Former Minister of Transport and Communications William Harrington says it is shocking to hear Lands Minister Jean Kapata claim that allocating plots for land development in Forest Reserve number 27 is not illegal when the law is quite clear on the matter.

Last week, Kapata questioned why Harrington was so interested in protecting the land on the Forest Reserve from infrastructure development when the land had actually been excised and that various Zambians, among them ministers and members of parliament were given plots.

But according to section 19 of the Forest Act of the national Constitution, construction of houses and any other developments is not allowed in the Forest Reserve. Further, subsection D of the Act entails that local forests are created for meeting the social, cultural and economic needs of a local community.

And in a statement to News Diggers! Harrington insisted that Kapata and the Ministry of Lands were clearly in breach of the law by allocating plots for residential developments in the Lusaka East Forest Reserve.

“The statement attributed to Lands Minister Jean Kapata in the News Diggers edition of Friday, August 2, 2019, [where she is reported to have said] that it is not illegal to own a plot in Forest Reserve No 27 is shocking and unbelievable. Whilst it’s not my intention to engage Kapata through the media as I know her personally having been a nurse at Senanga District hospital [in Western Province], I have deemed it necessary to correct the misconception in her rather emotional reaction to the exposure of illegalities over Forest Reserve No 27. In her statement, Kapata has questioned my interest in the matter. My interest is to secure the livelihood of present and future generations of not only the Chalimbana and Chongwe communities but also the greater City of Lusaka through the irreparable damage being caused to the forest reserve in question,” Harrington said.

“My interest is to respect the legitimate petition signed by over 2500 members of the local community to Dr Frederick Chiluba in 1994 when I was privileged to serve as minster responsible for Environment and Natural Resources. President Chiluba signed a Statutory Instrument to re-gazette Forest Reserve No 27 because he realised the importance of the area as forming the headwaters and catchment area for the Chalimbana River which flows into the Chongwe River. The local community, peasant and commercial farmers depend on the forest reserve for survival. Those are the silent majority for whom I will ‘fight’ without fear or favour. If Kapata and our so-called ‘humble’ President are not sensitive to the plight of those citizens by de-gazetting any part of the forest reserve then it is most unfortunate.”

Harrington also disputed the claim by Kapata that less 100 hectors of the Forest had been excised leaving more that 1,000 hectors, explaining that according to evidence in his possession, 1048 hectors had been de-gazetted, thereby leaving only 716 hectors of the Forest Reserve.

Harrington insisted that Kapata and her ministry were clearly in breach of the law to have allocated themselves plots in the Forest Reserve.

“For Kapata to state that it is not illegal or criminal to own land in Forest Reserve No 27 is incorrect and misleading. If Kapata could find a bit of time to study the Forest Act and interpret it correctly, she would discover that the said Act prohibits infrastructure development in a forest reserve. Needless to say, forest reserves, as the name implies, are created and gazetted as such for good reasons. For ease of reference by Kapata, the Forest Act provides at section 19 that ‘…all land comprised in a Local Forest shall be used for conservation and development of forests for – (a) the security of forest resources; (b) the protection of ecosystems, particularly the protection of and and water supplies of local strategic importance; (c) the utilisation of forest resources at the local level; and (d) meeting the social, cultural and economic needs of the local community’,” he insisted

And Harrington said he was ready to meet Kapata in court if she continued threatening those questions the illegal land allocation in the Forest Reserve.

“I am pleading with Kapata to simply answer my letter of a few days ago serve on her Permanent Secretary seeking clarification on a few matters regarding Forest Reserve number 27 instead of threatening legal action. She must realize that that I have at no time accused anyone of corruption, but have said it is considered opinion that there is corruption in the manner plots have been allocated to a few selected individuals. But if she decides to carry out her threat against me, she is most welcome as it will give me an opportunity to expose the corruption in the public interest. I am confident that the people whose interests I serve will prevail,” said Harrington.

Meanwhile, Chalimbana River Headwaters Conservation Trust (CRHCT) secretary Robbert Chimambo said the Forest Act was categorical on what could and what could not happen in a Forest Reserve.

“What she’s saying is not true. Why do we call it a protected Forest Reserve? It’s because we protect it. We have two types of forests, one is a Production Forest. Production in the sense that you can harvest firewood and you can make charcoal on a sustainable basis. The other one is a Protection Forest like Forest Reserve 27, it’s protected. It is the same thing like the Zambezi River, it’s protected. The Lungwa in Nyika plateau there is a Forest Reserve, it’s protected. Why is it protected? Because it is a source of a river. All sources of rivers, especially big rivers, they create what is called Protected Forest Reserves. So you cannot do and put housing estates in a Protected Forest Reserve, it defeats the whole purpose of protecting the source of the river. So I think if this is what the minister has said then let’s read the Act again and the Act will guide her,” said Chimambo.