Law enforcement agencies must promptly investigate findings released yesterday by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) concerning an organised network of institutional patronage behind the looting of endangered mukula wood in Zambia. All perpetrators must be held accountable, regardless of their political or social standing, Transparency International Zambia said today.
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.
Transparency International Zambia was 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 and Social Services, the Ministry of Tourism and Arts and the office of the Vice President.
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. Once land titles and cutting permit were secured, teams of logging contractors were reportedly hired to selectively harvest mukula under the pretext that they were clearing land for agricultural purposes. 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 the 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 Inonge Wina.
In light of these findings, Transparency International Zambia also calls 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 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.
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Bright Chizonde, Transparency International Zambia
T: +260 976 747 893