Transparency International Zambia (TI-Z) has express disappointment by new revelations from the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) concerning an organised network of institutional patronage behind the looting of mukula trees in Zambia.
“These fresh “Mukulagate” revelations come nearly two years after EIA’s initial report about the alleged “Mukula cartel” which implicated top government officials and politically exposed persons under the previous Patriotic Front government, “TIZ Executive Director Maurice Nyambe has said.
Mr. Nyambe said TI-Z is disappointed to learn that despite calls for investigations, the looting of Zambia’s forestry wealth continued between 2017 and June 2021 through a well-organised operation involving the Zambia Agency for Persons with Disabilities (ZAPD), the Ministry of Community Development and Social Services, the Ministry of Tourism and Arts, and the Office of the Vice President.
He states that the EIA findings indicate that the exploitation in the Milenge Settlement of Luapula Province began in 2017, when the land was obtained following the signing of a memorandum of understanding between ZAPD and the Ministry of Lands.
He said once land titles and cutting permits were secured, teams of logging contractors were reportedly hired to selectively harvest mukula under the pretext that they were clearing land for agricultural purposes.
He added that the so-called cartel later extended its land area to harvest about 10,000 trees from an area of about 50,000 hectares of land – way beyond the original permits given to ZAPD.
“According to the EIA, the operation received institutional backing from the Zambia National Service (ZNS), which facilitated the transportation and stockpiling of mukula logs at the ZNS Lwamfumu Camp, further investigation into the individuals behind the illegal trade revealed that this organised theft was allegedly linked to the family of Zambia’s former President Edgar Lungu and a Chinese-controlled Zambian company with close ties to the office of the former Vice President Madam Inonge Wina,” Mr. Nyambe said.
He has since urged the law enforcement agencies to promptly investigate the findings released yesterday by the EIA and to ensure that all perpetrators are held accountable, regardless of their political or social standing.
He also called on President Hakainde Hichilema to enforce an immediate suspension of the international trade in mukula through establishing a zero-export quota for Zambia under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
“This will allow Zambia to take stock of its forestry endowment before initiating a transparent trade that will benefit all of Zambia’s people, “He said.
TI-Z is convinced that failure to take the necessary action in response to these EIA findings will not only justify the impunity that existed in the mukula illegal trade but will also undermine the UPND government’s professed zero tolerance for corruption.