THE Viphya Plantations, commonly known as Chikangawa Forest, continues to be a battle ground for Malawi Defense Force (MDF) soldiers and various stakeholders. In a latest development, the soldiers have been accused of harassing different investors and individuals that were permitted by the government through the department of forestry to harvest firewood and off cuts.
“I had my vehicle impounded and the wood confiscated by the soldiers despite showing them a number of accompanying documents. I can’t understand why this is happening,” said one of the victims Frank Kaonga.
President of the Timber Millers Union (TMU) Paul Nthambazale confirmed the incidents and said his office received a number complaints from concerned parties.
“There was poor communication between the Forestry Department and the MDF who have been safeguarding the plantation in the wake of massive depletion. Unfortunately this has seen innocent people falling victim,” Nthambazale said.
While downplaying incidents of abuse and harassment towards the wood harvesters, plantation manager Seliano Chipokosa acknowledged the communication breakdown between his department and the MDF.
He said after the permits were given to the firms and individuals, it took some time for the MDF soldiers to be alerted of the new developments such that the soldiers’ actions were within their mandate of safeguarding the forest’s resources from plunderers.
“After issuing the permissions the MDF was not informed of the new developments, so indeed because their duty is to ensure to keep the forest clear of any intruders indeed some vehicles carrying firewood were impounded but the matter has so far been resolved. If it’s still happening then nothing has come to my attention.
“Permissions are given based on the availability of wood, we do not have a restricted number. So anyone who enters the plantation must have that permission letter and a general receipt as evidence that they paid for the wood they are collecting,” he said.
In his comment Head of Public Relations at the MDF Emmanuel Mlelemba said their office had not received official complaints on the matter.
Asked on how long the harvesting will take, Chipokosa said licences are valid up to October 30 2017 which is the inception of the fire season on the forestry calendar.
Alarmed by the massive plunder of tree resources in the Viphya Plantation, the government two years ago deployed MDF soldiers as a way of enhancing security against the malpractice.
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