By Chaliafya katungula
It is gratifying that the constitutional ruling on former ministers stay after the dissolution of parliament has been adhered to by those concerned. As an advocate for forestry, agro forestry, wood utilisation and natural resource management, I would like to appeal to the government through the Secretary to the Cabinet, Secretary to the Treasury and indeed the Ministry of Finance to consider investing the funds by appropriating the Four million two Hundred Thousand Kwacha (K4, 200,000) to the Forestry Department through the Forestry Development Fund. This will stimulate sector growth and facilitate for increased timber trading as the department will be able to give out more concession licenses once they are able to facilitate for forest inventories which are a precursor for more of the aforementioned licenses to be obtained.
On August 8, 2016 the Constitutional Court ordered the ministers and their deputies who had remained in office after the dissolution of parliament in May 2015 to pay back money they had accrued in salaries and allowances during the period they were illegally in office. After lengthy deliberations under the jurisdiction of the courts of law, On 7th December 2020, the Constitutional Court gave former Cabinet ministers, their deputies and provincial ministers 30 days in which to pay back over K4.2 million which they got from the government in 2016. Subsequently, on 9th January 2021, it was reported by online media houses that all former ministers who stayed in office after the dissolution of parliament had refunded the treasury the emoluments and allowances they obtained.
So how is that to benefit the ordinary Zambian? I say “Investment” so that those funds facilitate and stimulate government revenue collection and the best option that offers a high chance or guarantee of return on investment is the forestry sector.
- Problem Statement
According to the Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture, Lands and Natural Resources report on sustainable forest Management -2017, it was recounted by the Auditor General that there were 483 forest reserves in Zambia which needed to have management plans. However, according to the Forestry Department annual report for 2012 to 2015, the Forestry Department did not prepare and implement Forest management Plans. Interviews carried out with Forestry Department management revealed that the reason for not having Forest Management Plans was due to lack of basic information such as size of forest, harvestable stock and boundaries of forests. Interviews also revealed that the national forest inventory had not been carried out neither at local nor national levels due to limited resources such as funds and human resource to conduct the exercise. Further, the Forestry Department lacks forestry inventory equipment such as measuring tapes, suunto clinometers for tree height measurement, caliper diameter tape for diameter measurement, Global Positioning System (GPS) for measuring geographical co-ordinates, bush nail for distance measurements, Geographical Information System (GIS) facilities for image analysis and change detection.
The World Bank in their Country Forest Note (CFN) for 2019 noted through citation that he Forest Department does not have the capacity to fulfil its mandate under the Forest Act of 2015 to promote sustainable forest management. This involves controlling, managing and administering the National and Local Forests, which includes stipulating license and fee requirements for timber production.
In a nutshell, it is apparently clear that the Forestry department requires attention when it comes to funding. Further, there is need to support the Forest department through a well-coordinated multi sectoral approach as enshrined in the Seventh National Development Plan and build its capacity so that it can actualise/ realise its full potential. Notwithstanding this is the fact that on the other hand forest degradation is ongoing and continuing in Zambia, the exploitation of valuable hardwoods is on the increase and forest governance remains and continues to be weak. In order to address this challenge, boost morale and revitalise more life in the department, government needs to act as quickly as yesterday by channelling the 4.2million kwacha towards the Forest Department through the Forest Development Fund. This fund is established under the Forest Act No.4 of 2015 and provides for grants to be received from any source within or outside Zambia, with the approval of the Minister of finance in whom the fund is vested. The act further stipulates that the fund shall among other things be applied for the development and management of forests and trees to achieve a sound ecological balance as well as any other matter connected with forest management and development as may be prescribed. In this context the funds must be used to facilitate for matters related to forest inventories that will help the department in decision making such as whether to consider increasing the number of concession licenses to be issued or to maintain the status quo as has been in the recent past. It is from these concession licenses that government will recoup and triple or quadruple the returns on investment of this 4.2 million Kwacha.
