We have sold NRDC to AVIC because of land encroachment -Julius Shawa
“Prime land of College and agric lands have been sold to Avic international
Avic International is the same Chinese company that is constructing mansions for Lungu in exchange for government tenders
Agriculture, Lands and Natural Resources permanent secretary Julius Shawa on Friday struggled to justify the rationale behind the sale of the Natural Resources Development College in Lusaka to Avic International.
Appearing before the Parliamentary Accounts Committee chaired by Kaputa member of parliament Nexus N’gonga, Dr Shawa had a tough time clarifying the movement of the college to Mumbwa.
It is reported that the government has sold the Natural Resources Development College (NRDC) to a Chinese construction company, AVIC International, who intend to develop the land.
Other reports indicate that the NRDC land will be developed into a shopping mall.
But after being quizzed by various members of parliament constituting PAC, Dr Shawa ran his mouth dry explaining why such a viable college sitting on prime land would be ‘sold’ to foreign investors.
“Regarding the issue of NRDC, let me state that the ministry has not sold the NRDC land. What we have done is to fully take stock of the current situation with regard to NRDC and what has emerged overall over that land is that if you recall going back the years, NRDC also had a big piece of land called the ranch, which is now called Obama and has been turned into a compound basically, that was NRDC land. What NRDC has been left with is the one along Great East Road,” Dr Shawa said.
“It wasn’t a sale as such. Having looked and assessed the current situation where infrastructure is dilapidated, even the land on Great East Road, apart from dilapidation of the infrastructure, there has also been an encroachment from Mtendere compound there. In fact, the college said ‘Look, let’s put a wall fence (sic) to make sure that no more land is taken, people were just encroaching and building nearer to the college.”
He was tongue-tied and ended up revealing that the college land’s ‘new owner’ would build a new campus in Mumbwa.
Shawa confirmed that the new owners of NRDC, Avic International, would build a new school on the 1,160 hectare land given to it by chief Shakumbila in 2010.
“As we looked at that and the offer that the ministry was given, chief Shakumbila in Mumbwa gave a thousand plus hectares of land, 1,160 hectares if I recall the figure…yeah 1,160 hectors was given by chief Shakumbila in 2010 somewhere there to say ‘look, this land is available and if you want to do agriculture issues, I think the land is available’. So what we did was to look at that land in Mumbwa and said look this is a very big piece of land and NRDC is an agriculture college so they should have land where they can do experiments, do trials and things like that,” he explained.
Shawa revealed that his ministry had been receiving offers to sell the land but neglected to inform the committee why it settled to enter into a memorandum of understanding with AVIC International.
He maintained that the college had not been sold but the ministry merely signed a MoU, which was a note of intent.
“Having looked at that offer, we said look, this is an opportunity and one of the partners came along and said ‘look, can we enter into some Memorandum of Understanding’ which we signed.
The Memorandum of Understanding is basically the intent where the partner says ‘look, I am prepared to build a brand new campus, NRDC campus, if we can be allowed to invest on the prime land that is NRDC currently’,” Shawa said.
“Basically, the MoU was signed last year, we are still waiting for the planning because the catch on that MoU was that the NRDC students and lecturers wont move until a brand new state of the art NRDC is built on the Mumbwa land, so that is the catch. We are waiting of course to see if that is going to come to fruition. Let me say that the Memorandum of Understanding was simply an expression of interest. Let me also highlight that, that piece of land, as a ministry, over the last five or so years we have received a lot of enquiries from various would be investors. Others would come and say, ‘look, I want to build a hotel, that is prime land, that is land going to the Airport and beyond so can you allow us build a hotel’ but we would say ‘no’.
Others would come that we want to build a hospital while others asked for a shopping mall there but we said no, we are not giving this land up. So that issue of safeguarding the land, yes it’s been but let me state once again that definitely we are aware in terns of dilapidation, it’s prime land so all manner of people have been asking and inquiring if they can acquire that land.”
He said AVIC International had indicated that it was ready to develop the NRDC land and the condition in the MoU, which he insisted was not a sale, was for it to build a new campus in Mumbwa where students would be relocated for them to learn agriculture in a conducive environment.
Shawa informed the committee that the Mumbwa piece of land was well secured by the Ministry who had built structures awaiting the new owner of the Great East Road campus [AVIC International] to move on site.
“As we speak on the Mumbwa land, we are working closely together with our colleague at the Ministry of Livestock and Fisheries who are fencing that land in Mumbwa and have put up a few, one or two houses just to make sure we safeguard it. That’s the status honourable in terms of NRDC land,” Dr Shawa said.
Not satisfied with his explanation, the members of PAC came back with a series of follow up questions, which Shawa struggled to explain.
Chama South member of parliament Davison Mungandu asked for clarification on the NRDC memorandum of understanding.
“PS you have mentioned that interested parties came to identify the value of NRDC land, we are also aware that NRDC acquired 1000 hectors in 2010, that’s what you said and their plan was not necessarily to move that campus to Mumbwa; instead they thought of the security situation, they are facing there. And this foreign company that is interested, AVIC in particular, what would stop them tomorrow to say University of Zambia land is smaller so can we build you another university, now maybe in Kafue and they get it? Later they will come to Levy Mwanawasa land saying this land is also smaller considering that these are foreign entities, particularly AVIC, we all know that that is a Chinese Military wing. Are we not indirectly surrendering our own sovereignty? Did anyone approve of such initiatives or it’s just you ministry technocrats who thought of going in that MoU? I need that clarification,” asked Mungandu.
Others that demanded answers from Shawa were Ndola Central, Nangoma and Chilubi members of parliament Emmanuel Mulenga, Boyd Hamusonde and Rosaria Fundanga respectively.
Fundanga said it was shameful for the government to say they were moving a college because it had run down infrastructure. She called for a responsible approach towards maintaining structures in the country.
The members of parliament quizzed Shawa on the logic in building a new structure after failing to maintain the existing one. Others also demanded to know why the foreign investor was not given the land in Mumbwa rather than the existing school, which was in a prime area.
“You want to agree to surrender that prime land to foreigners instead of foreigners going to Mumbwa? Right now, we the Zambian people are agitating to grab land from the foreigners and you want to give them that prime land. You tell us, we want to hear a genuine excuse; why you want to put that AVIC there,” said Hamusonde.
In his response, Shawa said, “In terms of the involvement of the college management, yes, they were involved. Yes, honourable, it is less costly to maintain the structures that I indicated are dilapidated but the partner that has come in to offer this, where we signed the MoU said they are willing to build that infrastructure without government contribution; really that’s the catch.
They are going to put up a brand new campus without government resources and they will themselves put up a financial centre there, maybe a hotel; those are some of the plans that are in the MoU but it was a trading basis that ‘we will build for you at no cost to government, so can you allow us put up some brand new investment on that land’. That is what is in the MoU in terms of NRDC land. What I can say for now is that the details of the cost benefit analysis is not done. The memorandum of understanding is simply a broad kind of…eeeeh, expression of intent. That’s what it is, it doesn’t go into the details of what would be the cost if we had to renovate and or cost of construction. We also looked ahead, the campus now has to grow, and the student population has grown over the years. We told them that we have to look at the given number of students, so the campus that will be built will have to look at the future.”
A memorandum of understanding is a formal agreement between two or more parties. MOUs are not legally binding but they carry a degree of seriousness and mutual respect, stronger than a gentlemen’s agreement.