Harare — GOVERNMENT is worried about lack of deterrent penalties for wildlife and environment-related crimes and is now engaging the judiciary for a solution, Environment and Tourism Minister Cde Francis Nhema said yesterday.
In an interview, Cde Nhema said despite major challenges facing the Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, whose mandate is to protect natural resources, there is no end in sight for crimes perpetrated on wildlife and the environment.
Cde Nhema said perpetrators convicted of various crimes against the environment have continued to unnecessarily burn forests, poach animals and pollute water and air.
He said this is mainly due to ridiculous penalties gazetted a few years ago that saw perpetrators continue breaking the law, in the knowledge that they will not pay much for their offences and worse still, they have less chances of going to jail.
"It is apparent that the survival of wildlife in areas both protected and unprotected depends on many factors, which include vibrant security systems and deterrent penalties imposed on those caught on the wrong side of the law," Cde Nhema said.
Despite the high value placed on wildlife that sees animals such as the impala fetching foreign currency equivalent to $10 million, fines imposed on anyone caught poaching the impala are pegged at around $150 000.
The bulk of natural resources-based offences that include veld fires and deforestation fall under level three whose fines range between $25 000 and $150 000.
Fish poachers, who are threatening the viability of the fish industry in lakes and dams in Zimbabwe and who are making billions of dollars after selling their loot, pay fines of not more than $500 000 if apprehended.
Cde Nhema said water and air pollution perpetrated, particularly, by the industry warrants a substantial amount of money in fines to enable stakeholders to try to rectify the damage done to the environment and preferably jail terms are justified in some circumstances.
"Manufacturing companies that dump their waste in our major sources of drinking water, and kill water species in the process are charged a maximum of $5 million.
The impact of gases emitted into the air by the industry cannot be underestimated as it compromises the quality of our air and causes ozone depletion," Cde Nhema said.
Last year the Zimbabwe National Water Authority fined the Chitungwiza Municipality a paltry $100 million for digging sewer trenches that flowed into Manyame Dam, which is a source of potable water.
Cde Nhema said the magnitude of such reckless attitudes over natural resources should be made a serious crime as it is costly to the health of people and wildlife.
He said huge amounts of money are lost trying to ameliorate the damage that would have been done.
"It is our wish that fines be pegged according to the magnitude of damage done in the case of pollution, veld fires and deforestation.
"This assessment is what is missing in most prevalent cases."
Cde Nhema said the burden of conservation lies heavily on all stakeholders who include those who bear the brunt of human-animal conflicts.
"Involving communities on the ground in anti-poaching programmes is key and makes their participation in management of animals increase the benefits they realise from natural resources."
Cde Nhema said there is also need to foster peaceful co-operation among communities and societies across international boundaries to engender regional security, economic growth and integration.