The Government deserves commendation for detecting and appropriately barring the discharge of contaminated oil feedstock. This level of diligence deserves acknowledgment.
This particular transaction now raises the stakes very high because it indicates a serious disregard of our national interest by whichever merchants supplied this contaminated feedstock, knowing full well the damage the previous consignment had caused to our refining capacity.
Recent estimates by Government show that damage estimated at more than US$2.8 million was caused in addition to the inconvenience of shortages which had to be mitigated by short term measures.
This disregard for our national interest must be a wake-up call to procurement officers who often disregard quality control, economy and national interest when considering the purchase of goods and services from outside the country.
Whoever sent the damaged crude oil must have had a prior knowledge of the problem but could have been assured that our system of oversight and quality control were so moribund, non-existence and ineffectual that the shipment would once again land in Zambia.
This is the under-estimation that we must continue to fight against by ensuring that values of integrity and high moral standards are inculcated through the entire procurement chain to ensure that loopholes are not created.
Now that a second shipment has arrived it is time for the Government to take legal and diplomatic measures to get to the bottom of the problem and seek absolute recompense not only for the damage caused to Indeni refinery but also for the aggravation and punitive damage to send a clear message that Zambia will not accept shoddy, corrupt or indeed inferior service.
This time around the government must also look at the personnel involved in the original purchase to determine their motivation which resulted in quality control failure and hence shipment of wrong stock.
From all indications so far a system of regular testing of feedstock pumped from ships and ultimately through the Tazama pipeline has always existed as there was always a possibility that wrong stock could have been imported. This system failed in the first consignment but was detected in the new one, thereby raising the question of credibility of those that were involved in the first shipment.
What must be determined now is whether there was deliberate foul play by the supplier and their accomplices in Zambia, and indeed the local accomplices must be identified for prosecution on account of fraudulent practice.
More importantly, however, these lapses provide an opportunity for Government to determine its participation in oil marketing and whether or not to be the agency to source fuel when many other countries utilize private oil marketing companies which compete favourably and therefore enjoy economies of scale.
The Government must do what it does best, namely providing oversight rather than engaging in direct procurement of goods and services.