Zomba State House ransacked
The antique furniture at the abandoned Zomba State House is not the only property that has been looted, now there is illegal logging of indigenous trees, such as Mahogany (Mibawa).
Logging of indigenous trees is a serious offence in Malawi. The newly enacted National Parks and Wildlife Act allows for up to 30 years imprisonment for such environmental crimes.
Malawi News has established that the cutting down of the timber at the State House in Zomba has been going on since 2016 with the full blessings of State House Chief of Staff, Peter Mukhito.
“I’m very much aware of this [the felling of timber]. Each tree has a life-span and these trees have outlived their life-span. Initially, these trees were planted like flowers but they are now falling on electricity poles. They have become a threat to the State House and people living there,” Mukhito said, dismissing reports that the trees have been taken out of the State House.
But our investigations show that procedures that are supposed to be followed when cutting down trees, especially the indigenous ones, were flouted in total disregard of the law.
Forestry officers at district level and Lilongwe headquarters are in the dark that the trees were being cut at Zomba State House. They both did not give any permission to cut the trees.
We established that the Department of Forestry in the Ministry of Natural Resources, Energy and Environment was also not in the know.
Our visit to Zomba State House this week found an abandoned and dilapidated residence. There is a lot of timber piled near one of the back gates. The surroundings, which once had indigenous trees, has been cleared.
The trees that have been cut have been there during the late Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda, Bakili Muluzi’s, the late Bingu wa Mutharika and Joyce Banda’s administrations.
District Forestry Officer for Zomba, Duncan Masonje, on Tuesday said he has heard about trees being cut at State House but his office failed to verify the reports which reached his office informally.
“I heard about it, but it was difficult for us to verify this…. Of course, we have not been informed as an office may be our colleagues at the council were informed,” he said.
In our efforts to establish where the trees were going, we stumbled on a Zomba-based timber firm (name withheld) which was contracted to do the logging at the state residence.
They cut over a 100 trees in more than six months. Now another company, which started working mid-October, is at the site.
Since he attained office in 2014, President Peter Mutharika has never been to the Zomba State House.
His administration, however, announced in the same year that the government would turn the State House into a referral hospital equipped with high technology machinery.
Mukhito said the trees will be used in the construction of structures and renovations of other state residences, and they have been handed over to the maintenance department. He, however, could not tell how many trees have been cut since last year.
Director of Forestry, Clement Chilima, said he was not aware of the logging at Zomba State House.
“State House, like any other house, is a private yard, but should anyone want to cut trees, they need to consult the department of forestry, especially when it is to do with indigenous trees like the Mahogany (Mibawa) trees….The State House might have gotten recommendations from a local committee in Zomba to do this,” he said.
Chilima said it was illegal to harvest Mahogany or any other hardwood trees for commercial purposes without a permit. He said there is a total ban on indigenous round wood since 2008.
Early this year, 35 people were sentenced to 18 months imprisonment for illegal logging of hard wood valued at $37 million in Lengwe National Park in Chikwawa.
Satellite images suggested about a million protected Mopane trees had been cut in just over a year in the area where the 35 were working – a loss valued at about $37 million in court depositions.
Such illegal logging is a widespread problem across in Malawi – one that often remains unseen, unprosecuted or met with fines far below the value of the stolen timber.
Chikangawa Forest has fallen victim to the problem, Dzalanyama Forest in Lilongwe is also facing the same challenge of illegal logging.
Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) says Malawi has the highest rate of deforestation in Southern Africa and it is losing four per cent of its forests annually.
Interpol’s initiative against logging and related crimes- Law Enforcement Assistance for Forests says trade in harvested timber is highly lucrative and estimated to be worth between US$51 and US$152 billion annually.
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