Malawi government gives Chikangawa timber millers ultimatum to quit forest
Malawi government has given timber millers in Chikangawa Forest a 30- day ultimatum until September 8 to pack up their equipment before Malawi Defence Force soldiers pounce on them to confiscate their equipment.
The millers would also face the wrath of the court as Attorney General wants to sue them for failing to pay K640 million they owe government in timber royalties.
However, Timber Millers Union (TMU) has applied for an injunction through Mzuzu based lawyer, George Kazipatike to stop the eviction until some issues are resolved.
Ministry of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining spokesperson, Sangwani Phiri, said time was up for the millers to stop plundering Chikangawa Forest.
Phiri warned that any miller found in the forest after the deadline would be dealt with accordingly.
“Soldiers have already been deployed. We have given them a 30 day ultimatum up to September 8 to pack up their machines. After that date, whatever they face would be none of our business,” warned Phiri.
Phiri said government has terminated the 15-year concession it had with the millers from 2012 because they breached the agreement. They were given 10,000 hectares of timber for the concession period.
“They have wiped out the 10,000 hectares just under two years. They never paid
royalties to government. They did not replant, prune, weed or make fire breaks. They did not honour the agreement. We feel the contract is not beneficial to government. They are not paying to government K640 million,” said Phiri.
Phiri said the Attorney General has already been instructed to take legal action to recover the K640 million.
Attorney General, Kalekeni Kaphale, said on Thursday that the millers would pay for the debt through court action.
Parliamentary Committee on Natural Resources chairperson, Werani Chilenga, said his committee would work with the government to recover the money.
He also commended government for evicting the millers from the forest.
But Timber Millers Union (TMU) president, Paul Mthambazale, while admitting that his members may have breached the contract, said government too was to blame for doing the same.
Mthambazale said there should have been discussions between the two sides rather than issuing an ultimatum to evict the millers.
“The current government has never had interest to call us or visit us to hear our problems. All ministers that have been at that ministry have not shown interest in us. There are four concessions in the plantation and it is only that belonging to the locals which has been affected,” said Mthambazale.
He said although the concession was for 10,000 hectares, much of the land was bare and that some trees were already being felled by other companies.
“We found that in essence there were 2,700 hectares due to bare land and that some hectares had pine trees,” said Mthambazale.
Chikangawa Forest has 54, 000 hectares of which 20, 000 belong to Raiply concession and 10, 000 to the Millers Union.
According to Mthambazale, there are seven cooperatives making a total of 164 millers that would have to leave the forest.
These, he said, were the major suppliers of timber and at a fair price of K2, 500 per plank in the Northern Region and even Lilongwe and Blantyre.
He said by chasing the millers from Chikangawa, the famous Zingwagwa Market (timber market) in Mzuzu will be finished and the timber sellers will have to look for another sources of income.
Last week, the ministry issued a statement warning the public that in collaboration with law enforcement agencies it is conducting an extensive exercise to curb illegal selling, possession and trafficking of charcoal, firewood and other forest produce in the country and that it would not entertain any claims of damages, losses or injuries arising from the lawful implementation of the exercise.
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