ZAMBIANS have expressed outrage at the continued mining activities in the Lower Zambezi National Park by Mwembeshi Resources Limited, with some stakeholders calling for protests against the government.

But Minister of Green Economy and Environment Collins Nzovu has explained that although the new dawn administration is averse to mining in the Lower Zambezi, the PF government already gave a go-ahead which is legally binding and cannot be overturned easily.

When contacted for a comment, former minister of Lands, Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Harry Kalaba who granted the mine permission, said the UPND government should stop giving excuses and reverse the status quo by appealing to the Supreme Court if they don’t support the activity.

In August 2012, the Zambia Environmental Management Agency (ZEMA), rejected an application from Mwembeshi Resources Limited to conduct mining activities in the Lower Zambezi National Park because the project was endangering the environment.

Some of the reasons which ZEMA gave were; location of the Tailings Storage facility in relation to the Mana Pools, a World Heritage Site in Zimbabwe, inconsistencies in the EIA report on the estimate life of the mine and absence of mitigation measures to avert the risks associated with the Acid Rock Drainage.

Dissatisfied with ZEMA’s decision, Mwembeshi Resources Limited appealed to lands minister, Kalaba, who then overruled the authority and gave the investor a green light to commence mining in the Lower Zambezi National Park.

In a letter dated January 13, 2013 and addressed to the Mwembeshi Resources Limited managing director, Kalaba said there were some available technologies which could address all of the project’s identified negative impacts on the environment.

“RE: APPEAL AGAINST THE REJECTION BY ZEMA OF THE PROPOSED LARGE SCALE MINING ACTIVITIES UNDER LICENCE NO. 15547-HQ-LML MEMBESHI RESOURCES LIMITED IN LUANGWA DISTRICT. I make reference to the above mentioned subject. Reference is also made to your appeal letter dated 19 September 2012 and to the various meetings and
hearings, too numerous to itemize, held between your selves, ZEMA and the Ministry of Lands, Natural Resources and Environmental Protection. I have considered carefully your submitted grounds of appeal against ZEMA’S
rejection. I have also carefully considered each and every ground of rejection given by resolution of the ZEMA Board,” read the letter.

In exercise of the powers conferred on me by Sections 115 subsections 1, 2 and 3, of the Environmental Management Act No. 12 of 2011, I have decided to approve the project, on the following grounds: A) The project should go ahead because it will eventually create employment for ordinary Zambians in the area. B) There are currently cost effective technologies and methods to adequately address all the identified negative impacts that may arise from the project. C) Wild life management in the area will be enhanced and conserved by the proposed managed scheme contained in your submissions. By copy of this letter, you are to liaise with ZEMA for them to issue a Decision letter with all the appropriate conditions under which the project will operate.”

And in an interview, Nzovu said government’s hands were tied because the courts also threw out an appeal by some interested parties who wanted to block mining activities in Lower Zambezi.

“These are legal issues. Upon request by Mwembeshi Resources Limited to start mining in Lower Zambezi, they issued their environmental impact assessment and upon ZEMA checking the environmental conditions in Lower Zambezi, they rejected the proposal but according to the law, you appeal to the minister if you are not satisfied with the decision so the developer appealed to the minister, Mr Harry Kalaba then. So Mr Harry Kalaba allowed Mwembeshi Mineral Resources to go ahead with operations despite ZEMA’s rejection. So when other interested parties, when they heard about that, they appealed to the High Court, their appeal to the High Court did not succeed as well because the High Court said it was in want of prosecution or they agreed with the minister. So the NGOs again were not satisfied, they went to the Court of Appeal, so they reached the Court of Appeal and the Court of Appeal again upheld the High Court’s decision. So the decision which honourable Kalaba made was upheld. At that point, ZEMA was obliged to give a decision letter, to agree with the development which they did and this is in May 2021. All of this was happening before the UPND came into government. So May 2021, ZEMA issued this letter, it is called a decision letter with conditions. Some of the conditions are those which were rejected initially,” Nzovu said.

“So where we stand right now is that Mwembeshi Resource Foundation has been allowed to go ahead with mining. As the New Dawn, do we agree? No we don’t, we want to ensure that there is environmental sustainability, all our promises, we want to keep them but remember, we are also a government of laws.”

