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TIZ DEMANDS ANSWERS ON MUKULAGATE SCANDAL

By KETRA KALUNGA

TRANSPARENCY International Zambia (TIZ) has demanded answers to the Mukulagate scandal involving former government officials.

TIZ Executive director, Maurice Nyambe said the government should provide details on the terms of reference of the Taskforce on Mukula established by President Hakainde Hichilema.

Mr. Nyambe said in an interview that the public has the right to know how the government through the task force plans to deal with the illegal Mukula trade.

He said in the absence of information in the public domain, it would be difficult to restore public confidence and accountability in the Mukula trade.

“TIZ is calling upon the government to provide details on the terms of reference of the Taskforce on Mukula established by the President.  “We need to know what exactly they have been doing, how they plan to deal with the illegal Mukula trade,” he said.

And TIZ in a statement issued last week called on law enforcement agencies to promptly investigate findings released by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) concerning an organised network of institutional patronage behind the looting of the endangered Mukula wood in Zambia.

The 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 government.

TIZ said it was disappointed to learn that despite calls for investigations, the looting of the country’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 statement said.

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.

The so-called cartel later extended its land area to harvest about 10, 000 trees from an area of about 50, 000 hectares 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.

TIZ called on the government to ensure that all perpetrators are held accountable regardless of their political or social standing.

The organisation in light of findings called on President 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.

This will allow the country to take stock of its forestry endowment before initiating a transparent trade that will benefit all Zambians, TIZ said.

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