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Zimbabwe must reform the Parks and Wildlife Act to promote transparency and accountability in the wildlife sector

Mutuso Dhliwayo, Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association

Introduction

Wildlife trade is a great contributor to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) through direct and indirect revenue flows with its contribution estimated at 15% in 2019[1]. However, not much is known about its operations and players. In 2019, the Parliament of Zimbabwe was petitioned regarding wildlife trade of young elephants to China[2]. In the same year a High Court application was lodged against the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, the Director General and the Minister of Environment, Tourism and Hospitality Industry[3]  again focusing on wildlife trade of animals to China. In both the petition and the court application are issues of transparency and accountability in the management of wildlife resources. At the heart of all these problems is the Parks and Wildlife Management Act[4] which needs to be reformed to promote transparency and accountability. The court application was for an interdict to compel the first Respondent to release information pertaining to the following;

  1. The specific number of baby elephants or any other elephants being exported to China or any other country
  2. The number of elephants (baby or other) of the elephants being exported to China or any other country
  3. The country of destination and specific reserve or park where the animals will be kept, post the sale and translocation transaction
  4. The exact particulars of the buyers of the elephants and proceeds realized from such a transaction
  5. The exact dates of the export of animals, and the mode of transportation of the animals

The Parks and Wildlife Act is the principle regulatory framework for the management and exploitation of wildlife resources in Zimbabwe. It was enacted in 1975 and is not anchored on principles of transparency and accountability. This is despite the fact that its current strategic plan[5] has accountability as one of its core values. The objective of this article is to provide a conceptual understanding on the concept of transparency and accountability from a wildlife sector perspective. It will look at the importance of transparency and accountability, the legal, policy and constitutional basis for transparency and accountability in the wildlife sector, evidence of lack of transparency and accountability and the problems that are associated with lack of transparency and accountability.

Picture courtesy of Discover Africa Safaris

A conceptual understanding of transparency and accountability

 Transparency is widely understood to mean the provision of information in a timely and accessible manner to interested and affected stakeholders in any sphere of life or economic sector and in this case, the wildlife sector. The stakeholders in the wildlife sector include legislators, Civil Society Organizations, Community Based Organizations, media, donors, Government Ministries and Departments among others. This information will help these stakeholders to be able to participate effectively in the policy and decision-making processes. As the adage goes, information is power, and an informed person makes informed decisions.

Accountability on the other hand, is all about holding people, institutions including Government Departments and Ministries, business and individuals accountable for their actions and activities that may either have negative or positive effects on other people’ lives and the environment. What is important to note is the interlinkages and interdependence that exist between transparency (provision of information), participation and accountability. Information is the anchor. Without information, there is no effective participation and information provides the basis for accountability and the Parks and Wildlife Act should reflect these principles if it is to serve its stakeholders better in the management of wildlife resources in Zimbabwe.

Importance of transparency and accountability in the wildlife sector

Good governance is required in any sector of the economy and the same applies to the wildlife sector due to its immense economic, environmental and social benefits. Transparency and accountability are key components of good governance and sustainable wildlife management and sadly, these are missing in Parks and Wildlife Act. There is a thin line between legal wildlife trade and Illegal Wildlife Trade (IWT). Given the Government of Zimbabwe’s commitment to fight IWT, there is a strong case for transparency and accountability within the sector if this is to be effective. Without shining the light of transparency and accountability as a disinfectant, how do you distinguish between the two?

The purpose of National Parks is to preserve and protect wildlife and plants and the natural ecological stability of wildlife and plant communities therein for the enjoyment, education and inspiration of the public.[6] Wildlife resources are primarily managed for the benefit of the public. Therefore, transparency and accountability are some of the ways of involving the people in the management of people in the management of wildlife.

Transparency and accountability build trust and confidence among stakeholders. It contributes towards the empowerment of stakeholders like CSOs, CBOs and journalists. With information, CSOs and CBOs are able to do evidence-based advocacy and the media is able to write and report accurately. It is good for all the stakeholders including the ZPWMA itself as it helps its role in economic development to be appreciated and helps in the management of expectations. Lack of transparency and accountability results in suspicion and mistrust.

