Not out the Woods (TI News)

  • Fri, 30 June 2023

In Zambia, former president Edgar Lungu’s family continues to find themselves in hot water.    

Edgar Lungu lost his bid for re-election to Hakainde Hichilema in August 2021. Photo: Marco Longari /AFP 

    This week, authorities arrested the former president’s son and daughter-in-law. They are accusing Dalitso Lungu and his wife of money laundering and possession of property of illicit origin worth more than US$5 million. Both have been released on bail pending a court appearance.  

    Members of the former ruling party have decried what they see as continued political persecution under the new government. Just last week, authorities seized 20 properties linked to the former president’s wife and their two children, Dalitso and Tasila.  

    While it is not clear what the allegations against the former president’s daughter Tasila are, there is at least one case the authorities could be looking into. In 2019, her alleged involvement in the illicit trade of mukula wood came to light – a rare African tree protected under the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Together with our chapter in Zambia, Transparency International called for full-scale investigations at the time, but to no avail.  

    Fast-forward two years, and revelations of continued looting of Zambia’s forestry wealth emerge. We intensified calls for accountability and demanded that the new government end the international trade of mukula wood by establishing a zero-export quota under CITES. A week later, we were pleased to see that Zambian authorities ordered the suspension of harvesting and exporting the endangered tree. However, we continued to press for a zero-export quota under CITES and an audit to uncover individuals’ roles in the alleged scheme. 

The illicit harvesting of mukula wood has led to the destruction of Zambian forests, and the tree itself is on the brink of extinction. Photo: Paolo Cerutti/CIFOR via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) 

    And despite recent high-profile arrests over the illegal export of the precious tree, the anti-corruption authorities have yet to get to the bottom of this case.  

    Zambian authorities must investigate and sanction any confirmed wrongdoing, no matter how powerful the culprit is. But they must also be vigilant not to apply justice selectively.  

    In fact, President Hakainde Hichilema’s administration has already been accused of going after political opponents. If they are serious about achieving accountability for corruption, authorities must ensure that the cases against the former first family are driven by hard evidence, not by who they are. The government should also look to punish abuses of power committed by those within their ranks.  

    The truth is: corruption continues to be systemic in Zambia. For the third consecutive year, Zambia has stagnated on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) with a low score of 33 out of 100. Although there are positive signs that corruption in procurement may have been reduced, there is still limited transparency in how public funds are managed. 

    Zambia’s corruption problem goes beyond any one family, and so does the need for accountability.  

Source==> Transparency International