The aforementioned position is arrived at on the basis that if for instance 350 concession licenses are to be issued, then it means that license holders would have to be paying monthly royalties of around K70, 000.00 per concession holder bringing the total monthly royalties to government to K24, 500,000.00 or K294, 000,000.00 per year. In the same line, government has the potential of collecting an average of approximately K350, 000.00 export duties from one concession holder monthly and this translates to monthly duty collections of K122, 500,000.00 or K1, 470,000,000.00 per year by government. However, due consideration is to be made to the fact that in June 2020, it was announced that government had reduced export excise duty on wood and wood products by more than 50 percent following wide consultation with the industry, thus the projected revenue mentioned above regarding export duty needs to be factored by 50 per cent for the sake of this argument which nonetheless leaves a significant amount to be collected as government revenue annually. Cognizance needs to be made also to the fact that concession licenses vary up to a maximum period of 5years depending on the scale (large scale, medium scale and small scale). Therefore with such stakes, I would like to implore the authorities to consider this investment option.
I am of a profound mind that although the 4.2 million might not be enough to address all the challenges the department is facing, it nonetheless can stimulate a chain reaction for revenue generation to a great extent if applied correctly especially on the aspect of concession licenses.
- Benefits of this investment
Employment – the forest sector is one labour intensive sector and on average one concession license holder employs not less than 30 workers including managers. Therefore, more than 10,500 people can be employed country wide.
Government revenue increase- as elucidated above, the estimate of revenue to be collected outweighs this initial investment amount.
Acquisition of tools and equipment by the Forestry Department
Capacity building in forestry personnel (public officer, academia and private foresters) as far as forest inventory is concerned
Reduce tax evasion-it has been noted that the non-issuance of licenses and bureaucracy often than not leads to illegality as those involved opt to use non-conventional means to gain access to forestry produce thereby even evading taxes.
It is an open secret that is widely documented that the Forestry Department has not had and does not have adequate resources to manage the forests effectively. Poor funding, under staffing and lack of transport are some of the factors that are impeding the Department’s ability to manage the forests. Consequently, boundary maintenance is not carried out adequately among others. In terms of Staff Establishment as of September 2017, it was revealed that the Forestry Department had an approved staff establishment of 962 out of which 655 were filled and 307 were vacant. A further analysis of the establishment revealed that 425 positions representing forty-four percent (44%) of the establishment were directly involved in managing the forests countrywide. However, out of 425 positions, 311 were filled leaving 114 positions vacant.
The forgoing correlates with other stakeholder’s observations such as the World Bank in their CFN December 2019 report which stated that Forest Department does not have the capacity to fulfil its mandate under the Forest Act of 2015.
This therefore calls for attention and aid to be rendered to the Forestry Department both at policy level and budgetary support from a financial perspective. The 4.2 Million kwacha as earlier stated can be a good gesture of government’s commitment towards sustainable forest management and an incentive for the department to enhance its efforts towards carrying out its mandate. On the other hand, we call for prudent use of any funds that Forestry Department receives so as retain confidence and sympathy from the donors and other well-wishers that are keen of forest management in the country. . According to a report by the European Union, The Forestry Department has received a lot of donor funding and assistance over the years, especially from Finland that has been providing support for over 30 years. Results have been disappointing with many basic problems identified 20 years ago still persisting today. It is thus the duty of the professionals in the forestry department and those in the private sector and non-governmental organisations to change this perception by becoming proactive and upholding professionalism of the highest order and working together in unison. It is in this vain that I call for professional forestry practitioner’s legislation to regulate the sector practice and enforce some form of adherence to a code of ethics. It must be noted that all other sectors have gone this route be it teachers, medics, veterinarians, lawyers, transport and logistics etc. except for the forestry profession.
We therefore need to combat complacency and centralisation and establish efficient and sustainable management of the resource, for the benefit of Zambian people, rather than foreign investors. In this sense, it is paramount that we develop strong leadership and commitment to forest sustainability and value addition at the National level, and hands?on technical supervision of operations at the Province and District levels through a coherent and well-coordinated multi sectoral approach..
The Author is the Advocate General for Forestry Advocacy for Communication, Transparency and Accountability (FACT-A)