Malawi: Media Expose of Bribery in Illegal Charcoal Trafficking - Parliamentary Caucus Calls for Investigation, Prosecution of Perpetrators

22 February 2021

The Malawi Parliamentary Conservation Caucus (MPCC) has poured out its anger over recent media exposure of "stinking" bribery in illegal charcoal trafficking from Zalewa to Blantyre, saying the revelation is "quite frankly an embarrassment" on a global platform.

The caucus called for investigation and prosecution of the perpetrators.

MPCC-which addressed a news conference at Peak Events Garden in the Capital, Lilongwe-said this in a statement read out by Co-chaiperson of the caucus, Welani Chilenga.

Officials from the Department of Forestry were also present at the news conference.

In his expose in The Nation newspaper on 2 February 2021, investigative journalist, Bobby Kabango, uncovered the bribery required to facilitate the illegal trafficking of charcoal from Zalewa to Blantyre, Malawi's commercial capaital.

The journalist revealed the complicity of officials from Malawi Police Service, Malawi Revenue Authority, the Directorate of Road Traffic and Safety Services and Department of Forestry.

Kabango's story, among other things, stated that an estimated 2100 bags of charcoal were trafficked in one night by a convoy of 12 vehicles.

And that an estimated MK1.2 million ($1560) was spent in bribes to corrupt officers so that the vehicles and charcoal could pass easily through road blocks.

According to the MPCC statement, the amount of charcoal trafficked that night alone is estimated to equate to around 500 mature trees or seven hectares (ha) of forest cover-a tendency the caucus said will completely deplete Malawi's forests if not stopped.

"That was one night, on one route. Now, consider what is happening around the rest of the country under the cover of darkness. Think of the notorious roadblocks on the Salima to Lilongwe road, Mitundu or Malingunde in Lilongwe, Chileka and Lunzu in Blantyre. And is this not proof that the Department of Forestry's charcoal strategy has failed," said Chilenga, a Member of Parliament for Chitipa South, who was flanked by other members of MPCC.

He added: "Organised crime networks are orchestrating the illicit charcoal trade and the greedy and corrupt officials who are complicit in this activity must be held to account. They are not driven by abject poverty, these are not individuals who cannot put food on the table; rather they are driven by greed and a disregard for public office and the law of the land".

Chilenga further said MPCC "shall" watch this case with interest, adding that the caucus is calling upon all agencies in question to conduct their own internal investigations to bring not just these perpetrators to justice but also to initiate a plan to rid their departments of this rot.

"Let us not hear of slapped wrists, demotions, or sidewards moves but of prosecutions under the full weight of the law, whether that is the new Forestry Act, the Corrupt Practices Act, or the Penal Code. This is an abuse of public office and a crime against the environment. It is time to set an example, and to send a clear deterrent message," he said.

And reacting to MPCC's concerns, Director of Forestry, Clement Chilima, said his department has engaged the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) and internal investigators in order to bring the perpetrators to justice.

"We started taking action immediately the story was published. We wrote the journalist and his editor requesting them to give us more information which could help us take disciplinary action against the officers involved. They refused. That is why we have engaged ACB and our own internal investigators," said Chilima.

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