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.
However, investigations revealed that many of those arraigned were either women, rounded up in drinking joints, or Somalis intercepted using uncharted routes in transit to South Africa. There were no illegal operators from the plantations.
Isaac Maluwa, the Northern Region's Police Operations Officer, disclosed that police received reports of illegal immigrants in the plantation.