Windhoek-President Hage Geingob’s intervention – by personally telephoning his Zambian counterpart Edgar Lungu – has helped secure the release of about 200 of approximately 400 haulage trucks seized in Zambia in February.
The trucks were held while Zambian authorities verified permits and other relevant documentation after which they would receive clearance to continue their journeys to Namibia, South Africa and Tanzania.
The trucks, many of whom are carrying Mukula timber, a protected high-quality tree species found in Zambia, were impounded for authorities in that country to confirm where the wood was harvested and whether the trucking companies were in possession of therelevant papers needed to transport the protected species.
Some of the impounded trucks originate from companies registered in Zambia, as well as from Namibia, South Africa and Tanzania.
Spokesperson in the Presidency Albertus Aochamub confirmed Geingob’s role in the matter upon enquiry yesterday. “Absolutely. It was the president’s intervention that lead to the impasse being resolved,” he said late yesterday.
New Era could not confirm by the time of going to press whether the cleared Namibian trucks had already left Zambia.
Zambia’s High Commissioner to Namibia Stella Libongani confirmed the latest developments yesterday, saying “About 200 of those trucks impounded have been cleared, meaning that their documentation has been screened and it has been found that there was nothing wrong with what they are carrying,” she told New Era.
She added that about 170 trucks were still being screened to determine whether they have the required documents to continue on their journey and emphasised that none of the truck drivers were detained or arrested.
“The issue of screening the trucks is secondary. The primary issue here is the companies or dealers hiring these trucks to move their commodities. These dealers or companies are putting our citizens at risk, but, we are doing everything possible to ensure the impounded vehicles are released as quickly as possible,” Libongani confirmed.
Commenting on the latest development, CEO of the Namibia Chamber of Commerce and Industry (NCCI) Tarah Shaanika was sceptical, saying the chamber had heard the “clearance” story before. “Every week we hear that the trucks will be leaving on Friday. Now they say the cleared trucks will be leaving this Friday. I guess we will just have to wait and see if this happens.”
The NCCI CEO added that he was extremely disappointed that it took the Zambian government six months to clear the trucks.
“This delay in clearing the trucks derails all the integration efforts in the region. It is not good for business to keep trucks for that long,” Shaanika lamented. He went on to say some of the drivers of the impounded trucks have complained that while they had been cleared to leave they had not received the documentation back, which they needed to depart from Zambia.
Most of the impounded trucks were said to be transporting Mukula timber from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to Mainland China.
The NCCI has previously questioned the legality of the truck seizures, as the goods on the trucks were not harvested in Zambia but by businesses with valid permits operating in the DRC. The NCCI has also remained adamant that the Namibian truckers were simply transporting goods from suppliers to the clients and were never involved in the harvesting of the timber.
“We understand that [the harvesting of] the Mukula timber, which caused the impounding, is prohibited to be harvested in Zambia but not in the DRC. Our trucks carried timber from the DRC with valid documentation, which was inspected by Zambian customs officials and found to be valid and authentic.
“The Zambian authorities even sealed the cargo at the Kasumbalesa border post between DRC and Zambia, which under normal circumstances would be inspected again at the Sesheke-Katima Mulilo border post,” Shaanika said during a recent media briefing.
Local transporters whose trucks were seized have also complained that they incurred heavy financial losses, running into tens of millions in lost revenue.