GOVERNMENT statements through the Forestry Department and the Minister of Lands and Natural Resources regarding mukula and the export ban on all timber species are in breach of the Forest Act No. 4 of 2015, says Zambia Association of Timber and Forestry secretary general Kalowa Mooto.
In a statement, Mooto stated that the government breached a number of sections of the Act of 2015 with impunity.
Referring to Article 64 of the Forest Act No.4 of 2015, Mooto stated that the minister could only ban timber exports through a statutory instrument in extensive consultation with all stakeholders.
He stated that to date, no statutory instrument existed regarding the ban on timber exports and that it was therefore not within the law and was null and void.
“During the past two weeks, a number of statements on mukula have been issued by government through Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources and Environmental Protection; Ministry of Defence; Ministry of Home Affairs; Forest Department and ZAFFICO. We wish to comment on statements by some of these institutions. Contrary to what the government, through the Forestry Department and the Minister of Lands and Natural Resources, have stated regarding mukula and the ban of export of all timber species, these statements are in breach of the Forest Act No. 4 of 2015,” Mooto stated.
He stated that following the breach of the Forest Act No. 4 of 2015, the ban was not within the law and that it would be interpreted as being intended to promote and cover illegal activities by the privileged few.
Mooto stated that according to the Forest Act No. 4 of 2015, and the terms and conditions of timber concession licenses, the restriction on mukula harvesting, transportation and trading was null and void as it was not backed by any statutory instrument.
“With reference to Article 64 of Forest Act No.4 of 2015, the minister can only ban timber exports through a statutory instrument in extensive consultation with all stakeholders. To date, no statutory instrument exists regarding the ban of timber export. Therefore, the ban is not within the law and is null and void. The ban can therefore be interpreted as designed to only promote and cover the illegal activities by the privileged few while depriving the majority Zambians who are legally entitled to participate in this sector,” he stated.
“Seizure and forfeiture of forest produce carried out by government falls under articles 82 and 83 of the Forest Act No. 4 of 2015, and article 100 is being used by the minister and the Forestry Department to cover up criminal activities.”
Mooto refuted claims that concession licence holders were contributing to deforestation saying the main drivers of deforestation were agriculture, infrastructure development, and charcoal burning.
He insisted that concession holders practiced what was called selective harvesting of timber, which was done under strict supervision of the Forestry Department.
“It is not true that the concession licence holders are contributing to the deforestation as the public has been made to believe. The truth, according to research and experience, is that the main drivers of deforestation are agriculture, infrastructure development, and charcoal burning while concession holders practice what is called
selective harvesting of timber, under strict supervision of the Forestry Department, which is the most recommended way of sustainable forest management,” Mooto stated. “We therefore sympathise with our Zambian people with timber concession licences that have been illegally robbed of their God-given right to harvest and trade in the mukula tree. The timber industry, when properly managed with involvement of stakeholders at all levels, can create more than five million jobs. We do not believe in the ban on the export of mukula and other timber species because every ban has proved to be a failure in the past as it only exacerbates more illegalities. For instance, during the 2012 ban, there were more than 4000 mukula timber containers that landed in China from Zambia. As for the 2017 ban, we are aware that about 5,000 mukula laden containers from Zambia have been exported to China.”
He maintained that the government did not follow the law when officers went into the forests and indiscriminately collected timber from both legal owners and illegal operators.
“We are also aware that people have been maimed and brutalised by those that are expected to protect them. This is unacceptable,” Mooto stated.
He stated that the government had continued to shelve and ignore several proposals made by his association on management of the timber industry.
Mooto further indicated that the amnesty that was being instituted was done suspiciously and did not conform to the terms and conditions of the timber concession licences.
“In the same vein, as an association we have made several attempts to engage with government on the management of the timber industry, and we have submitted several proposals which have been shelved and ignored…It is important to note that the association had requested for this exercise to be done way back in August of 2017 in order to prevent the timber from being burnt during the bush fires. It has taken government over five months to allow for this exercise to be conducted. We are now in the rainy season when roads are completely impassable and the forests are dense. Government has also failed to tell us what will come next after our members have hauled their timber. Hauling timber will not be done without cost implications and our members would want to not just haul the timber but sell it so that they can quickly realise their investments,” he explained.
Mooto stated that among the many proposals advanced to the government included the religious usage of the Forest Act in all operations and engagement of stakeholders at all levels of policy formulation and implementation.
He further urged the government to appoint honorary officers to help in curbing illegal activities.
Mooto stated that the government should not only worry about the rotting of legal and illegal mukula it confiscated from concession holders and illegal operators, but also be concerned about the legal concession owners whose mukula was harvested before the ban.