Sheer incompetence may deprive this country of 750 megawatts of power from the Kafue Lower Gorge.
Boardroom battles and intrigue rather than “geotechnicalities” are holding back the dam. For more than 20 years the plan has been on the drawing board with little movement.
This delay coming at a time when the country is facing a serious power deficit is nothing more than criminal negligence which should not go unpunished.
Two weeks ago we reported serious disquiet in the manner the contract for the Kafue Lower hydro power station (KGL) was awarded to Sinohydro with very serious insinuations of wrongdoing bordering on corruption.
Long before the memorandum of understanding was signed between Zesco and Sinohydro we reported that changes in the tendering procedures had seriously disadvantaged some of the five companies that had already passed the prequalification process. Those who lost were crying foul.
The Zambia Public Procurement Authority (ZPPA) maintained a very dubious silence, refusing to acknowledge or even comment on the crisis. They chose indifference.
In the end the matter is likely to end up in court and the greatest losers will be the Zambian people, who will have to wait many more years before the potential of Lower Zambezi is unlocked.
Whichever way the contract goes Zambians stands to lose. An expeditious and extravagant award will burden the country with expensive debt while delays will deprive the country of power and potential to earn from power exports.
Unlike the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission which has shown proactive interest in public matters, ZPPA has never pronounced itself on any controversial contract awards, thereby giving an impression that powerful invisible external hands were in control.
This impression mires the Government in uncalled for controversy because tendering procedures must be transparent and open to scrutiny by all concerned parties.
What is most frustrating in this particular case is the obvious incompetence in handling both the technical and financial aspects of the project.
It will be recalled that as far back as 1993 the Zambian Government expressed an interest in developing the gorge. The World Bank at first expressed interest to help finance the project but balked after sums were done.
Our tariffs even then were too low to support an economic loan. We then turned to China.
In December 2003, the Government signed a Memorandum of Understanding to build the dam project with Sinohydro, with China Exim Bank providing 85 percent of the funding. The balance was to be provided by the Government.
Work was supposed to start in 2004, but failed to do so. Apparently the International Monetary Fund expressed some disquiet with the arrangement partly because they considered Zesco as a company beset by inefficiencies and high costs.
Proposals to increase tariffs to make the project viable were rejected.
As a result by 2006 nothing had happened in spite of promises of movement.
Many attempts later including the cancelled contract of 2011 awarded once again to Sinohydro, we are back with the same issues which should have been addressed long before engaging in any form of contentious contracts or MoUs.
This time we hope the authorities will move expeditiously to resolve this matter.