SW Radio Africa journalist Lance Guma speaks to Energy and Power Development Minister, Elton Mangoma, who explains the long running controversy over the Chisumbanje Ethanol Project.
Mangoma was verbally abused during a tour of the plant by villagers and war vets who accused him of forcing its closure. He says the government cannot ignore problems with the project just to enrich its owner, businessman Billy Rautenbach.
Good evening Zimbabwe and thank you for joining me Behind the Headlines. Tonight we are joined by Energy and Power Development Minister, Elton Mangoma, following developments over the weekend where press reports are saying war vets and some villagers in the Chisumbanje area verbally abused him over the Chisumbanje Ethanol Plant. Minister Mangoma thank you so much for your
Thank you, good evening.
Okay this issue has been rumbling on for quite some time - could you set the record straight and just explain to our listeners why there's this resistance to this project?
I don't think there's a resistance to the project, it's just people saying the wrong things so that they get their own positions of advantage through and that is what the major problem is, is that there are less facts that are being shared and more political hot air and when you are looking at a project of that magnitude what we need is to deal with it in a cold sober manner of fact and then set the reality that is there and balance the various interests there that need to be balanced.
Now we are being told this project will employ ten thousand workers, cut Zimbabwe's fuel import bill by two hundred thousand US dollars per day - what is wrong with that?
In fact that is what is wrong with it because that is not correct. It is misinformation which is not correct; he has already stated that he is employing five thousand people - I've simply asked him there simple way of verifying how many employees one has got.
Either give us a NSSA return which would show how many you are putting in and they failed to do so. Or give us a clear PAYE return and they've failed to do so and clearly when you go there, you'll see that the place doesn't employ that many people.
So we're not, we want people to be employed so let's not make any mistakes with it but let's not use the wrong information. The second thing is that the fuel bill of this country, I know it every day, I watch, that's what I do.
When they bring in those numbers, they are way, way, way exaggerated and therefore when you begin to push the falsehoods then some people begin to question why are you doing that? Why can you not use the proper facts? And that is the issue.
Okay just clarify for us what happened. We know Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara is chairing the inter-ministerial cabinet committee on this Chisumbanje Ethanol Project; you went there on a familiarization tour - what happened? We are hearing war vets were abusing you.
Firstly this was my second visit so it really wasn't for familiarization; it was for these other ministers I had, to have the same facts that I have got so that when we argue we are arguing on the same platform as opposed from some arguing from newspaper things and others arguing from reality on the ground.
So what then happened was, I had indicated to Professor Mutambara that we would see management at the factory. Those who wanted to tour it would then tour it and then we would go to the community and meet the people in their communes.
But however that was not what these promoters of the project wanted so the first thing they did was because I refused to go by their helicopter or aeroplane, I chose to drive because I wanted to be able to be seen as not having been influenced in any way by the investor because trust is important when you are dealing with the community and when facts are not correct, people will misread anything.
But also that we'd be able to see a lot more when I drive myself around than when I'm guarded and stopped from seeing some things that I should see. When I got to the gate they actually started harassing me which was very unfortunate but when I then said to management why am I being harassed, one of them actually said no there is nothing wrong that has been done.
But let's take that aside, when people were now getting, and said look they had bussed some people outside the gates, then others were allowed to get in so there was quite a crowd inside and why they were brought in, only God knows.
Most of these obviously would have been people who had have been coached what to say but I'm also trained to figure out when someone says something is it their own or have they been coached because I have been there before. And I have taken so many of the other things and I fully understand all the issues that are involved in this matter.
But if this plant has been closed, affecting all these workers who were working there...
Again it's a wrong impression. When people say it has been closed, you then ask who has closed it? Because that is the question that must be answered. Has a ministerial order been given that they should shut or it's like all the other businesses that are facing business problems?
So that's what people must start asking because the impression being given is that there is a certain minister who has got the power to go and shut down a plant and I don't know which minister has got those kinds of powers.
So when one has got to get the facts straight; we have and my ministry is responsible for licencing products and there's already licence for two of their products: Blend E10 which is 10% ethanol and Blend E85 which is 85% ethanol. These have already been done.
It seems here the main bone of contention is they are asking government to introduce mandatory blending of petrol to allow their project to be sustainable it would appear.
Well this is now a completely different issue now you can see so nobody has closed anybody so it must be very clear. But if you have got your own product which you have been allowed to put onto the market you cannot turn around and say my product is not being bought, now government please force everybody to buy my product, whichever product it might be.
It might be coca-cola, it might be cooking oil, it might be a t-shirt, it might be anything, so you then say - what right has anybody got to say because I am the one producing my product I must force every one else to do it on these terms as opposed to terms that are mutually beneficial to every one. That is where the difficulty is.
What's the cabinet position on this because the way this thing is being spun...
Cabinet position has said that there should be no mandatory blending, that at least cabinet has pronounced itself on. So if cabinet has pronounced itself on no mandatory blending, who then can force mandatory blending? But this is the less of the problem if I may tell you, because what has happened, unbeknown to everyone, they have taken outside of the ARDA land 3,500 hectares of communal lands, displacing over a thousand people who are now homeless.
And in a free Zimbabwe where the liberation war was fought on the basis of land, where we have seen a messy and wrong but messy implementation of land reform where land was being taken from the few whites to the majority black. Now here we have got a situation where a few Zanu PF people, nicodemously are now empowering a white person to remove the black people from their land, from their land and nobody talks about it and nobody thinks it's an issue.
