Contradictions by former Malawi Minister of Environment and Climate Change Management Halima Daud and her Principal Secretary Dr Yanila Ntupanyama over plastic ban may have crippled government’s plan to stop use of thin plastics.
Malawi wants to ban the ‘production, importation and use’ of plastics with a thickness of less than 60 microns.
“In general, the ban applies to the manufacturing, trading and commercial distribution of plastic film, for use within Malawi, with a wall thickness of less than 60 microns. Specifically, the ban prohibits, among others, the following classes of plastics: plastic carrier bags, flat plastic sheets or bags, alcohol sachets and plastic papers used in secondary packaging or wrapping with a wall thickness of less than 60 microns,” said a press statement from the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Management. The ban was effective June 30 2014, according to the statement.
But months before the statement, on March 27 2014, companies that deal in plastics under the banner of Plastics Manufacturers Association of Malawi wrote then Environment Minister Daud to express their concern over plastic ban.
In the letter, the companies explained why they are making plastics and also the impact the ban will have should it be effected.
“Please note that as we explained earlier, ban on thin micron plastic products will have an adverse impact on our industry. Most of us have designed this industry based on the need and affordability of the local people,” wrote the companies.
The manufacturers also told the minister that they had set up plastics recycling plant which will help to reduce plastic wastes. They also said they are working on a new technology of using bio-degradable master batch in plastics production, which will enhance the bio-degradability of plastic products; hence, reduce environmental effects.
“In view of the above, [and in] keeping with the future of our plastics industry and the buying power of the local people, we request you to extend the ban up to 30 June 2015. By that time, the recycling plant will also be commissioned,” wrote the manufacturers to the minister.
Daud agreed to the extension, according to her letter dated 1 April 14 2014.
Said the former minister: “Considering the issues you have raised and actions proposed towards production of biodegradable plastics, investment in recycling machines and commencement of social programmes to reduce indiscriminate production and use of thin plastics, it has been necessary to extend the commencement date of commencing the ban to 30 June 2015.”
However, Ntupanyama, PS for the ministry, told Malawians, through an advertisement in The Daily Times of August 1 2014, that the ban would be entered.
“The general public is hereby informed that as of 30th June 2014, it is illegal to produce, import, distribute and use thin plastics [less than 60 microns] in Malawi unless exempted. The public is, therefore, advised that with effect from 18 August 2014, enforcement action will be carried out in all concerned areas,” wrote the PS.
After the announcement, spot checks in some major supermarkets such as Shoprite showed that the ban was generally obeyed.
The manufacturers thereafter sued government for the contradiction of messages.
Court documents show that the manufacturers were surprised with the ban in the wake of a letter from the then minister.
“It is submitted that the decision of the respondent [PS] in effecting the ban on the production, importation, distribution and use of thin plastics in Malawi as of June 30 2014 despite the ministerial decision to extend the same to 30 June 2015 and without hearing the applicants nor furnishing them with reasons in writing is unconstitutional in that it contravenes Section 43 of the Constitution,” said Vijay Kumar, in his affidavit for manufacturers.
Daud confirmed ordering the extension in an interview on Monday, and dismissed suggestions that her former PS did not know about the extension.