LANDS and Natural Resources Minister Elijah Muchima says cancelling title deeds in Forest 27 can only be done through a court order or by invoking Presidential powers.

In an interview, Muchima said he needed to have a good basis to re-gazzette the forest.

“I don’t want to do things without following the law and if title deeds are given, I have no power to say ‘let us cancel this title deed’ it is either through the court or the Presidential power. When a title deed is given, you cannot stand up and just say ‘cancel the title deed’. You can cancel it through the court order or you use the law, Cap 184 where the President can compulsory acquire it. And for me to recommend to the President for that action, I need to have the basis. What basis at the moment can I use? For me [to] re-gazzete it, to restrict it, I need to have a good basis,” he said.

Muchima said his ministry was looking for resources to conduct a strategic Environmental Impact Assessment on the forest, which was an expensive exercise.

“I need to have a technical report and that one from ZEMA, those are the two I can use to stay [an] action. I want to see what has been the history and what has happened and what conditions can we attach to those who can interface with human settlement and recharge, the one which is in public interest is the water recharge. Because I cannot allow people to be drinking contaminated water. If we were to allow them, they should not sink boreholes, they should do these manholes and sewer systems there, they have to connect to the main line, there has to be that condition,” he said.

“All that should come out from the technical report and it is quite expensive to do a strategic Environmental Impact Assessment but we are looking for resources somewhere through WWF. I sent them a letter to see if they can facilitate that so that we can quickly come up with the report. We have to hire experts, we are looking for financing and then we sponsor experts to give us a technical report to see what we can salvage with the human settlement around Forest 27. That is what is holding us up. And I don’t want to be resolving issues through the press. It is better if I do the correct thing. There are some people who could be innocent but they are these ones who are arrogant, we stop them from construction, they are busy constructing at night, they will meet the wrath of the law.”

Meanwhile, Muchima said his ministry wanted to do away with the Zambia Integrated Lands Management Information System because it was porous.

“I stopped re-entries because that is the source of problems, you find that a plot has three or four titles and that is what has caused problems and that is what I am looking into seriously. But we are very active with the system, the ZILMIS system became porous, they have been going in and going out using their illegal behaviours but now we want to stamp out that one by bringing in a system that will be very effective. We have called stakeholders who are helping us technically, we are discussing these issues,” said Muchima.