Malawi government efforts to recover K640 million arrears timber millers in Chikangawa Forest owe the state are destined to yield nothing as some of the debtors died, The Daily Times has learnt.
Timber Millers Union (TMU) in Chikangawa Forest said since the K640 309 363.17 arrears date back as far as during former president Bakili Muluzi’s regime when timber milling was done at individual level before the introduction of cooperatives in 2012, the exercise to recover the money might not yield anything.
Apart from the death of some of the debtors, some government officials working in the plantation allegedly allocated plots to some timber millers without prior payment contrary to a 2012 directive when cooperatives were formed. That was the year TMU got a 10 000-hectares concession from government which is now depleted.
“When I started timber business under Luwawa Cooperative in 2012, the directive was that any miller should pay before being allocated a plot of timber, but to the surprise of some of us who were new at that time, we saw that some of the old timers were allocated plots before they paid and have not paid till today,” said Eggley Chitseko, a member of Luwawa Forestry Cooperative.
Government has since admitted that all is not well in Chikangawa Forest as far as unfair deals are concerned as some millers and businesspeople have demonstrated unruly behaviour, thereby making government fail to collect revenue.
“Definitely, there is unruly behaviour at Chikangawa. We have just appointed a new Director of Forestry. By law the Director of Forestry has power to bring sanity in the plantation. I hope this will happen,” said Ben Botolo, Principal Secretary for the Ministry of Natural Resources, Mining, Energy, Environment and Climate Change Management.
On Thursday last week, the ministry admitted that it was owed K640 309 363.17 by Chikangawa timber millers.
“It is a fact that the Department of Forestry is being owed huge sums of money due to failure by its debtors to fully pay for plots they are allocated to harvest. This is a worrisome situation, deplorable and is retrogressive,” the ministry’s Public Relations Officer Sangwani Phiri said.
Phiri also said the arrears have forced his ministry to devise a mechanism that will help it collect as much revenue as possible from the defaulters.
The mechanism, he said, would be implemented in collaboration with other government departments.
“Quite recently, the ministry responsible for forestry met with members of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on the same issue where it was agreed to map out the way forward in order to collect the outstanding revenue. Some debtors have already shown a strong commitment towards paying their outstanding dues with the Department which is a very welcome development,” said Phiri.
He further warned: “In this respect, the Department of Forestry will not hesitate to enforce any existing laws as provided for in the Republican Constitution by exercising its powers under sections 46,63 and 64 of the Forestry Act to impound the illegally harvested forest products, apprehend and bring before court anyone who contravenes them. This includes those involved in corruption, bribery, wantonly cutting down of trees within the designated forest reserves without a licence and any other heinous acts which have a negative bearing on the forests reserves as well as on the national economy.”
Chikangawa Plantation Manager, Wellington Nyondo, said among others, the ministry would involve the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs to drag the debtors to court to make them pay.
TMU president Paul Mthambazale, whose union encompasses seven cooperatives in Chikangawa, said while discussions are underway between the organisation and government on how to recover the arrears, his problem was on the arrears left by those that died.
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