He said at this point, only ZEMA could stop the project if it determined that Mwembeshi Resources Limited was going against any of the conditions.

“The law is very clear and the developer followed through the law and it is now up to an institution called ZEMA to ensure that there is environmental sustainability, that there is no pollution and so on. If ZEMA finds that there will be no pollution in that area, sure, with no political interference now, they can make the right decision but as government, we are not going to interfere with the process. But remember also that any decision made by any government official is binding on the next government. So when we said there is a decision for the project on the Lower Zambezi to go ahead, we are basically just saying ‘according to the documents which are here, including the court process, that decision is still valid. What we need to do, our best shot is ZEMA because in there are conditions which our developer has to meet, we are also, as a government actually, we are studying the whole issue, we have not made any decision but at an appropriate time should we make a decision, we are going to inform you but right now we want the due process of the law to be followed. That’s where we stand,” Nzovu said.

Meanwhile, when asked why he had made that decision as lands minister, Kalaba said given the prevailing conditions at the time, it was the correct decision.

He said if the UPND government were not in agreement, they could appeal the decision in the Supreme Court.

“But that is why they are in government. If they find the decision that Harry Kalaba made was not correct, remember the decision was made in 2013, it is about nine years ago. That decision, if government finds it that it is not correct, government should go ahead and revoke it. Yes, they have won a court case, but that doesn’t bind it completely. If the interests of the nation supersede, government can appeal to the Supreme Court, they can challenge the High Court ruling. If they believe that it is not correct. And in my view, the decision was made nine years ago, looking at the prevailing situation at the time, I am believing now it is the environment act which gives the minister powers to do that and that what I relied on. The UPND are in government they should stop talking about Harry Kalaba who is not in government, they are the ones in government so they should start dealing with that matter as it is,” Kalaba said.

Asked whether he could make the same decision today, Kalaba said; “If you look at the prevailing environment, we don’t make decisions in a vacuum Mukosha. You make decisions as a leader based on what is prevailing at that particular time.”

Asked whether he still believed he made the correct decision at the time, Kalaba responded in the affirmative.

“Yes, it was,” said Kalaba.

And when asked to comment on Kalaba’s suggestion that the matter could be taken to the Supreme Court in a follow up interview, Nzovu said the aggrieved parties could take that route.

“We have a Court of Appeal here. It is not us. Remember we are government, there is an institution called ZEMA. So, the people who are aggrieved are the ones expected to go, yes if the process still allows. Because right now there is this decision letter, how do we proceed? It is not as government. As government, we inherited his decision and that is the decision that we are announcing, that it is the same decision which is still there,” Nzovu said.

“When you come into government, it doesn’t run away. It is the same decision. So, these reasons he gave are still the reasons. Remember, he is the one that wrote to Mwembeshi Resources Limited as minister, so he was writing in the position as minister. So, whatever he wrote there, I need to own them. But since I need to protect my environment, I am expecting that ZEMA ensures that the environment is protected because now there will be no interference. So we call upon him to help us manage the way he saw it fit in the letter.”

Nzovu said the new dawn administration would be happy if Kalaba demonstrated how the environment could be protected when such a project proceeds.

“We would like to hear from him maybe we need to engage him as we move forward with these programmes, what are the current available cost-effective technologies and methods to adequately identify negative impacts that may arise? These are issues which we need to hear from him. Maybe the information he has, because we have not seen it, we have not seen how these technologies can work, we have not seen how the wildlife management, the area will be enhanced. So, I think, since he is still alive, government would request him to help us achieve these aims as stated in his letter,” said Nzovu.

“Because the letter is very clear that the project should go ahead and he says there will be employment. So, it means that he is saying that tourism will make less jobs. There are arguments also that tourism will make more jobs. And he was very clear that he was exercising his powers and that he has decided as per law actually that there is wildlife management enhancement which he is talking about and concerns by the proposed mining…So he is basically agreeing with him in totality. And he has gone to town to say that there are cost effective technologies and methods to adequately address all the identified negative impacts. So since he is aware of all the problems and he has given a go ahead, and he believes that this is okay. That is what we need. So we call upon him to help us. So if it means according to him there will be zero impact on the environment, I am not being political, I am seeking his help because he looked like he made the decision with a lot of knowledge in his hands.”