Dar es Salaam. Zambia’s High Commission to Tanzania has confirmed that about 200 lorries registered in Tanzania have been seized in the southern African country over illegal logging claims.
Mr Benson Chali told The Citizen that the lorries were indeed being held after they were found carrying mukula (Pterocarpus chrysothrix) logs without valid permits.
In 2016 Zambia banned the felling and transporting of mukula, a type of rosewood, as part of efforts to curb its rapid loss fuelled by growing demand in Asia.
The wood is much sought-after on the international market, making it a favourite among illegal harvesters.
The Zambia Revenue Authority had by 2018 seized at least 250 lorries that were found carrying banned timber.
Mr Chali told The Citizen that the mukula was among tree species which cannot be transported without a valid permit.
“We have seized over 200 trucks laden with logs because Tanzanian drivers didn’t have legal documents and transportation permits to show that the logs were indeed from the Democratic Republic of Congo as claimed,” he said.
He added that the drivers had not produced documents showing where the logs came from.
“We will only release the trucks after they show the relevant documents,” Mr Chali said.
Tanzanian drivers are required to show genuine documents to authenticate the origin of the logs and when they were harvested before the lorries are released. Failure to do so would result in confiscation of the lorries.
Mr Chali said Zambia’s new government under President Hakainde Hichilema was looking forward to doing business with friendly countries such as Tanzania, adding that the decision to seize the lorries was aimed at ending the smuggling of endangered tree species.
All transporters, including those from Tanzania, are required to have the relevant documents so that they can transport mukula logs on Zambian territory.
Mr Chali said it was suspected that Tanzanian lorry drivers used forged documents to ferry logs on the pretext that they had originated in the DRC.
“It was unfortunate that when we asked them to go back where they got the permits in the DRC, they failed to produce that evidence.”
Former Works and Transport minister Leonard Chamuriho told The Citizen when he was in office that the government was making a follow-up.
A source in Zambia who is privy to the issue, but who did not want to be identified, wondered why it had taken so long for lorry owners to issue an official complaint about the seizure of their vehicles.
“Ask yourself why it took them so long to report the matter to the Ministry of Transport or any other relevant authority,” he said.
It is alleged that lorry drivers pick up the logs in Zambia, and then collude with dishonest officials to falsify documents showing that the logs have been ferried from the DRC.
Tanzania’s High Commissioner to Zambia, Mr Hassan Simba Yahya, told The Citizen that the issue of illegal logging was now a diplomatic matter that would be resolved diplomatically by the two countries.
But lorry owners have maintained that the seized vehicles came from the DRC before they were impounded by Zambian authorities.
Tanzania Medium and Small Truck Owners Association (TMSTOA) chairman Chuki Shaaban told The Citizen recently that the lorries were travelling from the DRC with logs destined for Dar es Salaam Port.
“They were seized despite the fact that our drivers produced genuine documents showing that the logs had been transported from the DRC,” he said.
“It has now been close to two months since our lorries were impounded, but nothing has been done.”
Mr Shaaban said they kept quiet for some time in the hope that the issue would be resolved through official channels since their drivers had all the required documents.