The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) says it is disheartening that President Edgar Lungu dismissed its report on the Mukula cartel as fake news because that drives away attention from the real problem.

And the EIA says it is bogus to allege that the NGO collaborated with some opposition political parties to produce the report because it is non partisan.

Meanwhile, the EIA has tipped government on how to end the illicit mukula trade.

EIA’s Director of Forest Campaigns Lisa Handy was speaking to Hot FM during the breakfast show.

Asked to react to President Lungu’s remarks that the EIA report was fake news and Lands Minister Jean Kapata’s threats to sue News Diggers, Handy said that was diverting attention away from the real problem.

“We are certainly disheartened by the fake news statements calling into question the thorough research and evidence. Such statements drive attention away from the real problem, the trafficking of Mukula, the devastation of Zambian forests and the devastating impact this has on the livelihoods of Zambian communities. Zambia has one of the highest deforestation rates in Africa and in the world. Like a forest governance serves to benefit only a few well connected people in high places while it robs Zambians of their natural resources without benefiting the country and its citizens. It is critical that this issue is investigated and addressed immediately before it is too late,” Handy said.

“Several sources explained to us that for each container, about US$ 15,000 was paid in bribes and other informal fees in order to transport and export the Mukula. As you probably saw, we estimated that over 500 containers were exported each year from Zambia. A US $15,000 appeared for each container, the 500 containers represent a conservative estimate of approximately US $7.5 million paid in bribes and arbitrary fees.”

And EIA refuted allegations that it collaborated with an opposition party to produce the report.

“I want to be clear that EIA in no way partnered with any political party in this investigation. This is unfortunate and spurious claim that diverts attention from the key problem; the pillaging of Zambia’s forest and the substantial amount of money that appeared to be in the pocket of a few individuals in positions of power instead of being used to solve the key socio economic problems and the environmental crisis that impacts every one. EIA is a non partisan organization in Zambia as we everywhere else in the world. We have worked for more than 30 years in countries around the globe with a goal of protecting the environment…and we will continue to do so,” Handy said.

Meanwhile, Handy suggested how government could end the illicit Mukula trade.

“We reviewed the apparent involvement of high level officials and politicians in Mukula trade. We certainly hope that the issues raised in the report will receive the serious and transparent investigations needed to bring more truth to light so that actions can be taken to end the illicit and unsustainable trade. We understand that the Zambian people have a great interest in protecting their natural resources and we hope that our report will serve to reinforce those voices championing the Zambian forests. There is also a lot of effort and good will internationally to stand by countries and their efforts to meet the challenges of unsustainable and illegal timber trade. In this regard, we can look specifically to the new CITES listings to help solve the problems. With all countries that have imported Mukula are now taking an active role in enforcement. We are thinking, in particular, an opportunity for China at the moment by far the largest market for Zambian Mukula, if China implements its CITES obligations, it cannot only change the trafficking of Mukula but end it for good,” Handy said.

She explained that the report was a result of a two-year long investigation.

“The Mukula cartel report was the result of a two year investigation conducted by EIA US according to our usual methodologies. We firstly analyzed publicly available data and information about the trade of Mukula available and extremely threatened species. We also examined already existing legislations related to Mukula, its impact and its efficacy. Our analysis shows that the timber trade between Zambia and China which had exploded in 2014 increasing six times from 2013 to 2014 alone was still extremely high in 2018 worth over US $60 million. We observed that the spike in trade was occurring despite the ban, trade and harvest on Mukula that had been enacted in 2017. So clearly, something was not right. At the same time, we observed voices growing within Zambia from citizens to local organizations and even from some parliamentarians. These voices were seeking to raise awareness about frightening Mukula trade this led us to believe that a deeper investigation was needed in order to determine if trade in Mukula was still occurring in violation of the existing ban and also how this could happen and who was benefiting from it,” said Handy.

“We went under cover and gathered unprecedented documentary evidence regarding the illicit trade we then prioritized the preparation and release of our report to coincide with the CITES listings to Mukula which came into effect at the end of November. The CITES listings is intended to prevent commercial extinctions of the species and we wanted our report findings to have the maximum possible impact to help save the species and to bring this evidence to light for the Zambian people.”