Sikumba evades questions on hunting licences
By Kombe Mataka and Fanny Kalonda
TOURISM minister Rodney Sikumba yesterday failed to give clear answers to questions from members of parliament on the cancelled safari hunting concession agreements.
Sikumba contradicted his ministerial statement when members of parliament asked follow-up questions as he also kept on consulting justice minister Mulambo Haimbe after every question
posed to him.
In his statement earlier, Sikumba said if the cancelled concession agreements had been signed, they were going to exclude a lot of Zambians.
‘’Safari hunting business, Madam Speaker, is one such lucrative business that requires participation from all entrepreneurial Zambians. Madam Speaker, the hasty signing of these hunting concessions agreements by our previous government would have meant an exclusion of many eligible Zambians to participate in this hunting business,’’ he said.
But leader of the opposition in parliament Brian Mundubile challenged Sikumba to explain exactly what would have excluded Zambians in those agreements.
‘’In the earlier advert that led to the bids to be later cancelled, was there anything that excluded the participation of locals? Initially you mentioned that if the successful bidders had gone ahead it was going to exclude many Zambians… the question is, in the earlier advert, were Zambians excluded from participation in this process,’’ asked Mundubile.
In response, Sikumba diverted seemingly from his ministerial statement.
‘’Madam Speaker, from my statement, I actually did mention that the Ministry of Tourism, when they (bidders) proposed to sign those documents, the ministry proposed that they look at the whole process of what went through in the tender process. And as such, we got a few of our colleagues, the Zambians who obviously were coming through to our office to suggest that the requirements that were required, which were put in place in the bid document were excluding a lot of our Zambians,’’ Sikumba said. ‘’So, that’s how we felt it necessary to review the tender process, to review the bid document itself; not explicitly saying that the entire document itself was excluding Zambians explicitly, no. But we felt that a lot of Zambians could not participate in the tender process because of the rigorous processes that were put in place in the bid document.’’
Mpika Central PF member of parliament Francis Kapyanga urged Sikumba to admit that the government had indeed cancelled the agreements instead of refusing.
‘’I was expecting, first and foremost, the honourable minister to own up that indeed
it is a cancellation; because here we have been told before that government does not work in silos. How could a written advice regarding an issue under the Ministry of Tourism go to the President, the minister is not aware,’’ asked Kapyanga in reference to Sikumba who had earlier denied knowledge of a letter from the Attorney General advising government against cancelling the agreements. ‘’Honourable minister, you are very much aware that that written advice from the attorney general is there regarding the cancellation. And in his advice, he cited section 61 that government could not proceed with the cancelation, Honourable minister, ow can we now trust you with this kind of U-turn on the floor of the House?’’
I his response, Sikumba insisted that government had not cancelled the concession agreements.
‘’Honourable member of parliament – Mpika, I will repeat myself. Government has not cancelled any legally signed concession agreements; that’s all. We have not cancelled anything. The only thing we have done is we have cancelled the tendering process of the hunting concession which was floated in 2020,’’Sikumba said.
And Lumezi Independent member of parliament Munir Lumezi wondered why Sikumba avoided the Attorney General’s advice in his statement.
‘’…Honourable minister with your vast experience in tourism sector and not in politics, honourable minister, the Attorney General wrote a letter on the 5th of January 2022, advising the Head of State His Excellency President Hakainde Hichilema not to go ahead and cancel the concessions. And in your statement, you have avoided to bring in the Attorney General’s letter, why,’’ asked Zulu.
In response, Sikumba said: ‘’You have talked about the Attorney General’s letter, that letter which I have not had sight on was not addressed to me. And the ministry has not received any such correspondence relating to the issues of cancellation of the concessions, Madam Speaker, I submit.’’
In April this year, Muhanga cancelled safari hunting concession agreements signed in 2020, against the advice of Attorney General Mulilo Kabesha, as the hunting season opened on May 1.
Instead, he ordered a readvertisement of the same in his memorandum to director of national parks and wildlife in the Ministry of Tourism Dr Chuma Simukonda dated April 22, 2022.
And on May 13, 2022, Muhanga terminated the contract for Dr Simukonda who is believed to have advised him against ignoring legal advice from the Attorney General.
According to the Attorney General’s advice in a letter dated January 5, 2022 addressed to President Hakainde Hichilema on tender No. MTA/SP/001/2020, there was nothing illegal about the tender and that cancelling it would attract law suits against the government.
“Your Excellency, I find it pertinent to make an appointment with you and explain the legal implications relating to the subject matter. Your Excellency, prior to meeting you [I] wish to bring it to your attention through this letter that I received a letter from the Ministry of Tourism and Arts reference No. MTA/54/14/2 dated 15th December, 2021 in which the Ministry was seeking a legal opinion on the cancellation of Hunting Concession Agreements (hereinafter referred to as ‘HCAs’,” Kabesha wrote. “The circumstances that engendered the opinion is attributed to your directive to the Minister and Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Tourism to the effect that the execution of the HCAs must be halted and that the negotiated HCAs must be cancelled.”
He cited formalities which prescribe a genuine hunting concession agreement and advised that once they are met then the tender remains legal.
Citing case law, Kabesha advised against cancelling the agreements as that would attract legal suits on government and subsequent loss of income through compensations to the affected parties.
“Your Excellency, once all these formalities are met, the contract or contracts come into being. According to the Procuring Entity all these procedures were met which resulted in the HCAs being approved,” explained Kabesha. “In the case of National Drug Company Limited and Zambia Privatisation Agency v Mary Katongo, the Supreme Court held that: ‘It is trite law that once the parties have voluntarily and freely entered into a legal contract, they become bound to abide by the terms of the contract and that the role of the court is to give efficacy to the contract when one party has breached it by respecting, upholding and enforcing the contract.’ In view of the cited case and in the absence of cogent evidence of infringement of section 69 (1), it becomes legally unsustainable to terminate the HCAs. Any attempt to effect will undoubtedly lead to law suits against Government which is striving to resuscitate the economy of the country and at the same time creating an enabling environment for investment and respect of the law. I humbly render my advice.”
Specifically, the affected hunting concession agreements include the following:
Musungwa and Shezongo Community Resources Board and JVZ Safaris Limited, relating to safari hunting rights in Nkala Hunting Block in Nkala game management area.
Nabwalya Community Resources Board and Kuwama Safaris Limited, relating to Safari hunting rights in Nabwalya Hunting Block in Nabwalya Game Management Area.
Malama and Kakumbi Community Resources Board and Kwalata Safaris Limited, relating to safari hunting rights in Lower Lupande Hunting Block in Lupande Game Management Area.
Chikwa Community Resources Board and Mopani Safaris Limited, relating to safari hunting rights in Chikwa Hunting Block in East Musalangu Game Management Area.
Mulendema Community Resources Board, Chibuluma Community Resources Board, Kabulwebulwe Community Resource Boards and Nedzo Safaris Limited relating to safari hunting rights in Mumbwa West Hunting Block in Mumbwa West Game Management Area.
Chifunda Community Resources Board and Kocango Safaris Limited relating to safari hunting rights in Chifunda Hunting Block in East Musalangu Game Management Area.
Several stakeholders, including good governance activist Brebner Changala, Socialist Party president Fred M’membe, acting PF president Given Lubinda, and State Counsel Sakwiba Sikota, have advised Muhanga against the cancellation, warning that government would pay heavily when bidders sue.
And on May 4, 2022, Muhanga wrote a letter officially informing all the bidders about the cancellation.