The legal and constitutional basis for transparency and accountability

The Constitution, the Environmental Management Act and the National Environmental Policy and Strategies provides the legal, policy and constitutional basis for transparency and accountability. Transparency and accountability are among the founding values and principles of the constitution.[7] Section 62 provides for access to information held by the State or by any institution or agency of government at every level and this include the ZPNWA , in so far as that information is required in the interest of public accountability. Both the Environmental Management Act and the National Environmental Policy and Strategies makes provisions for the right to access to environmental information. The Constitution is the supreme law of the country and any law, practice or conduct contrary to it is invalid. On paper, Zimbabwe therefore has a solid constitutional, legal and policy base. However, in practice, it’s something else. The Parks and Wildlife Act is one of those laws that is inconsistent with the constitution in as far as transparency and accountability is concerned, hence the need for it to be reformed.

Problems associated with lack of transparency and accountability

Lack of transparency and accountability results in serious economic, environmental, social and security costs. These include corruption, poaching, Illegal Wildlife Trade (IWT), Illicit Financial Flows (IFFs) and Human Wildlife Conflict (HWC).

Based on the constitutional provision one would ordinarily think it should be easy to get access to information in the wildlife sector. However, trying to do so is a herculean task. The People and Earth Solidarity court case cited above, was as result of the refusal by the ZPWMA to disclose information that had been requested through the petition to Parliament and subsequent meetings. Information on wildlife crime cases that have been prosecuted in various courts, census of wildlife populations and human wildlife conflict is not readily available to the people as provided for under the constitution. Any attempt to get the information for public participation and to vindicate public accountability is stonewalled by the demand for huge amounts of money in the name of access fees that are beyond the reach of many thereby effectively denying access to information.

Evidence of lack of transparency and accountability includes wildlife trade that is done secretly yet this has far reaching implications not just for the animals themselves but also communities that are supposed to benefit from them under the Communal Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Resources (CAMPFIRE). Elephants have been traded secretly in and out of Zimbabwe and the wildlife trade of animals to China was the reason for the court application by the People and Earth Solidarity Law Network.

There have been reports of the former First Lady, Grace Mugabe allegedly being involved in ivory smuggling but up to now, we have not heard of anyone being prosecuted and held accountable. In 2016, an audit was conducted on Zimbabwe’s ivory stockpile and evidence showed that some ivory was missing. The only action that was taken was suspension which is not good enough. The expectation was that apart from suspension, the culprits should have been prosecuted and this would have sent out a strong deterrence message. The lack of strong measures like prosecution as a way of holding people accountable, is what is promoting wildlife crimes like poaching, IWT and IFFs in the sector. The failure by communities to get meaningful benefits from wildlife resources and the failure to hold wildlife criminals accountable, has resulted in an increase in HWC cases.

Conclusion

From the foregoing it is evident that the lack of transparency provisions and weak accountability measures are among some of the major gaps in the Parks and Wildlife Act that resulted in the petition and court action. These weaknesses were also identified in the CAMPFIRE reviews. In a way, these weaknesses are not surprising when one takes into account that in 1975 when the Parks and Wildlife Act was enacted, these principles and their importance in wildlife governance were not yet very well-known and practiced. To that end, the Parks and Wildlife Act must be reformed through the development of a new and comprehensive Parks and Wildlife Act that is anchored on the principles of sustainable wildlife management that includes transparency, participation and accountability in line with the constitution. This the only way to ensure that wildlife trade contributes optimal to Zimbabwe’s economic development.


[1] Newsday , February 2019

[2] Petition by People and Earth Solidarity Law Network to the 9th Parliament of Zimbabwe

[3] People and Earth Solidarity Law Network vs Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority and the Director General of ZIMPARKS N.O and the Minister of Environment, Tourism and Hospitality Industry HH4289/2019

[4] Parks and Wildlife Act [ Chapter 20:04]

[5] Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Act Strategic Plan 2019-2023

[6] Section 21(1)(b)

[7] Section 3(2) (g)

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