The Parliamentary Committee on Natural Resources and Climate Change yesterday said it was not impressed with anexplanation from the Department of Forestry on the award and management of concession agreements in the country’s forest reserves.
Committee chairperson Werani Chilenga expressed the sentiments after his committee quizzed officials from Department of Forestry on why they were awarding and signing concession agreements with various companies and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) allegedly without following procurement procedures.
The committee accused the department of betraying Malawians by ‘ganging up’ with politicians, timber millers and companies, which owe government huge debts, to plunder the remaining forests in the country.
Chilenga told journalists after the meeting at Parliament Building that his committee “is far from being convinced” with the answers from the department.
He said: “To be honest, we are not convinced with the explanation and answers we have been given from the Department of Forestry.
“For instance, on the issue of their change of mind on the union members who have been giving them problems, they never came back to brief us about the developments that had taken place since they last lodged a complaint with us.”
Chilenga, who is a member of Parliament (MP) for Chitipa South (People’s Party-PP), accused the department of disregarding Public Procurement Act provisions.
He also took a swipe at the department for lacking commitment to bring to book businesspersons, politicians and institutions owing government huge sums of money in unpaid tree harvesting fees.
Chilenga also faulted the department for granting a business licence to Total Land Care (TLC) to harvest trees from Viphya Plantation, widely known as Chikangawa Forest, when the organisation was planting trees in the area as part of its corporate social responsibility.
Thyolo South West MP Allan Chiyembekeza (Democratic Progressive Party-DPP) also rebuked the department for going ahead to sign concessions in the absence of clear guidelines as set in the Public Procurement Act.
Deputy Director of Forestry Teddie Kamoto admitted that his department signed a number of concession agreements with various companies without following the guidelines.
But he pointed out that this happened before the establishment of the Public Procurement Act.
The Department of Forestry was summoned before the committee to brief MPs on progress towards institutionalising reforms in an effort to revitalise the forestry industry in the country. n