The deployment of Malawi Defence Force (MDF) soldiers to Viphya Plantations was considered a bold move, as stakeholders lauded the government for walking the talk on natural resources conservation and environmental management.
This is because the history of Viphya Plantations, also known as Chikangawa Forest, is littered with stories of plunder, abuse of office and shady dealings in the award of contracts to sawyers among others. The story has, for the most part, been sickening.
But we know that whatever happens in Viphya Plantations affects all of us because we cannot, really, escape the impact of environmental degradation. Erratic rains, floods, among other natural disasters, impact on food security at national level.
We were, therefore, relieved when MDF soldiers moved into the plantations to save what remained of the once mighty forest. The aim was to keep the destroyers away.
Since then, battle lines seem to have been drawn, as court battles have become the order of the day. In fact, some people, most of them connected to the powers-that-be, have showed no sign of being heartily ashamed of their destructive actions and have tried to play every game in the book to get hold of the trees.
Such things were expected.
However, when reports emerge that some of the people engaged in protecting the plantations are taking part in destroying them, Malawians of good will have good reasons to get alarmed.
We are referring to a damning report compiled by a Department of Forestry official. The report implicates some soldiers in illegal transactions in the plantations.
While we are aware that the Minister of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining once, in November 2016, hinted that he had received reports of shady dealings in the plantations, mostly implicating forestry officials, we did not expect the MDF to be embroiled in the scandal.
While we are willing to give an ear to the MDF, which has slammed findings of the report, arguing that the letter is part of a well-crafted scheme campaigning for the removal of the soldiers from the forest, we are of the view that outside investigators should look into the issue.
We should not be satisfied with MDF investigations, which cleared officers who have been implicated in the report.
At the same time, we should not lose track of the fact that Forestry Department officials have, at one point or another, been dragged in the mud as far as the acts of depleting forest resources and engaging in illegal activities are concerned.
We can, therefore, not trust the two parties (MDF and Forestry Department) as they seem to be engaging in a battle aimed at discrediting each other; the more reason the issue should be investigated by an uninterested party. The earlier that is done, the better.
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