But during several trips to the site in question, such as Luwawa, Chikangawa, Champhoyo and Lusangazi, there was little evidence of activity.
Aggressive logging activity, however, was obvious: Logging camps dotted the landscape at regular, hastily erected small trapezium wooden shacks adjacent to newly razed forest areas. Plumes of smoke emanated from the hills.
Trucks loaded with timber, en-route to Capitol Hill in Lilongwe or the Northern city of Mzuzu sped by every few minutes. Some would travel across the borders to countries such as Kenya, Zambia, Mozambique and Tanzania.
The ecological impact of invasive foreign plants on indigenous ground is well known. The same occurs with non-Malawians invasively seeking to access the 33,000 hectares held for local licensed Malawians.
Unlike other sectors, such as mining, fisheries, tourism, financial services and manufacturing, timber harvesting is not a sector where the government provides foreign investors with a business license.
Chilunga claimed that government would enact a law barring foreign entities from Viphya. A number of loggers accessing the portion of Viphya held for local loggers were foreign, operating under Malawian managers, and even falsely operating under Malawian names, inquiries revealed.
Indeed, Malawian statutes do not bar foreign entities and investors from doing business in Malawi.
In an effort to keep track of loggers, the Department of Forestry, in conjunction with the Department of Immigration, has sought to identify and maintain a record of active loggers. But given that identification is usually obtained by listing details of a logger's village - including name of chiefs, districts, collect dialect or accents from the areas - a process susceptible to corruption and bribery, using fake identities is not a difficult scam to pull off.
Locals complain that a privileged few are colluding with foreign citizens to exploit concessions such as the Chikangawa Forest. Police and court reports examined by FAIR (Forum for African Investigative Reporters) revealed there were just 44 known illegal immigrants, identified as from Somalia and Tanzania, acting as operators.
In March this year, police and forestry officials seized foreign citizens illegally operating in Mzuzu. The illegal operators were sentenced for illegal stay and entry and fined 25, 000 Malawian Kwacha (about $65) or, alternatively, serve a three month custodial sentence.
In addition, deportation was ordered.
However, illegal operators merely paid the fines and returned to Viphya without updating their immigration status, claimed sources in the Immigration Department. [Many of these trials were personally covered by this journalist.]
The operators' brazenly reclaimed timber illegally logged, loaded in four trucks, as well as equipment, previously confiscated during the raid.
Again, records seen by FAIR from the Immigration Department in Mzuzu, covering six districts in the Northern Malawian region, including Mzimba, Chitipa, and Karonga, indicate that from February 2012 to March 2013, the Department arrested and deported 384 illegal immigrants.