Lusaka: Tanzania-Zambia Railway Authority managing director Akashambatwa Mbikusita-Lewanika has said there is need for re- capitalisation of the railway company as unionised press on with their strike action. The workers downed tools on Tuesday demanding the removal of Mr Lewanika and payment of leave dues that have accumulated for two years, among other demands.
Speaking at a Press briefing in Lusaka [Friday], Mr Lewanika explained that the railway firm had for a long time faced a number of challenges which he said needed immediate attention to ensure smooth operations. He said more than U$700 million was needed for the smooth running of the railway company.
'The recommended measures shall result in the improvements of TAZARA operations and infrastructure. TAZARA shall be able to source investment capital from institutions and provide the requisites for the smooth running of the authority,' he said.
Mr Lewanika said the challenges being faced by TAZARA should be addressed by the Zambian and Tanzanian governments. The challenges include the long-deferred re-capitalisation imperative, which had led to a grossly unfavourable debt/equity ratio that closes opportunities for accessing normal commercial finance and consequential lack of working capital.
He said the TAZARA Act 1995 should be reviewed for the purpose of improving chances for engaging strategic partners or other options for private sector participation in investments, management and overall corporate governance.
Mr Lewanika also the position of Zambian managing director of TAZARA was only attainable if it enjoyed absolute and active political support of the Zambian Government. 'It also demands that the Zambian Government must live up to the full measure of its shareholding financial backup responsibilities by immediately taking action to strengthen TAZARA’s financial base and paving the way for significant fresh investment into its operations,' he said.
He said he was ready to step down as managing director to make room for whoever the new Government may wish to appoint to the position.
Meanwhile, Mr Lewanika said the September salaries that were outstanding to the workers had now been paid. 'During the month of August, due to various reasons including some hiccups over the implementation and customer reactions to a board-sanctioned upward revision of freight charges, the level and inflows of revenue were adversely affected. As a result difficulties were encountered in mobilising end of September salary payments,' he said.
In another development, a police officer, two employees of Railway Systems of Zambia (RSZ) and a fitter have been arrested for allegedly siphoning fuel from a locomotive engine at TAZARA Chozi Railway Station, reports ZANIS. This comes barely days after unionised workers at the same station decided to go on an indefinite strike to press for the arrest of three police officers who were allegedly involved in the theft of copper cathodes valued at K8 million.
The strike action affected operations and the smooth running of goods and passenger trains from New Kapiri Mposhi station and Dar-es-Salaam in Tanzania.
TAZARA police officer commanding Richard Ngenda confirmed the theft of fuel from a locomotive engine and the subsequent arrest of the four in Nakonde yesterday. Mr Ngenda said TAZARA police at Chozi Railway Station arrested the police officer, RSZ staff and the fitter for allegedly stealing 100 litres of fuel from a locomotive engine.
He said the siphoning of fuel took place in the depot within Chozi Railway Station premises on Monday, and that the four suspects were currently detained at Nakonde Police Station as they wait to appear in court.
But the workers at Chozi Railway Station have pressed ahead with their protest, demanding the arrest of the police officers they suspect to have stolen copper cathodes.
TAZARA Workers’ Union joint council member, Francis Bwalya, who confirmed the protest, said the workers would only resume work after the police officers had been arrested. Mr Bwalya said four TAZARA workers from the operations department who were arrested in connection with the theft of the copper cathodes were innocent.
And TAZARA has reassured the public that despite the withdrawal of labour by unionised workers in some stations, operations were going on smoothly as management had instituted contingency measures to make certain that operations continued without interruption. This is according to a statement from TAZARA public relations manager, Conrad Simuchile released to the Times yesterday.