The High Court in Blantyre on Tuesday ordered the director of Forestry and the commissioner general of the Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA) to release vehicles belonging to businessperson Steven Phiri impounded for carrying hardwood amid an export ban.
Making a ruling on an ex-parte application by the Mchinji-based Phiri, High Court judge Kenyatta Nyirenda said the Parliamentary Committee on Natural Resources, Environment and Climate Change, which made the order, has no such powers.
Ruled the judge: “The decision by the Parliamentary Committee on Natural Resources, Environment and Climate Change of suspending the issuance of conveyancing and export licences and permit for hardwood in Malawi is hereby quashed on the ground that the said decision is ultra vires [beyond its powers]. ”
Phiri had his six trucks with Mukula logs heading to China impounded at Chiponde Border Post in Mangochi. The trucks were destined for the Indian Ocean port of Beira in Mozambique en route to Shanghai.
In his affidavit, Phiri said the Department of Forestry issued a Forestry Produce Export Licence and MRA cleared the trucks.
“But when the trucks carrying the logs were about to be released at Chiponde Border, the Parliamentary Committee on Natural Resources, Environment and Climate Change verbally issued a suspension on issuance of conveyance and export documents regarding hardwood. By reason of the above, I was told that my trucks would not be released to cross the border,” said Phiri.
Meanwhile, it has transpired that the export ban on hardwood was made in July 2008 by then minister of Industry and Trade Henry Mussa, according to the advertisement in the Malawi News of August 16-22 2008.
But lawyer representing Phiri, Wapona Kita, said even the earlier ban was illegal as the ministry has no such powers, as per Section 48 of the Forestry Act.
However, the ministry said it used the Control of Goods Act under Chapter 18:08 of the Laws of Malawi, according to its 2008 statement. n