Mozambique: Prosecutors Warn of 'Political Interference' in Tete

Maputo — The chief attorney in the western Mozambican province of Tete, Arsenia Matusse, has denounced the "political interference" that prosecutors face whenever they try to take action against illegal Chinese loggers in the province, reports Wednesday's issue of the independent newssheet "Carta de Mocambique".

Speaking at a seminar organised in Tete city last week by the National Forest Forum (FNF), she said that some prosecutors have been transferred out of the province, and others are at risk of their lives because of their efforts o protect the province's forests.

This meant that the number of cases brought against illegal loggers has declined. Last year only five cases were brought and only two of those came to trial. Nobody was convicted.

Matusse noted that there is a dispatch, dated March 2018, from the Ministry of Land, Environment and Rural Development, banning any logging of certain tree species. Nonetheless wood already cut, and apparently abandoned by the loggers, has been collected and carried away - but has not reverted to the state, as demanded by the dispatch.

One of the trees that cannot legally be logged is a hardwood with the scientific name pterocarpus tinctorius, and known locally as "Nkula". Yet, according to Matusse this species is being logged and exported by Chinese individuals who enjoy the protection of the Provincial Directorate of Land, Environment and Rural Development. The directorate has issued authorisations which Matusse dismisses as "illegal".

"What are these authorisations from the provincial directorate based on?", she asked. "Are these provincial authorisations superior to the ministerial dispatch?"

She added that the Chinese operators are bribing local people to help them denude the forests by offering them food, fuel and even vehicles so that they can help cut down Nkula trees.

A source in the Public Prosecutor's Office told "Carta de Mocambique" that prosecutors and forest wardens working in Zumbo, Maravia, Chifunde, Chiuta and Macanga districts face serious difficulties in dealing with cases of illegal logging because they are bombarded with notes, authorisations or phone calls from public institutions linked to forestry telling them to leave the loggers alone.

However, both Manuel Gole, the Tete Provincial Director of Land Environment and Rural Development and Claudio Afonso from the National Directorate in the Ministry claimed that the Ministry is seeking measures to deal with illegal logging. These include signing a memorandum of understanding in June with the Chinese government, and introducing a Forestry Information System to help detect the movement of illegal timber.

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