I’M prepared to sleep or sit in court until the next morning to fight injustices surrounding forest reserve number 27, says William Harrington.
The former environment minister said he would request the Chief Justice Irene Mambilima to institute a tribunal over the division of plots in forest reserve No. 27 by senior government officials.
Speaking at a public discussion on corruption and the state of Zambia’s economy organised by the News Diggers last Friday, Harrington indicated that the challenge of seeking a tribunal from the Chief Justice was that he had evidence implicating her over the land in question.
Harrington said the Chief Justice was the only person authorised to set up a tribunal.
“For the controversial Lusaka east forest reserve 27, a local forest, all I am saying is watch the space. We have evidence of those who have given themselves plots. I consulted LAZ (Law Association of Zambia) on how I will proceed to appoint the tribunal by asking the Chief Justice. The snag is this: how do you expect somebody to appoint a tribunal when she is an interested party? But still, the Act says you have to apply to the Chief Justice. I have no option but to apply to her. But if she wishes to recuse herself, that is her choice,” he said.
Harrington said he was fighting for the interest of posterity of the future generation of Lusaka.
He said forest 27 was the only remaining forest in Lusaka which was being plundered for personal interest at the expense of the majority citizens.
“That is what I don’t accept. I will sleep in court, I’m prepared to sleep in court if they can give me a mattress. Even if it is sitting until next morning, I will sit there in order to protect the interest of people and fight injustices against them, involving forest 27,” Harrington said.
“It’s a matter of principle. We fight for the interests of the silent majority, those who are crying out there that their forest is being butchered, the underground water is polluted. Over 120 plots. If every house is connected to the soak-away, matuvi, masipa (faeces) will go in the water that we drink and you accept? In Zambia talking is an industry now. There is talk, talk, talk. We are crying on each other’s shoulders wowowo (sobs). We need affirmative action. For me on this forest, watch the space.”
And Harrington told information minister Dara Siliya that he was not ashamed to spend much time in court to defend the interests of the voiceless against corruption and abuse of authority of office in the present and any future government.
“For me it is matter of principle and my interest as former minister of environment and natural resources is to do everything within my powers and rights to ensure that our environmental, land and water laws are respected and enforced in the public and national interest,” he said. “So if Dora wants to derail me in any way by issuing disparaging statements against me, she will not succeed. And if she, as chief government ‘spin doctor’ prefers to spend more time on corruption cover-up, that is her choice. In the meantime, Dora must watch the space and avoid making unresearched statements that may only serve to complicate matters in the proposed tribunal. The majority of people are very upset but she is not aware because she is feathering her nest in government which is making her blind and deaf.”
Mazabuka UPND member of parliament Gary Nkombo charged that individuals who acquired plots on the forest, from both the opposition and ruling party should consider surrendering them.
“It was befitting to raise that matter so that speculation is avoided. If there is any member of the opposition who has been awarded a piece of land on forest 27, which provides the head water recharge for Chalimbana river, it does not exclude it from being a wrong act,” he said. “Any transaction has a paper trail. If you go to the Ministry of Lands, there will be no speculation. I heard the Minister of Information [Dora Siliya] saying ‘we are servicing citizens; it is high-profile citizens’. The context, was procedure followed? I doubt. I am a politically exposed individual but I must say clearly that if anybody, whether in the opposition knowingly and unknowingly, was awarded a plot on forest 27, which disturbs the underground water supply for Lusaka, the befitting thing to say is ‘I did not know therefore you can have your plot back.’ That provides an answer, it doesn’t take away from the fact that it is wrong. If someone got it knowingly or unknowingly, the paper trail is at the Ministry of Lands. It’s not like the 48 houses that have no owner. Go and do a land search, they will tell you who was awarded. I think it was unethical.”
Nkombo was reacting to a concern raised by Francis Phiri that members of the opposition were beneficiaries of the corruption scam of forest reserve No. 27.
Siliya named Monze Central UPND member of parliament Jack Mwiimbu as a beneficiary.
“When we talk about corruption as a country, your focus has been on those in government. We have to be all concerned about fighting corruption by ensuring that we are all participants in fighting corruption. The trending story of forest 27, the government spokesperson had indicated that we have members of the opposition who are beneficiaries of forest 27, who are supposed to give an oversight in Parliament but they never did that and its quite worrying,” Phiri said.
Phiri also cautioned Financial Intelligence Centre (FIC) acting chairperson John Kasanga against using what he termed a ‘compromised forum’ to sensitise the public on corruption. But this did to go well with the audience who booed Phiri.