What has been revealed in the recently released investigative report about Mukula smuggling in Zambia and the people involved in the cartel is simply a connection of the dots that we have been reporting about for the past two years. Those who are shocked with the exposé, are shocked because they believe more what foreign media reports, rather than what the local journalists investigate; otherwise we told this story a long time ago!
We are glad that members of the Mukula smuggling cartel have started betraying each other and providing all the information that the Zambian public deserves to know. This was expected because there is no honour among thieves.
This week, while those who wish to sue the publishers of the recent investigation are gathering their courage to do so, we would like to go back to what we previously reported in our editorial comments and what the government officials have had to say in defence of this State sponsored illegal trade of the precious endangered Mukula.
JANUARY 3, 2018:
Like we have stated before, only the Patriotic Front is capable of removing itself from power; and so far, they are on the right track. The revolution that will pluck them out is finally simmering, as evidenced by the latest incident where PF youths thwarted an attempt by their masters to smuggle Mukula logs out of the country. Today we must focus on the criminals in government who are in a looting competition.
There is nothing more pleasing to journalists than seeing the public finally joining the crusade against a matter of critical national importance. It is not common for citizens to rise when an illegality is brought in the public domain. Sometimes people just read about the revelations in the newspapers and ignore. When you are lucky, the public reacts, but reacts only too late when there is nothing that can be done to prevent the theft.
That is why we are delighted as a media organisation that this issue of Mukula smuggling by some disgruntled PF government officials has finally caught the desired attention of concerned members of the public, and at the right time. It doesn’t matter now what useless answers the government comes up with; the public is now convinced that some ministers and State House officials are getting rich from the illegal trade of this natural resource. So, no amounts of threats will change this correct public perception now. The citizens have opened their eyes and they have seen how their leaders are eating masuku on their heads.
We have been reporting about this Mukula theft for months, detailing how the police were being used to facilitate the smuggling while arresting and beating up those who opened their mouths to expose the cartel. We have published first hand accounts before from witnesses involved in the trade, on how the smuggling is done.
On October 8, 2017 under the headline: “MUKULA SCAM: Ministers are involved”, we reported how police officers in Lusaka’s Garden compound were used for laundering activities.
“A container loaded with illegally cultivated Mukula logs is packed at Lusaka’s Garden Compound Police Station. According to a News Diggers! investigation, however, the truck has not been impounded for transporting illegal goods, but there is an ownership dispute among the powers that be, while the hired dealers have turned against each other.
A Zambian businessman identified as Emmanuel Simangolwa, alleged to be the owner of the truck got agitated when he was called to explain why his truck was parked at the police and whose Mukula he was transporting.
Another businessman identified as Alex Tembo, explained how he was crooked into transporting illegal Mukula and ended up being arrested by police who further (allegedly) stole US$4,500 from him before demanding a K10,000 bribe for his release,” reads the excerpt from the News Diggers investigation.
The summary of what we learnt is that the powerful criminals in government do not directly involve themselves in these transactions. In order to retain plausible deniability, the ministers and State House officials hire private dealers whom they empower with resources to fetch Mukula from various regions of Zambia where it is in abundance. Then the dealers hire transporters without disclosing the truth about the manifest of the cargo. That way, it becomes difficult to link the smuggling to the master minders. If the scam is exposed, the transporter is abandoned while the drivers are arrested.
In the case of the Garden incident, our information was impeccable because we had names of the dealers involved, pictures of the goods and recordings of their conversations. That is why when we contacted the police for an explanation, there was nothing that Spokesperson Esther Mwaata Katongo or Lusaka Province Police Commissioner Nelson Phiri could say; other than “if the truck is at the police station, then it means we are investigating the matter”.
In fact, as we pressed them further, the police told us that all cases to do with Mukula would be answered by the Deputy Inspector General of Police. This resolution was made because the police knew the stakes were high; the people behind Mukula smuggling are not small boys and girls. These are big shots who have the authority to command an army to offer protective cover during their operations.
We are not surprised that State House and the line ministries have been thrown into disarray after being busted, because criminals do things in a hurry and they never prepare for answers when caught. Typical of rats when a light bulb is switched on – they scamper in all directions, leaving the cockroaches to be answerable for the missing groundnuts. When the PF youths intercepted Mukula smugglers on Kafue Road, State House first issued an empty statement, then the Minister of Home Affairs issued a threat against the vigilant youths, leaving the Ministry of Defence to explain the scandal. How?
Mukula trees grow under the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources while its cultivation is managed by ZAFFICO. Maybe we could tolerate the Minister of Transport so that we ask him about the coincidence of lifting the ban on night travel for trucks, only a few weeks before this Mukula scam; but not the Permanent Secretary for Defence.
We asked Mr Sturdy Mwale, if the Ministry of Defence was involved in facilitating this transaction on behalf of government, why weren’t those trucks kept at Arakan Barracks or Zambia Air Force base before departing? Why were they hidden at a private facility in Chinika area?
Let the Minister of Lands and her Permanent Secretary show up. Let the named individual in State House who was driving Toyota Land Cruiser registration number ALG 3464 on that day, come out and face the Zambian people with answers. Where were they taking the mukula logs before PF youths intercepted them? Why is State House Involved in the sale and export of Mukula? People may hide today, but the truth will come out one day.