By Shalala Oliver Sepiso
The doomsday merchants want us to believe that it is UPND which has closed Indeni and just recently put it on care and maintenance. Unfortunately, the gullible and those who should know better are engulfing this hook, sinker, float, line, bait and whole tackle! The truth is far from this. Indeni has not received crude oil for almost a year. Indeni last received stock for processing last year. And it was closed by the PF.
But before I explain that and do some fact-checking on Indeni, allow me to digress and discuss the propaganda wars between UPND and PF. UPND folks have always wanted to project themselves as the educated and managerial types and they also want to look at the PF folks as the ‘not-so-educated’ types. The truth, however, is that the UPND is full of the theoretical types while PF is full of practical, shrewd, cunning and streetwise types. It’s a mismatch. As a result, PF is usually two steps ahead of UPND in the propaganda wars. UPND are always on the defensive even when they are the ones on the right side of things. Even before the elections they used to be defensive. How did the ruling party – the PF – keep the opposition on the defensive? They did this by setting the agenda. How do you set the agenda? You do so by starting a topic and sustaining it with different commentators to the point where people can’t ignore it. When I was a senior editor at The Post newspaper, I learnt a lot about agenda setting. And propaganda for that matter. Sometimes I would come up with a headline and storyline and just look for a source hapless enough to play along. And, voila! I have a scoop!
Back to the topic…. so this past week, the PF came up with some lies and an agenda about Indeni. The lies were in varied forms but it was mostly broken down as follows:
1. UPND has just closed Indeni.
2. Indeni was profitable and didn’t need to be closed.
3. Jobs at Indeni will be lost.
4. UPND are good at privatisation.
5. Indeni is being sold.
6. TAZAMA is insecure and will be vandalised.
7. And so on and so forth.
The PF sustained these lies with different angles that were then commented on by different PF members and surrogates. The first lie was by Emmanuel Mwamba who claimed that the UPND had just closed Indeni. This was sustained by many.
What are the facts?
The truth is that Indeni was closed in the last week of April 2021 by the PF government. Indeni was then reopened for elections in July and then closed in early August. The UPND government found the plant already closed. It has just continued with keeping it on care and maintenance.
To expand on this, one has to understand that Indeni last received crude oil (comingled crude) in December 2020. When crude comes into Indeni from TAZARA, it usually lasts for between 3 months and 6 months. It is not like the pipeline keeps pumping continuously. So, the December consignment was processed from December until it finished in early March 2001. Indeni was then closed in April. This followed a period where Indeni reportedly had not received crude for over 90 days – the longest period in the last decade. This means that for the whole year of 2021, Indeni has not received any crude oil for processing. However, for the sake of the elections, the PF government instructed Indeni to keep some of the December 2020 consignment for processing ahead of the voting so that there was going to be no shortages which would have been detrimental to the PF. So, in July, Indeni was opened for a few days. They flushed some crude which they had kept in the pipeline and tanks. This was processed and used for 21 days. Strategically for the elections. Then the plant went back to its state of care and maintenance.
The only mistake the UPND have made is to make it sound like they had closed Indeni when Indeni was already closed. Again, this boils down to the UPND not having a street-savvy media juggernaut. All the UPND needed to do was highlight the fact that the PF had already decided to go the route of importing finished products and they engaged OMCs to do this. The UPND should have shown how all current supply contracts, all subsidies on fuel, and basically the whole status quo is as was when the PF left office. This is the same thing which happened with fertilisers where the PF, who contracted Alpha to supply fertilizer, now flipped and said UPND gave that contract because Mr. Jangulo, the owner, is the husband to the Information Minister Chushi Kasanda.
Not in any way fortuitously, Bowman Lusambo then came in with his own share of lies. Firstly, he said that UPND was abandoning those employed at the Indeni plant and many jobs would be lost. Secondly, he claimed that the jobs ti be lost were 700. Facts here will show that Indeni employs only 339 people and this was confirmed by Indeni Petroleum Refinery managing director David Lungu when he told ERB board chairperson Monde Kabwela on 16th June 2021 that Indeni has 339 jobs. (Check Daily Mail 17th June 2021 edition or google “Indeni in rethink mode”) So why is Bowman exaggerating by doubling the Indeni workforce? Dramatic effect to make UPND appear callous and inconsiderate…. “Ba UPND bavichitilamo, siba keyaring’a!” But more importantly, I am not saying that losing 300 jobs is better than 700. I am just saying the former minister is dishing out fake figures. Was he doing this as a minister a few months ago?
Another lie is that Indeni will be sold. This was posted by Sunday Chanda. Has cabinet sat to agree that Indeni will be sold? No. For now, The UPND government is only putting Indeni on care and maintenance until a viable plan is made. So jobs are safe. The UPND government has not told us if they will go the route of a PPP arrangement where an equity partner is found to pump in what is needed to make the plant operate optimally. But who said UPND isn’t looking at finding at equity partner to reinvest in it in future when money allows? Right now, there are lots of loans to be serviced and GRZ can’t invest the more than USD500m needed to recapitalise Indeni. Indeni is 42 years old! It needs rethinking to have it operate optimally. In short, Indeni is not being sold or privatised. No announcement to that effect has been made. This means that it is a lie that jobs will be lost. The UPND is on record that no Indeni job will be lost. All Indeni employees will be kept or reassigned to TAZAMA or other jobs that will be created in the transformation.
Then there was the lie by Kasonde Mwenda that Indeni is a profitable entity and needs to keep running. Indeni can’t be profitable now when its throughput is zero irrespective of its capacity. Indeni closed. It was closed by PF, It is income is zero. How can it make profit with no turnover? Mwenda circulated a copy of a story showing a dividend to the government of K31m in 2019. That is two years ago! Where are the dividends for 2021 or even 2020? Anyway, what Mwenda needs to understand is that Indeni is not run to be profitable. Being profitable is good for sustainability. But government is not in business to make money. That is the job of the private sector. Government provides services to the general public. Consequently, Indeni is run for its strategic role in energy security of the nation. It has always been run whether profitable or not. However, Mwenda needs to realise that Indeni can be profitable whilst being expensive to run and whilst affecting GRZ’s liquidity. Indeni can be profitable while raising the pump price of fuel. Indeni has been put on care and maintenance because the cost of fuel when imported is lower than when processed by Indeni. Passing on the cost on end-users won’t help the situation unless government continues with debilitating subsidies.
Then we have other PF members like Katimba Chisanga suggesting that thieves should go and puncture the pipeline and try and steal diesel once the Tazama Pipeline starts being used to bring in low-sulphur diesel. Good luck to you guys. But these guys seem not to realise that the diesel won’t run every day. With proper storage this can be done reduced to mere days per year. That element of surprise alone can help with security. Further Indeni historically had two helicopters that used to fly along the pipeline dropping repair crews and security personnel. These can be brought back for security patrols. Clearly a lot of jobs will be created for the security and maintenance of the pipeline.
*I leave the other lies by PF and fact checking to the rest of the 2.8m to handle in comments and in other platforms this will be read or shared. Niitumezi sha!*
PS. Whatever the UPND do, they should not affect the smooth running of both Indeni Football Club and Indeni Roses FC who ply their trades in the respect super leagues for males and females in Zambia.