The Centre for Trade Policy and Development has welcomed the decision by Given Lubinda, Jean Kapata and Tasila Lungu, to commence legal proceedings in the Lusaka High Court against the Environmental Investigation Agency and Funga Mukosha, editor of local publication News Diggers, for libel.
The lawsuit is in response to an expose published by the EIA and various other articles published by News Diggers in relation to the expose, which connects the Plaintiffs and other senior government officials to the plunder and illicit trade of the valuable and increasingly scarce, Mukula commonly known as rosewood trees.
The Statement of Claim which was filed in the High Court on January 13, 2020 avers that the Plaintiffs are seeking damages for being linked to the illegal sale of Mukula trees and that they had suffered ridicule, contempt and embarrassment in the eyes of ordinary members of the public.
The Plaintiffs allege that they were not contacted by News Diggers to verify the findings of the EIA report and deny their alleged involvement in the illegal Mukula trade. The Plaintiffs have also applied for an interim injunction restraining News Diggers and EIA from publishing similar articles and opinions until the determination of the case.
The illegal illegal trade appears to be flourishing in spite of bans on the harvest, transport, and export of Mukula to the detriment of fragile forests and rural communities whose livelihoods depend on sustainable Mukula trade.
CTPD Researcher Legal Gloria Mange said her Organisation is encouraged by the commencement of the legal proceedings as this will provide an opportunity for the Plaintiffs who are highly ranked public servants to exonerate themselves and restore public confidence.
Ms Mange said the matter being before the courts will, in addition, will allow a measure of public scrutiny and transparency as well as access to information in relation to the Mukula trade and issues raised in the report.
“Members of the media and public have inquired from CTPD in relation to the jurisdiction of the Zambian courts vis-à-vis the EIA which is an organization incorporated in the United States of America. CTPD can confirm that it is possible for the Plaintiffs to obtain a judgment against the EIA provided that due process is followed in accordance with Zambian law which outlines a procedure in relation to actions commenced against foreign persons”, she added.
“The issue is whether the Plaintiffs, if successful, can proceed to have the judgment enforced by a United States court against the EIA as Zambia does not have a reciprocity agreement with United States with respect to enforcement of judgments”, said Ms Mange.
She has called for more transparency in the trading of Mukula, which is a multi -million industry that can help lift many Zambians out of poverty if managed properly.
Ms Mange said the EIA report shows that despite public pledges by the Zambian government to end the illegal Mukula trade, there exists an influential multi-million Dollar timber trafficking network that bypasses existing national bans on Mukula harvest and export.
She said the illegal illegal trade appears to be flourishing in spite of bans on the harvest, transport, and export of Mukula to the detriment of fragile forests and rural communities whose livelihoods depend on sustainable Mukula trade.
Ms Mange said it is therefore imperative, especially in view of the EIA report that Government relooks at the current national ban so that the Mukula trade is conducted in a transparent manner and for the benefit of the surrounding communities and Zambian public at large.