Battle lines drawn over State bank privatisation.

Author:Ntomba, Reginald
Position:Countryfile: Zambia
 
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The possible privatisation of the zambia national commercial bank, strongly urged by the IMF, has seen a massive groundswell of public opposition. Reginald Ntomba reports from Lusaka.

Despite Zambia's trade unions and civil society waging a fierce campaign against the sale of the country's three remaining key parastatals, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has insisted that they must be privatised. Initially the debate was over three parastatals - the Zambia Electricity Supply Corporation (ZESA - the monopoly power utility), the Zambia Telecommunications Company and the Zambia National Commercial Bank (ZNCB). More recently the argument has narrowed down to the fate of the latter.

Pressure from the IMF to privatise ZNCB was met with 'pockets of stiff resistance', as the Western media would say, characterised by mass demonstrations last seen two years ago when civil society rebuked former President Chiluba for attempting to run for another term of office.

Those opposing ZNCB's privatisation, especially the trade unions, argued that ZNCB was the only indigenous bank servicing the rural community, and that there was no guarantee that the new investor would maintain the rural network of branches.

They also argue that privatising the bank was unnecessary as it remained profitable, and that alternative reforms were available to address the bank's operational problems. The concern over rural branches came in the wake of the government's Letter of Intent to the IMF managing director Horst Kohler, promising that the new owner of ZNCB would not be required to maintain non-viable branches after two years.

Furthermore, the trade unions argue, any more privatisation would subject workers to more suffering even though the country had not recovered from the 'trauma' and 'bruises' of the privatisation programmes of the previous decade. So many companies have been sold, they contend, that the country could be left with no assets, a situation tantamount to re-colonisation.. "We have privatised enough and we urge Finance Minister Emmanuel Kasonde to halt the privatisation of ZNCB," said Joyce Nonde, leader of the Federation of Free Trade Unions of Zambia which led mass demonstration against the privatisation.

BANK DRAINING THE TREASURY?

The IMF, on the other hand, argues that the bank was a the drain on the treasury as it had continued advancing loans to cash-strapped firms like the now defunct Zambia National Oil Company (ZNOC) and the Roan Antelope Mining...

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