Unpopoular Opinion – Lungu Can Revoke Lower Zambezi Mining License

[By Lang’a Moené]

Why this is a debate, at all, I wonder. A foreign company has been given the go ahead to develop an open pit mine in the lower Zambezi National Park. Whoever came up with the idea of mining in a national park must not be thinking very straight. This is when you realise that un uh at this rate, kwasala chabe ku gulisa Victoria falls for real.

I know you’re asking, what about the judge who gave the go ahead? Is he not concerned about the environment, and our wildlife? I find that the judge in this case was put in a very difficult position. Because ruling on this matter had already been passed in 2015, and the appeal had remained pending since then. And as you know, they say justice delayed is justice denied.

It is a shame however that the current judge did not rule on the actual substance of the case, but instead relied on technicalities to remove the injunction which was acting as a stay of a ruling passed by another judge, Justice Isaac Chali, who sadly has since passed on.

By now we have all been reminded that it was then Minister of Lands, Environment and Natural Resources, Harry Kalaba who gave the Australian company the green light to mine in the national park. Kalaba is now in the opposition, and in case you were wondering how he feels about the matter as at today, he has been quoted in the media alleging that that decision was made collectively by, according to him, “the entire cabinet chaired by late president Michael Sata.”

The reality is this, Cabinet quorum is simply, the President and one other member. Where those two or three gathered, agree on a course of action, all the other members of cabinet are bound to that decision under the code of collective responsibility. Key point to note is that in awarding the license, Mr Kalaba went against the advice of the Zambia Environmental Management Agency (ZEMA), which said No to mining in the game park.

Enter Sylvia Masebo, Why? Because she was the Minister of Tourism at the time, so the game parks and other such tourism sites were under her ministry. There was a select parliamentary committee constituted to deliberate on this matter, where Ms Masebo reportedly voiced her strong opposition against the plan to develop an open pit mine in the lower Zambezi.

While today Kalaba may claim that the entire cabinet was behind his decision, the facts show clearly that there was dissent from at least one cabinet member, whose opinion by the way, I feel, should have carried the most weight given that the area to be developed fell under her ministry.

Her opposition voiced in the select committee became subject of a parliamentary point of order raised by Jack Mwiimbu, who on 13th February 2014, who challenged the leader of the house, then vice-president Guy Scott to provide guidance, and in effect state government’s official position, seeing as two ministers of the same cabinet were loudly on two opposite sides of the matter which was in contravention of the ministerial code of collective responsibility.

So on 20th February of the same 2014, Dr Scott told the house that Masebo had made her submission on the matter to the adhoc Committee in camera, behind closed doors therefore, her submission, if we can call it that, he said, cannot be taken as a government position. He further stated that the position of ZEMA had been overuled by the ministry which was in charge of, among other things, overseeing the functions of ZEMA. He confirmed that the government’s position was as announced by the Minister of Lands, Harry Kalaba. In summary, yes, that decision did enjoy the blessings of the cabinet.

Now, about a month after this, it was announced that Sylvia Masebo had been fired from her position as Minister of Tourism. The reason we were given is that, she had illegally fired, and overruled a decision made by the Zambia Wildlife Authority, ZAWA, an agency under her ministry.

Now, if Harry Kalaba was within his rights to overrule ZEMA, how come Masebo was fired when she overruled ZAWA, which similarly fell under her ministry? Dots, do not connect.

No matter how you look at this matter, this is a serious indictment of how our cabinet operates. So against the advice of ZEMA, the agency in charge of environmental protection, and against the advice of the Ministry of Tourism, our Cabinet – God knows how many people were in that meeting (it could have been as little as 2 for all we know) – decided that mining in a national game park was a good idea.

And then, today they are back! They want more powers.

Bill 10 wants cabinet to have the authority to sign foreign treaties and agreements without asking permission from Parliament. Bill 10 wants us to allow cabinet to take on loans without asking Parliament.

We cannot allow this. Otherwise we will be kept wondering every day ‘what are they going to sell next? The whole country, to the highest bidder?’ We would only find out when we are being evicted.

Let us remind our leaders, “Land is the heritage of all Zambians and its management and control must promote the welfare of all of us.” And while, all land in Zambia is vested in the President, it should be controlled and administered for common good of all the people of Zambia. This is key. In what ways could mining in a game park be good for the people of Zambia?

The same way cabinet had the power to award the license, if he so wished, President Lungu and one minister can sit tomorrow and resolve to cancel that license. For the common good of all Zambians.

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