CSOs JOINT PRESS STATEMENT ON MUKULA TRADE
For Immediate Release
05th January, 2018
JOINT PRESS STATEMENT ON MUKULA TRADE
We would like to begin by wishing all Zambian citizens a prosperous and progressive 2018. As organizations (ActionAid Zambia, Centre for Trade Policy & Development, CUTS International and CSPR), we are however sad to note the fact that this particular year has started off with very worrying signs in terms of the country’s governance, especially as it relates to transparency and accountability by those charged to manage our country’s resources.
A few days ago, a number of youths rose up to demand for accountability and answers on the continued exportation of the high value Mukula tree despite the ban by the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources. Just like those youths and many other Zambians, we are deeply concerned and saddened with the levels of impunity and of the disregard of our own laws and regulations, especially by senior government officials who have been reported to have continued to harvest and trade the Mukula despite the ban. The recent allegations as exposed by the youths that some senior Government and State House officials are involved in the harvesting and trading of the Mukula tree must be investigated.
Over the past few months, much has been said about putting in place measures to curb the indiscriminate harvesting of timber and the Mukula tree in particular. Last year the Minister of Lands and Natural Resources, Hon. Jean Kapata banned the cutting down and sell of any hardwood in Zambia and that included the Mukula tree. We are aware that the Minister announced that ZAFFICO would auction any seized Mukula tree however, the recent incident has exposed the sad reality that some government officials have continued to harvest and trade in the Mukula tree.
The explanation by the Joint Operation Committee on the Mukula tree that the youths intercepted is indeed an insult to the collective intelligence of Zambians.
We demand answers to the following questions;
- When was the auction sale for the seized Mukula logs held?
- In whose names was the Mukula logs being exported to China?
- In whose accounts was the money from the Mukula auction deposited?
The Mukula tree just like other resources belongs to the Zambian people and not a special group of people or political party. It’s harvesting and trade should therefore benefit all Zambians and not just a few pockets for the privileged few.
It was our considered view that Government was putting in place measures to manage the resource from illegal exploitation and harvesting so that a broad based mechanism would be put in place to ensure that all proceeds are harnessed to the national treasury.
Alas, instead of instilling hope in the majority of citizens who are dependent on the natural resources for survival, there are continued reports implicating government departments and officials in the illegal trading of Mukula. We remain deeply concerned that despite the vast endowment, the country has failed to take advantage of certain sectors that give us a comparative advantage to improve the quality of life for our citizens. Indeed the poor management of not only the timba sector, but of many economic sectors has continued to be a concern for us.
Regarding the measures that have been imposed in the timba sector, we are also concerned with the blanket, ad hoc ban on the export of all forms of timber by the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resource Development at a time when demand for the commodity is high. Unless there is indeed a strategy to address the issues that are concerned, ad hoc export bans have been proven to perpetrate the illegal smuggling of commodities. Indeed the situation with the Mukula tree has proved to be no different has been clearly reflected by what we have seen in recent events.
Strategically implemented, the imposition of this ban would have been an opportune time for Zambia to empower the local business men and women involved in the production and export of timber as well as an ideal time, for the government to consider how best to leverage the potential of our timba sector to bring in much needed revenue through forex to finance local development. To do so however, would have needed a specific time frame, a clear work plan and a requisite investment into the sector.
In delivering a ministerial statement in parliament in June last year, the Minister of Lands and Natural Resource Development, Honorable Jean Kapata stated that the following measures , among others, were been implemented in the sector;
- Suspension of export of round wood or logs of any timba trees species including Mukula tree
- Ban of the transit of trucks carrying round wood or logs of various indegiouos tree species from other countries through Zambia as contained in statutory instrument (SI) No. 31 of 2017. This measures is aimed at curbing the illegal harvesting of trees in Zambia which are being purported to have been harvested in the neighboring countries on transit through Zambia
- Prohibit the movement of round wood or logs for over 100 km from concession license areas in accordance with SI No. 50 of 2016. This measure was aimed at promoting value addition within the concession and surrounding areas, thereby, creating jobs.
From the above highlighted measures, we would like to request the Minister to give us an update of the total number of jobs they have created from the time they initiated the ban? With regards to value addition, can we have the names and numbers of local saw millers that have been empowered and benefited from the ban? We know that there are also genuine private sector players that have been crowded out of this business, we would like to know the total number of private sector business players that have been sent out of business as a result of this policy direction taken, especially that there are some who have been inconvenienced even after having authentic documentation.
It is not shocking that illegal harvesting and smuggling of the tree has continued despite these pronouncements as indeed these are some of the repercussions of extended ad hoc export bans. Our biggest concern however is that at the center of this trade it is politically exposed individuals who are reportedly benefiting from this business.
As stated we demand an immediate investigation as to who is involved in this Mukula trade. Why have the law enforcement agencies been inactive in investigating who might be at the center of this scandal in our country?
With regards to revenue through taxation, we are afraid that due to the poor management of the sector, this may turn out to be a missed opportunity for the country to cash in and our local business players to raise some income. The recent incident has been disappointing and shameful; we have seen ZAFFICO and the Ministry of Defense coming to the defense of what has been perceived as illegal transactions. We are not 100% convinced this is genuine defense but we strongly suspect that these institutions are trying to cover up. As a matter of transparency, can ZAFFICO publish its revenue from Mukula tree since it is the one mandated to dispose of confiscated Mukula trees? With all that value in Mukula, the local people who have protected the Mukula tree for about 80 years before reaching full maturity are left with nothing apart from the consequences of deforestation. Government cannot even build a market for our women and young people to decently conduct their business and yet the natural resource is coming from their communities.
Why should we be pleading with international lending institutions such as the International Monetary Fund when we could raise these resources on our own locally?
We challenge government to come out clean around the Mukula business.
We further urge the Government to avoid rhetoric and put in place measures that will benefit this country in terms of revenue for improved public service delivery. The country should not continue to make rules and regulations that are aimed at duping the masses while the few connected to the powers that be enrich themselves at the expense of the majority poor. Zambia is endowed with rich natural resources that if well managed would benefit the country and reduce the high poverty levels. We therefore appeal to President Edgar Lungu to immediately address this issue and stop the illegal trade.
ISAAC MWAIPOPO NALUCHA NGANGA ZIBA
Executive Director Country Director
CHENAI MUKUMBA KRYTICOUS P NSHINDANO
Centre Coordinator Executive Director
CUTS INTERNATIONAL CSPR