the only document that is the evidence of “malpractice” by the former minister, really there is no need to waste time and money on this matter.

There is no hint in the letter on the cancelling of the debt that the airline owes or owed NACL and other companies particularly in return for favours. Rather, there is emphasis on the deferment of the debt for a given period of time.

I am sure that in business, but particularly in troubled global economic times like this when other governments are helping industry affected by the meltdown, this is a normal practice.

I am not defending Magande and others connected to Zambian Airways, but of course if there was any wrongdoing by the shareholders, directors, managers and staff of Zambian Airways, the law must take its course. If at the same time, this was a normal business practice gone wrong, Development Bank of Zambia and other lenders have recourse to seizing assets of the airlines to recover their money.


A few days ago, I cam across an article quoting Forum for Development Search chairperson Edwin Lifwekelo calling for non-performing MPs to step down and it is obvious that this follows a demonstration by MMD cadres against Kabwata Member of Parliament Given Lubinda for his alleged failure to “take” development to his constituency.

I wonder if Lifwekelo implies that MPs should take over the overall development of their constituencies particularly with the K400 million Constituency Development Funds (CDFs) while local authorities and government go to sleep. MPs and councillors can only serve as a conveyor belt for development ideas while local authorities do the rest.

The problem in Zambia is that issues of development are not taken seriously such that town planning is done haphazardly such that anybody is able to put up a structure anywhere and at the end of the day, those structures are legitimized and the MP is under pressure to provide roads, water, electricity and other facilities.

The practice in other parts of the world is that when there is an upcoming development project in a locality, the residents are consulted through notices that are put up in strategic public places and local newspapers so that those with contrary views are also heard.

If the majority of the people are not happy with the project, it is then shelved. If, on the other hand, the residents nod to the project, everyone involved is under pressure to deliver on it. MPs and councillors are in constant consultation with government, local authorities and the residents as stakeholders.

In our case, we lost it when party cadres and other crooked officials started allocating land even in protected areas such that even school fields, cemeteries and game reserves have not been spared from unplanned land allocations and unregulated structures.

Lubinda has been Kabwata MP for a long time now and it is surprising that he has only been labelled as non-performing simply because he is a pain in the side of government and the MMD by his vigilance in a number of areas.

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