Former Minister of Transport and Communication William Harrington has asked Lands Minister Jean Kapata to cancel all title deeds issued for the Lusaka East Local Forest Reserve 27, saying allocating plots in that area is illegal.

And some correspondence has shown that Kapata was not being sincere when she told journalists that no one had complained to her office over government’s decision to de-gazette and give a ‘few Zambians’ plots at Forest Reserve 27.

In a statement to News Diggers, Wednesday, Harrington called on Kapata to order a stoppage of all ongoing construction works and demolition of all buildings that were going on in the forest reserve, charging that legal requirements were not followed.

“All allocation of plots in the forest reserve number 27 is a serious illegality as legal requirements were not followed. The plots were never advertised for benefit of the interested general public. No Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) regulation was undertaken and the office of the Director of Forestry, a custodian of the forests was not consulted and therefore never gave his approval. But notwithstanding the above, the ongoing developments in the forest as a result of SI number 62 of 2017 and number 13 of 2019 by President Edgar Lungu in total disregard of the petition by over 2,500 peasant and commercial farmers as the general community in the Chalimbana and Chongwe is totally unfortunate and unacceptable,” stated Harrington.

“The Forest Reserve number 27 is the headwaters and catchment area for the Chalimbana River catching into the Chongwe. The livelihood of the local people and future generations depends critically on the sustainable protection of Forest Reserve number 27. Jean Kapata has on numerous occasions stated that government commitment to environmental protection and conservation of our natural resources, which is most commendable. I have always regarded her as an ‘Iron Lady’ and I have no doubt that she will act decisively in the public and indeed national interest to serve the last surviving woodland from total destruction.”

And in a similar petition to President Edgar Lungu recently, Harrington stated that according to his search at the Ministry of Lands, Kapata and Chief Justice Ireen Mambilima also had plots on the same area.

“I was also very reliably informed that the developments are taking place when environmental assessment (EIA) has not been undertaken as by law required, without consultation with and approval of the director of forestry as custodian of all forests in the country. Some local people alleged that most of the plots have been allocated to Patriotic Front party and government officials and sympathisers. I did a search of the lands register and found that amongst the beneficiaries of the land scam are one Douglas Msimuko who was issued with certificate of title (cot) no. Ct 42491 dated 27/03/2018, Madison Life Insurance company – cot no. Ct 49696 dated 08/10/2018, one Japhen Mwakalombe (Chongwe member of parliament and current Copperbelt minister) – cot no. Ct 40301 dated 20/01/2018, one Trevor Kaunda – cot no. 32797 dated 30/10/2017, one Kaluba Dominic – cot no. 49673 dated 16/10/2018, one Irene Chirwa Mambilima (Chief Justice of Zambia) – cot no. 48914 dated 01/10/2018, one Jean Kapata (current lands and environment minister)- cot no. Ct 38295 dated 21/11/2017, Isimaka Limited – cot no. Ct 38735 dated 05/12/2017,” stated Harrington.

“Others given land titles in the area where State Lodge is located and where a new one is planned to be constructed, are Harry Findlay – cot no. 38385 dated 08/11/2017, Stephen Mwaba – cot no. 36597 dated 06/10/2017, Yetissun Zambia Limited cot no. 37078 dated, Chisha Kaunda – cot no. 36598 dated 06/10/2017, Akbar Yusuf Badat – cot ct no. 37795 dated 13/11/2017, Richard Musukwa – cot no. 39210 dated 21/12/2017, Nyangu Phiri – cot no. 4330 dated 27/04/2018, amongst others.”

And some correspondence has shown that Kapata was being insincere at the PF interactive forum on Sunday when she claimed that no one had complained to her office over the de-gazetion of the land.

In a letter dated April 15, 2019, the Chalimbana River Headwaters Conservation Trust (CRHCT), through its secretary Robbert Chimambo, asked the Ministry of Lands to halt the illegal process.

“We write to bring to your urgent attention the illegal surveying and plot demarcation being undertaken by private individuals within this Lusaka East Local Forest Reserve No 27. In addition, construction on allocated plots ha commenced on the Forest Reserve. This forest is a critical ground water and surface water recharge area and its destruction will have enormous consequences for the broader community, Lusaka and the Busoli Manyanka. Having raised this matter with the Surveyor-General and the Forest Department, we are aware that the plot surveying and allocation we first identified yesterday is being carried out without any standard regulatory approval process or the knowledge of relevant authorities,” read the letter.

“As you are aware, the local community and the Busoli Royal Establishment (BRE) through the Trust, have applied for community management status for Lusaka East Local Forest Reserve No 27 (as provided for under the new Forest Act of 2015). this is the same Forest Reserve which now is being encroached; thus frustrating our aspirations for community forest management status for this critical forest area. Through your ministry, we request that the relevant authorities attend to this matter and bring to an immediate stop all illegal forest development currently taking place in Lusaka East Local Forest No 27. Further, we request a meeting at your office next week with all the recipients of this letter to discuss the issues raised and look forward to your confirmation of the date and time.”

On June 3, 2019, Kapata wrote back to the conservation trust saying she had taken note of their concerns.

“I wish to acknowledge, with thanks, receipt of your letter of 15th April, 2019 reference No. MDA/SKW/FR27 regarding the illegal surveying and plot demarcation activities that are being undertaken by private individuals. I have taken note of your concerns and I have since instructed the Director of Forestry and the Commissioner of Lands to conduct inspection of the Forest Reserve and provide a status report on the matter. However, you may wish to know that the protected forest area was recently excised as per Statutory Instrument No. 13 of 2019. Therefore, I will only be able to schedule a meeting with you once I receive an update from the Director of Forestry,” read Kapata’s letter.

“By copy of this letter, the Director of Forestry is requested to undertake an urgent physical inspection of the Forest Reserve and provide feedback to my office. I wish to take this opportunity to thank you and the members of the Chalimbana River Headwaters Conservation Trust for your vigilance and interest in protecting the river headwaters and the environment.”