Bloomberg News

Zambia’s Sata Scraps FirstRand Deal, Fueling Currency Slide

October 04, 2011

(Updates with today’s kwacha rate in third paragraph.)

Oct. 4 (Bloomberg) -- Zambian President Michael Sata yesterday scrapped FirstRand Ltd.’s purchase of a local lender and fired the board of the central bank. The kwacha fell the most against the dollar.

Sata, who defeated incumbent Rupiah Banda in a Sept. 20 election, dissolved the boards of three state agencies, including power utility Zesco, according to a statement from his office. The board of the Bank of Zambia was removed after Governor Caleb Fundanga was fired on Sept. 29.

The currency of Africa’s biggest copper producer dropped as much as 3.8 percent to 5,014 per dollar yesterday, the biggest decline since December 2008 and the most of any currency tracked by Bloomberg. It weakened 1 percent to 5,065 by 8:38 a.m. in Lusaka. Sata’s overhaul may heighten investors’ concerns at a time when copper prices have dropped 27 percent since August, undermining the economy’s outlook.

“When people come into presidential positions they bring their own people,” Yarik Turianskyi, a political researcher at the South African Institute of International Affairs, said in a telephone interview from Johannesburg yesterday. “With more moderate leaders, this is more of a moderate process.” Sata “is sending the message that he is not dependent on external powers. Obviously that is a worrying sign for investors.”

Kwacha Gains

The kwacha gained 20 percent from April 2009 to the end of last year as the economy benefited from debt cancellation in 2006, rising copper prices and inflation easing below 10 percent for the first time in three decades.

Sata, 73, has pledged to extract more money from mining companies to distribute to citizens, create jobs and fight corruption. Companies including Vedanta Resources Plc, First Quantum Minerals Ltd. and Glencore International Plc operate in Zambia.

Sata didn’t give a reason for annulling FirstRand’s 27 billion-kwacha ($5.5 million) takeover of Finance Bank Zambia Ltd.. The central bank seized Finance Bank in December for breaching financial laws and agreed to sell it to Johannesburg- based FirstRand, which had been managing it for eight months.

“We strongly believe that due process was followed and that the agreements reached with the Bank of Zambia were concluded in accordance with Zambian law,” Michael Jordaan, chief executive officer of FirstRand’s First National Bank, said in an e-mailed statement yesterday.

John Sangwa, a lawyer for Finance Bank’s former Chairman Rajan Mahtani, said the central bank’s decision to dispose of Finance Bank’s assets was “flawed” and Mahtani was “very happy” with the decision.

Sata fired the country’s anti-corruption chief and three senior aides two days ago. Last week he removed the directors of the Energy Regulation Board and appointed an inquiry to investigate reports of alleged corruption in the procurement of oil.

--Editors: Nasreen Seria, Antony Sguazzin

To contact the reporters on this story: Andres R. Martinez in johannesburg at amartinez28@bloomberg.net; Anthony Mukwita in Lusaka via Johannesburg at gbell16@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at barden@bloomberg.net


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