In May 2016, the people of Zambia were told that the Saudi Arabian government had made an offer the government of Zambia could not refuse – concessional oil prices.
This was as a result of Zambian diplomacy headed by Zambia’s Ambassador to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia Ibrahim Mumba and a two-day state visit to Saudi Arabia between 16th to 18th May, 2016 by President Edgar Lungu and his delegation.
The much celebrated visit was not only sung as a success, but also as a justification of taxpayer’s money in travel and delegation costs.
Though touted as an achievement and a reason people should give a new mandate to a ‘doing President’ in the elections that followed three months later in August 2016, 21 months have now passed and gone yet the Saudi generosity seems to have eluded us.
It was reported then that the Saudi Arabian government, through the Saudi Fund for Development, had offered a US$20 million revolving fund to supply cheap oil to Zambia and reduce domestic fuel prices FOR THE NEXT FIVE YEARS (including 2018).
The oil money, which was being offered at a 3.5% interest, was meant to reduce Zambia’s fuel prices which at the time were one of the highest in Southern Africa, with a liter of petrol in Zambia then being sold at around K10 (US$1).
ZANACO (formerly the Zambia National Commercial Bank) was reported then to be in talks with the Saudi Fund to help in the payments for the deal.
Neither the Energy Minister nor government spokespeople have explained to the Zambian public why we have not benefited from this offer.
As has been announced by the Energy Regulation Board (ERB) motorists will wake up to new pump prices for fuel on Tuesday 13th February, 2018 after the statutory body increased petrol prices to 13.75 kwacha ($1.41) per litre from 12.97 kwacha, while that of diesel has risen to 12.01 kwacha per litre from 11.09 kwacha.
The extent of Saudi generosity did not end there. Earlier, Saudi Arabia had offered to build a US$100 million specialist hospital for women and children – The King Salman Specialist Hospital, named for Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdhulaziz – to help in the reduction of infant and maternal mortality rates.
The 800 bed hospital was expected to be based in a densely populated urban area but progress on the project has been allegedly delayed by the Zambian authorities who are yet to agree to the Saudi terms and conditions.
Strangely, last month in January 2018, President Lungu called on the Saudi Fund for Development to help in addressing Zambia’s ‘challenges’ that have hindered the implementation of the project. This was when Saudi Fund Managing Director Yousef Albassom called on him at State House on a follow-up visit on the matter. Exactly what are those challenges?
The Saudis on the historic state visit by the Zambian Head of State also threw in a generous open-ended offer to buy as many as 1,000,000 goats annually from Zambia or as many as Zambia could export. Not a single goat has left landlocked Zambia for the insatiable Saudi palate and appetite for Halal goats.
The question that crosses one’s mind is are we averse to Saudi generosity? And if yes, why are we averse after courting Saudi Arabia’s attention at taxpayers’ expense?