Chiengi FDD member of parliament Given Katuta says government’s reasons for extending the fishing ban are flimsy and unconvincing.
At a media briefing at Parliament building, Monday, Katuta charged that some government officials had interests in large fishing companies.
“You may want to recall that all fishing areas in this country, with the exception of Lake Kariba, are closed to fishing from December 1 to the 1st of March the following year. To effect this ban, the Minister of Fisheries and Livestock issues a Statutory Instrument, and according to the Fisheries Act No. 22 of 2011 of the Laws of Zambia it is an offence to either engage in fishing activities or to be in possession fish during the period of the ban.
In my view, the Government has a well-founded and defensible reason for implementing the fishing ban annually. Since the period of the ban coincides with the breeding season, it ensures the replenishment of the fish resources which if not allowed to breed can be completely depleted. It is, therefore, my understanding that the ban is invoked in the spirit of safeguarding and protecting the livelihood of our people whose economic activity and nutrition depend on the fish water bodies which we have in the country,” Katuta said.
“However, the peculiarity with which the ban has been handled this year and its negative impact on the livelihoods of the people of Chienge has prompted me to make this press briefing. Firstly, as I have mentioned earlier, the ban was supposed to have ended at the beginning of March, but it was extended just three days prior to the lifting period. My concern is that the reasons that have been advanced for this extension are flimsy and unconvincing reasons. The big questions that need answers and redress. For one thing, this extension has not been invoked through an appropriate Statutory Instrument. For another, communique which effected this extension was not issued by the appropriate Minister but by some Provincial Government official. This irregularity not only raises eyebrows but also puts in doubt the validity and justification of this extension. For another thing, I have been compelled to wonder: For whose benefit has this extension been made? Whose interests are at play here? Secondly, the explanations that have been given to my people do not hold water and are irrational. The people of my constituency have been told that the purpose of the extension is part of the fight against the spread of the Cholera disease that has ravaged the country.”
She lamented that the prolonged fishing ban had worsened unemployment levels in her constituency.
“I want to argue, as I have said earlier, that the fish ban in this country has had absolutely nothing to do with the cholera we have in this country. Furthermore, there has been no scientific evidence that shows that fishing activities contribute in any way to the spread of cholera. Given the above, I am compiled to believe with my people that the speculations that some people in government have interests in some large fishing companies. On the basis of the reasons that I have given, I cannot afford to entertain the idea that this year’s extension of the fish ban has been done in bad faith. It cannot be allowed to go on because it is causing massive unemployment and decreased nutrition among our people in whose interest the ban was initially designed. While at the same time promoting the interests of the rich and large fishing companies,” Katuta said.
“As if that is not enough, I am wondering the logic behind this ban-extension, owing to the fact that their counterparts on the D.R. Congo side are busy fishing. There is no ‘wall-fence’ or ‘barrier’ in between Congolese and Zambian waters to block movement of the fish. The reality is that their Congolese counterparts are depleting the fish, as such the moment the ban will be lifted there will be no fish to talk about until next year. That will then promote the interests of large fishing companies like Capital Fisheries to continue distributing imported fish throughout the country. You may also wish to know that 1st March to 30th April is the best fishing time. May is very cold for our people to conduct fishing activities as the fish hide from the cold into the depth of the lake.”
And Katuta revealed that fishermen were being arrested and tortured when caught fishing.
“May I also take this opportunity to inform the nation that my people are being arrested, tortured and detained without following the due process of the law. Torture in this day and age is a serious violation of our people’s fundamental human rights. Immigration officers, Policemen, VMC and Soldiers are not only arresting and torturing our people but are also collecting un-receipted cash between K300 and K3,000 to release the fishermen who can afford,” she said.
“The people of Chienge do not deliberately want to disregard the fish ban but hunger and poverty leaves them with no choice but to find whatever means possible to feed their families. I must emphasise that corporal or any form of punishment can only be decided by the courts of law as is demanded by the laws of this country. Even if the fishermen are violating the ban, the noble thing the pro-poor government can do is to arrest them and decently bring before a court for determination of their matter. And I want to say that it is extremely upsetting to see that my people are being treated like convicted criminals. I am left speculating as to why a named immigration officer is involved in arresting fishermen. Why would the soldiers and the police use corporal punishment and force on unarmed fishermen? These are imperative questions that need to be answered by those in government.”
She asked the Ministry of Fisheries and Livestock to immediately lift the fishing ban.
“I therefore beseech the Commander in Chief of the Armed forces, His Excellency the President of the Republic of Zambia Mr Edgar Chagwa Lungu to order the men in uniform to stop extorting, torturing, brutalizing, tormenting and afflicting the people who voted for him. Your Excellency, the people of Chienge and Luapula Province voted for you without any reservation it is therefore important that you listen to their cry and attend to their challenges. As MP for Chienge, I further want to use this opportunity to earnestly entreat the line ministry and the powers-that-be to lift the extension of the fishing ban with immediate effect so that the affected people can resume their fishing activities. However, should the government insist on the fishing ban extension, the people of Chienge demand that the government must provide an alternative means of generating income for the purpose of feeding their families, and the government must instruct all schools to stop chasing pupils from schools for non-payment of any fees whatsoever in all affected areas,” said Katuta.