Because when we are talking about development, what development is good at the national level when it is wrong at the local level? What development is there that you can say one white person should be able to enjoy money whilst exploiting the majority of the black people?
Certainly for a person like me where we fight for freedom and freedom means you can have choice, freedom means you have got respect, freedom means you will be able to enjoy your own household, you are now being party to something that is so unjust to the majority of the people.
I suppose Mr Mangoma, this is at the heart of the way the state media, or the Zanu PF controlled media are spinning this - they are saying you are an MDC minister who is sabotaging this project because the owner or the main shareholder in this project has strong links with Zanu PF.
I actually didn't know he had strong links to Zanu PF, you are telling me now but I look at business as business and justice as justice so if they think that is the question then they are actually misguided.
Maybe that's why they brought in this rowdy crowd but not that they would change the facts on the ground because we have got the people in the community where we went to who clearly indicated that they've got nothing against this plan for as long as this man does not take their land and he continues to work within the ARDA boundaries.That they have said.
Now we understand you have told them that if they are confident with their product they can export it but they seem to have problems with the exporting bit - why is that?
Well I think this is the issue that I have always said - if they can export it, if it is required in so many places, then whatever, because once you are exporting it whatever money comes in, replaces the money that is going out and therefore there is nothing.
You can't force people to simply say just do this for me, we can only do it this way because nobody has stopped them from doing anything. They can even buy all the service stations in Zimbabwe because we have liberalized everything, and sell their product through that as the only product. We will not stop them.
Okay if you were to summarize this for our listeners Mr Mangoma - what are the main problems with this project? Just in summary, in point form, what are the problems?
I'll just give you - it is wrong as follows: the first is that they have kicked out and taken land from the people, from their communal areas, this has got to be restituted.
When they were taking that crop, they were ploughing down their crops and there's been no compensation given. This is manifestly unjust, 32 years after independence and for it to be perpetrated by Zanu PF, people must know that this is duplicity of the highest order.
The second issue is that when we are talking of mandatory blending, then we need to balance the interest of the investor and the interest of the public who pay for the fuel and the issues that come in is (1) the issue of price.
The price that this product should be sold at must be the internationally acceptable price and we have indicated that the price that it should be sold at is 70 cents and a maximum of 76 cents because that is the international benchmark. Anything above that is extortionist.
The second thing is that and also because there is a low calorific value of ethanol for them to say they would sell ethanol at a dollar when in fact the cost of petrol before duties and everything else is actually just around a dollar and it was only in the last few weeks it was much lower. There is no justification for it.
Thirdly there are vehicles and gadgets that do not use blend. They have indicated that they will be able to put in the convertors but there is no logistical framework even today that anyone can talk about - this is how you'd do it and therefore all it is, is that the mandate is given and people's vehicles are destroyed and they've got no recourse to anyone.
They might have actually recourse to me because if I'm the one who'd have done it, that's the person they will see and I think when you now look at just those factors, it is something that can be sorted out and it's something that can be corrected but if it is an insistence that somebody must profiteer at the expense of everyone else that clearly is not acceptable.
Okay so what has the ministerial cabinet committee on this project done? Have you laid these as the conditions for them to adhere to? Where are you at this stage?
No, no, we are simply gathering the facts. The facts are that we need to be able to see whether it is true or not that people have had their land taken and they've not been compensated for. That must be a fact that must be established.
Two, we already know the price that they are selling it is a dollar which is at least 26 cents above the acceptable price. Who is enjoying the difference between the international accepted price and that dollar? And in fact the reason why they are not wanting to export is that nobody would pay above that price of 76 cents.
So they know that and everyone knows that so to try and give any other reason is false because that is the price that they will export it. So we were simply trying to make them prove that this product cannot have any other price except 70 to 76 cents.
My final question for you Mr Mangoma, some say that the fact that this project is a joint venture between two private but local companies that include the state owned ARDA, is that not enough to justify government help in this project alone?
No it's not even correct because also unbeknown to many people, they signed what we call a BOT Agreement with ARDA on the back without any of government knowing about it and this is an arrangement that should have been sanctioned by cabinet and we were already part of that cabinet when this thing was signed and it didn't happen but that is not the issue.
They put in a BOT that they will transfer whatever in 20 years time. But also when they were putting in this plant they now put it outside of ARDA land so that after the 20 years, ARDA will simply get its land back and nothing else. So that's how deceitful it is all this thing.
So it's those facts that must be put on the table so that everybody who looks at it understands that there is more spinning than fact and that we must deal with facts to be able to make this thing go. We cannot base it on chicanery. So those are the issues that I think the task force will look at and then say what is the best way forward.
Let me slide in one more question; we know there's a coalition government in power, at cabinet level, is there a meeting of minds between the three political parties or the parties are haggling over this also?
NO, no I don't think so, you see this is the issue I'm trying to put in - that we like the development but the development must not prejudice anyone and clearly, so one cannot talk about are you agreeing, are you disagreeing, are you what, because there is no-one who has never said we don't want this development because any development is good but development must be development that is a win-win solution not at the expense of anyone.
Well Zimbabwe that's Energy and Power Development Minister, Mr Elton Mangoma, joining us Behind the Headlines. Mr Mangoma thank you so much for your time.