Chinese ambassador Zheng Zhuqiang has strongly disputed some of the claims contained in President Museveni’s letter to the inspector general of government, ordering an investigation into the affairs of Uganda Wildlife Authority and two Chinese diplomats.
In his May 2 letter, the president accused two Chinese diplomats named Li Wejin and one Yinzhi of involvement in the illegal sale of ivory smuggled from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Museveni asked IGG Irene Mulyagonja to investigate this matter and others pertaining to impropriety at Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA). The president said he had been told these diplomats connived with UWA officials to engage in illicit ivory trade in Congo, Central African Republic and South Sudan.
Speaking to The Observer yesterday, Zheng advised President Museveni to cross-check his information.
“There are no such diplomats here [at the embassy], I think all of this is groundless [and] based on some wrong [information]. It is all totally wrong; no one at the embassy is known by such names. I think he needs to check his sources of information,” Zheng said.
Shocked by the president’s claims, Zheng said they had checked records of previous years to ascertain whether the embassy has had staff known by such names but didn’t find any.
“We are going to protest to the ministry of Foreign Affairs because [the investigation] concerns our diplomats. I think the ministry should restore our embassy’s reputation,” he said.
The illegal trade in ivory involving Chinese diplomats is among the eight issues the president asked the ombudsman to investigate. Others include the illegal export of pangolin (olugave), murders in the national parks, and procurement of gorilla tracking software.
Museveni also wants UWA bosses to be investigated for alleged extravagant travel expenses, ignoring his repeated directives to erect electric fences around national parks, and soliciting bribes from banks keeping their money.
“In view of the above, I, therefore, request that you investigate these allegations and give me a report. If there is a prima facie case, the executive director should be suspended,” Museveni wrote.
His letter is copied to Vice President Edward Ssekandi, Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda, the minister of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities, Prof Ephraim Kamuntu, and Attorney General William Byaruhanga.
UWA spokesman Simplicious Gessa told The Observer yesterday that the authority’s management was not aware of the alleged collaboration of some of its staff with Chinese nationals in the ivory trade.
On the export of pangolin, Museveni told the IGG that UWA’s Executive Director Andrew Seguya had contravened international conventions by licensing “some Chinese” to export pangolin (Olugave) meat and scales.
According to Gessa, in July 2014, UWA recommended one Smith Ewa Maku, a Ugandan national and proprietor of SmicoSkin Craft Industries Ltd, to the ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities for licenses to export 7,310kg of the giant pangolin in accordance with Section 29 of the Uganda Wildlife Act.
“Permits to export wildlife products are not issued by UWA; it is the mandate of the ministry of Tourism Wildlife and Antiquities. UWA’s role is only advisory,” Gessa said.
The said export, Gessa said, was carried out before the Convention on international Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) changed the pangolin’s classification from CITES Appendix II, which allowed regulated trade.
“Lifting of all pangolin species to Appendix I came in January 2017 after the CITES conference of parties in 2016 which was held in South Africa. We [UWA] particularly supported the proposal to upgrade pangolin species to Appendix I,” Gessa said.
Prior to this, Gessa explained, UWA had authorised two companies; Olsen East Africa International and Asia-Africa Pangolin Research Centre (U) Ltd to pilot a pangolin breeding project with the aim of revitalizing the animal’s population. The pangolin is one of the 54 Buganda clan totems but is also highly marketable in South East Asia and China.
This is the second time in as many years that Museveni is ordering an investigation into UWA and their management. The first, in 2014, was related to the loss of 1,355kg of ivory from the wildlife conservation body’s custody. While that particular investigation appeared to exonerate Seguya, Museveni wants Justice Mulyangonja to conduct another inquest into the same matter.
“Confiscated ivory in UWA stores was stolen. It was 1,300kg and was worth Shs 3bn,” Museveni stated.
According to UWA, the said ivory was lost between 1990 and 2014, and its loss was discovered by the authority’s intelligence team.
“After the intelligence unit staff discovered the irregularities in the management of the ivory at our store, we ordered an audit of the ivory stockpile, which indicated that 296 pieces of ivory could not be accounted for, and according to the records, the loss dated as far back as 1990,” Gessa said.
Following the investigation, two UPDF officers Col Charles Tusiime and Maj John Joab Kwikiriza, who had been seconded to UWA to head the law enforcement unit, were sacked and referred to the UPDF leadership for disciplinary action. The theft was blamed on a well-organised global ivory smuggling syndicate that includes Ugandans.
In February, UWA officials arrested three West Africans with approximately one tonne of ivory that was in transit through Uganda. Two of the suspected traffickers are from Guinea-Bissau while the third is Liberian. They were arrested from a house in Najjanankumbi, in Lubaga division, Kampala.
They had cut the ivory into smaller pieces and loaded it in containers with clearance stickers of Entebbe Handling Services (ENHAS), the ground and cargo handling firm at Entebbe International airport.
More than 20 customs and ENHAS employees have so far been arrested and arraigned before court in connection with ivory trafficking, UWA sources told us.
Since its establishment in 2000 under the Uganda Wildlife Act, the conservation body has been the focus of investigations related to mismanagement of finances and wildlife resources.
Its troubles, according to sector players, stem from its semi-autonomous status, which allows it to be managed differently from other public service structures.
For instance, the law allows UWA to create its own sources of income, generate its own budget and expenditure priorities. At least two former bosses of the organisation were ousted amid controversy, including Moses Mapesa and Mark Kamanzi.
Seguya, whose contract expires in November, is said to blame the reports on a witch-hunt by people scheming to take up the coveted position of executive direction. He declined to be interviewed.