Dar es Salaam. The government said yesterday that it was not aware of reports that over 200 trucks owned by Tanzanian operators had been seized in Zambia linked to illegal logging claims.
“We haven’t received any communication from truck owners. We’ve not been officially informed. Maybe we will have to make a follow up on the matter,” Works and Transport minister Leonard Chamuriho told The Citizen yesterday.
But truck owners maintained yesterday that over 200 of their trucks were being held by authorities in Zambia over allegations that they were being used to ferry logs illegally.
Tanzania Medium and Small Truck Owners Association (TMSTOA) chairman Chuki Shaban told The Citizen yesterday that the trucks were coming from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), carrying logs that were meant to be offloaded at the Dar es Salaam Port.
“They were seized despite the fact that our drivers produced documents to substantiate that the logs had been ferried from the DRC,” he claimed.
He was speaking on sidelines of a meeting that brought together cargo transporters and bus owners to discuss business and competition in the sector.
The meeting was convened by the Land Transport Regulatory Authority (Latra).
“It has now been close to two months since our trucks were impounded and nothing has been done yet. We have therefore used this meeting to also present the matter to Latra director general to help take the message to the transport minister,” he said.
He said they had remained quiet for some time in the hope that the issue would be solved through the government channels soon since their drivers had all legal documents.
“We do not know why Zambia is still holding our trucks. Could it be due to change of leadership? We don’t know. But since we have presented the matter to the Latra director general, we are optimistic that it would be sorted out soon because they (Latra) have promised to communicate with the respective minister and Tanzania’s High Commissioner to Zambia,” he said.
According to him, three years ago, Zambian authorities also detained their trucks which were carrying logs from the DRC but when it was established that the products were indeed coming from the DRC, they were released.
By detaining the trucks, he said, transporters were incurring huge losses through increased allowances for drivers’ up keep.
He said it was about time that the government thought of building a road that directly links Tanzania to the DRC without having to pass through the border with Zambia at Nakonde.
“Congo DRC is one of the major users of the Dar es Salaam port and therefore, we must strive to protect that business,” he said.
It is in record that in March 2018, Zambian authorities exported timber confiscated from illegal loggers who had continued to fell trees despite a nationwide ban to protect the country’s dwindling forests.
In 2016, Zambia banned the felling and transport of a tree known locally as mukula - Pterocarpus chrysothrix, a relative of rosewood - in a bid to curb its rapid loss fuelled by growing demand in Asia.
The wood is highly prized on the international market, making it one of the trees most heavily logged by illegal harvesters.
Until 2018, the Zambia Revenue Authority had confiscated over 250 trucks for carrying illegal timber since the ban came into force in 2016.
Between 250,000 and 300,000 hectares of forest are cut each year, according to Zambia’s Forestry Department.
Between 2001 and 2014, Zambia lost more than 1 million hectares – an area roughly the size of Lebanon – of three types of Pterocarpus trees, according to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
Before the timber ban, harvesters needed a licence to cut trees, which specified the location, tree species and estimated fees to be paid to the authorities.
But because of ever-growing international demand for timber, together with the high prices the wood fetches, most harvesters have been felling the forests without a licence and exporting them illegally to Asia, according to Zambian authorities as quoted in 2018 by Reuters.