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Bright Msaka, others face arrest

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Minister of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining, Bright Msaka, and two of his senior personnel at the ministry risk arrest for contempt of court after the High Court in Mzuzu granted a businessperson a green light to commence the proceedings

Msaka, Secretary for Forestry, Patrick Matanda, who has just joined the ministry, and Forestry Director, Clement Chilima, together with Malawi Defence Force (MDF) Commander Griffin Supuni, MDF officer a Soko and Raiply Chief Executive Officer Thomas Oomen face prison for ignoring an earlier order that was issued on June 23 this year.

The order gave 21 days sawing consent to Sophilet Chirwa and six others in the highly depleted Viphya Plantation famously known as Chikangawa Forest to clear remaining tree logs, according to court documents we have seen.

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But Chilima has turned back the accusations to the complainant on the case led by Chirwa, noting  that they too are guilty.

“Apart from the 21 days, there are other conditions including that of payment. Now, that requires us to sit down with the other side to see the modalities of making sure that we comply with the court order,” said Chilima, who at the time of the interview yesterday had not been served with the order.

In a confidential communication which we have seen dated November 24, 2016 signed by Soko titled Operation Teteza Nkhalango, the MDF is instructing its soldiers to remove all illegal loggers from the forest with immediate effect ignoring court injunctions.

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“This will remain so until April 2017 when new concessions will be issued by the Forestry Department. As such, no court injunction will prevent the soldiers from discharging their duties,” reads the communication.

It further instructs the MDF officers of the deployment of additional soldiers and permits them to seize sawing equipment and planks until all illegal sawyers are driven out of the plantation.

However, in the court affidavit which we have seen, Chirwa and others argue that the June 23 order did not specify a period within which they should clear logs by making timber in the forest.

“The judgment [which] this court delivered was never stayed nor appealed against by the parties herein and it has been therefore effective ever since it was delivered on June 23, 2016.

“In the presence of all the parties having met around 3:30 pm on Friday November 25, 2016, this court ordered that the defendants be allowed to finish their work on the logs in issue within 21 days,” reads part of the affidavit.

Just like in the communication, the defendants allege they were beaten up, their equipment was destroyed and that timber was confiscated.

When contacted, lawyer for the defendants George Kadzipatike said his clients are shocked by government’s deliberate disregard of court order.

“The officials will be given a chance to defend themselves. However, it is clear that the court order has been breached deliberately. A court order, however bad it tastes to you, must be respected. No one is above the law. My clients are worried that government officials can be in the forefront, introducing anarchy,” Kadzipatike said

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